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Cybernaut

The music industry strikes back

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Forget everything that Sesame Street taught you – sharing is bad. People who share get served lawsuits for more than they can possibly afford, can’t pay to defend themselves in court, and are forced to accept the guilt and settle out of court for a lesser penalty.

Last week the Canadian Recording Industry Association announced plans to sue Canadians that knowingly upload music – share – on the Internet. They are following the example set last year the by the Recording Industry Association of America, which started to sue music swappers for copyright infringements through Peer-to-Peer networks (LimeWire, Kazaa, etc.) in the fall of 2003. Already this year, January and February, the RIAA has issued a total of 1,063 new suits.

Almost without exception, the defendants have acknowledged their guilt and settled out of court for an average of $3,000 each – far less than the six-figure sums the RIAA figured they were entitled to based on the number of music downloads they recorded.

That exception has come from one New Jersey resident by the name of Michele Scimeca who answered the RIAA’s lawsuit against her with a counter-suit of her own – alleging that the practice of issuing huge suits that force downloaders to settle out of court is tantamount to racketeering.

According to Scimeca’s lawyer, "This scare tactic has caused a vast amount of settlement from individuals who feared fighting such a large institution and feel victim to these actions and felt forced to provide funds to settle these actions instead of fighting. These types of scare tactics are not permissible and amount to extortion."

Scimeca’s argument hasn’t been tested in Canada yet, but you can be sure that it will be.

On Feb. 13, the CRIA acknowledged plans to file court orders with five major Internet service providers to reveal the identities of 29 online file swappers. Defending its actions, the CRIA said that the Canadian music industry has lost an estimated $425 million in retail sales to downloaders since 1999, resulting in layoffs of 20 per cent for an industry that typically employees 45,000 Canadians.

Both the RIAA and CRIA say that the lawsuits, unpopular though they may be, are having an impact on the number of people sharing music online. Music swapping on the leading P2P services is down by about half, and the use of pay services like iTunes is increasing steadily.

At the same time, another report casts doubt on the effectiveness of the lawsuits, suggesting that P2P users have found back channels to trade music. A couple of research firms believe that file swapping is actually increasing.

For example, both the RIAA and CRIA are only allowed to target people who share music, enabling the copyright infringement. People who download music and don’t share it – and there are lots of countries out there that are out of Canadian and U.S. jurisdiction – are being left alone. Many individuals are stocking up on music, believing that this loophole will one day close.

Other ways to get around P2P services include using private services, using anonymous services to mask your identity, using anonymous identities or shared computers, or sharing songs with people through chat rooms, fan pages, and other services.

Still, the music associations appear to be determined to go down the legal road, recouping a portion of their losses and making examples of online music sharers.

The problem with that solution is that it makes you very unpopular. The RIAA has already been targetted with computer viruses, and is the subject of a growing boycott campaign. They’ve been vilified in the news for indiscriminately issuing suits against boys and girls as young as 12 years old who weren’t aware of the illegal nature of their actions, but it doesn’t seem to bother the CRIA.

The identities of the first 29 individuals sought by the CRIA as part of their suit against ISPs are not known, but the CRIA said each one has made available thousands of songs.

Right now you should be asking yourself how many MP3s do you have on your computer – the CRIA could be coming for you.

For more information on the CRIA’s lawsuits, visit www.cria.ca.

Computer schools closing

Before the dot-com craze collapsed into itself like a trillion-dollar black hole, computers were going to be the way of the future. IT professionals were in short supply once upon a time, and companies got into salary wars over people with two-year college diplomas.

Schools that already provided technology degrees expanded, and new schools were created to pick up the slack, creating a limited supply for what was then a huge demand.

Now that the irrational exuberance of the dot-com craze has worn off, tens of thousands of people have found themselves in debt, with almost useless diplomas – many from schools that no longer exist.

According to a report by CNN, it’s impossible to accurately measure the statistics of the problem because so many of the schools were unlicensed. South of the border, the students are blaming state governments for allowing unlicensed schools, and for neglecting to standardize diplomas to the same extent that students are certified in the trades – for example, all auto mechanics have to pass the same standard tests before they can graduate.

Some of the students have taken legal action against the institutions that provided them with loans on the basis that they should not have issued the money without proof of a school’s status. Some of the loan issuers have acknowledged the problem, and have since changed policy to ensure that loans can only go to students at accredited schools.

The issue of accreditation won’t apply in Canada where schools offering diplomas and degrees require government accreditation, and where loans are issued through banks that are sticklers for paperwork.

But there’s still the issue of thousands of unemployed IT school graduates with student loans to pay off and little hope for full-time employment – at the same time that schools, legitimate as they may be, are actively encouraging more participation in IT courses.

Although most of the blame should belong to the students for not doing enough research, it’s a shame that education should operate the same way as commerce – let the buyer beware.

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