On September 8, 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed copyright infringement lawsuits against 261 individuals for sharing songs on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. In the five years since, the RIAA has sued, settled, or threatened litigation against over 30,000 Americans for alleged violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These actions have attracted a great deal of public attention, largely due to the fact that the suits have hit very close to home for many Americans. Unlike prior lawsuits, which targeted software programs such as Napster and Grokster, this new chapter in the file-sharing saga has focused on ordinary people. The targets of the RIAA’s legal claims run the spectrum of everyday people who are not typically the subjects of copyright actions, including children, parents, grandparents, single mothers, professors, and college students.
The RIAA’s strategic offensive against music consumers has spurred a firestorm of debate concerning topics such as copyright law, technology, privacy, and legal procedure. For the first few years of the RIAA’s legal efforts, the focus of legal and social observers centered on the RIAA’s tactics for identifying and filing suit against potential defendants. In the last year, however, as contested cases have made their way through district court litigation, the focus has shifted to the interpretation of black-letter copyright law. The RIAA’s “making available” theory of infringement has garnered a great deal of attention, though its acceptance by district courts has been inconsistent. To date, the few district courts to rule on the matter have each interpreted the Copyright Act differently in the context of file-sharing, indicating that there is likely to be ongoing uncertainty until appellate level courts offer clarification. For the moment, though the trend is moving away from acceptance of the "making available" theory, courts appear more willing to allow the RIAA to prevail on the basis of actual dissemination. [More]