Apr 082003
Authors: Ken Hamner

The totalitarian iron fist of the “entertainment” industry has closed its grip upon the little guys now. It wasn’t enough for them to destroy Napster and other “corporate” file swapping systems. It has now decided to target individuals who swap files, not with just warnings, but with lawsuits.

Students attending the universities of Princeton, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Michigan Technological University are being sued for having computer systems that, without charge, transferred thousands of songs to people interested in listening to fresh music not readily available on corporate radio or that costs up to $20 on a CD.

While it probably would have been possible to warn the students and have the universities shut down their systems, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) instead decided to file lawsuits in New York, New Jersey and Michigan. The RIAA, having been made very sad and infinitesimally poorer by these individuals, has decided to ask the courts to make these students pay reparations for their heinous deeds. The amount? A maximum of $150,000 per song.

That seems like a lot of money to charge for file sharing. How does it break down? The worst case involves the Michigan student who stored 650,000 songs on his server, in addition to 1,866 of which he actually owned, that were available to everyone on his network. At $150,000 per song, that means he would owe the RIAA $97.5 billion. Just to compare with other monetary statistics, the cost of the space shuttle Endeavour was $2.1 billion, the projected sales of Kellogg’s cereal in the year 2000 was $2.5 billion and the gross domestic product (GDP) of China was estimated to be $1.2 trillion in 2002. As we can all see, ladies and gentlemen, these songs are worth a lot!

How long would it take these students to pay off their debts to the RIAA they ripped-off and humiliated so shamelessly? Let’s take a smaller example. Recently, The RIAA told Verizon to sell out a client suspected of allowing people to download (for free) 600 songs, which the company had to do, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Assuming the maximum fine the RIAA seems to believe every song is worth would be levied against this individual, he would be forced to pay $90 million. Next, let’s assume this individual has a good job that allows him to make $20 an hour. Since everyone is required to sleep, we’ll assume he works 112 hours a week, and since everyone needs to eat and pay rent, we’ll assume at least $3 an hour go toward food and rent. This means that, at $17 and hour, at 112 hours a week, it would take roughly 909 years for this man to pay off his damages to the RIAA.

Let us all hope, for the sake of the persecuted and wronged RIAA, that this man is incredibly long-lived if convicted.

Just how much money is intellectual property worth? Does this money outweigh the privacy and fair use rights of the average American? It is a tricky issue indeed. Nevertheless, it is difficult to conceptually support a very rich and powerful industry who only seems to be interested in strengthening its hold on what people listen to and how much they must pay for it.

It is equally difficult to support an industry who obviously has an inflated view of its worth to the point of having a Napoleon complex even the Smurfs couldn’t compete with.

I’ll leave you with more numbers. The American census of 2002 estimates the population of the United States and her territories to be around 288,000,000 people. Next, let’s assume one out of every 50 of these people have five or more MP3s on their computer that they have, with or without intent, shared since the destruction of Napster. At the maximum fine per song, this would mean that the American people would owe the RIAA about $4.3 trillion .

That’s a lot of money. I hope the RIAA will spend it well.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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