Today’s San Francisco Chronicle fronts the Business section with a piece on the RIAA lawsuits, focusing on a UC Santa Cruz student who has received one of the many thousands of pre-litigation letters sent out by the record companies.
In these dark days for the newspaper business, lots of editors are spending time figuring out how to capture the attention of younger readers. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t pay more attention to the RIAA litigations over music downloads. It’s an issue every young person in the country is at least aware of, and whatever side you come down on, it certainly strikes me as a novel and newsworthy story. But the newspapers haven’t covered it much, and it’s no wonder they’re having their lunch eaten by online coverage from sites like Wired's Threat Level blog and Ars Technica.
Not coincidentally, the coverage in those outlets is far more skeptical of the RIAA’s actions. The Chron’s writer, Verne Kopytoff, certainly lets the accused student have her say here, but the article is missing an important adjective (or two) in its broad description of peer-to-peer networks. Take this passage (emphasis mine):
The crackdown is part of a broader, yearslong effort by the association to curb online music sharing, a wildly popular practice that allows consumers to download music for free through online services Limewire, Ares and Gnutella. Called peer-to-peer, or P2P, networks, the services allow users to tap into and download songs from other users' collections. Adhering to copyright laws is left up to the users.
Music companies complain that file sharing, which violates copyright laws, is cutting into their profits, and they point to falling album sales as evidence.
All file sharing? Like, the Word documents I send to my editor? It would have been easy to specify that it was illegal file sharing that violates copyright laws. Legal uses of peer-to-peer technology are growing by the day. Consider Vuze, which uses the BitTorrent protocol to move high-definition video quickly and legally over the Internet, including TV programs from CBS-owned Showtime.
As a journalist, I appreciate the bind of having a very short amount of space to explain a complex idea. But this is just too vague; a little specificity--indeed, just one extra word--would have gone a long way. And of course "file sharing" is not synonymous with "music sharing," but, one thing at a time.
What should parents and students do about the dangers of file-sharing? The Chron’s tip box says, “Don’t share you (sic) computer with others."
That's a sad conclusion to reach. But maybe I'm biased. I confess to a long and complicated relationship with tip boxes and the editors who love them.
Having said all that, I give the Chron points credit for at least covering the story, which got over 100 comments despite the fact that it was buried deep in their Web site.
The most interesting fact was this: even though she has not yet been sued, an unnamed collection agency has already called her parents urging them to pay up. Urging someone to accept a particular settlement offer sounds more like legal advice than debt collection, and I wonder how that squares with the federal debt collection law. Allowing someone to try to collect a $3,000 "debt" and then asking for much more at a trial sounds like getting two bites at the apple.