The Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched an advertising campaign demanding changes in copyright law to legalise file sharing.
The "Let the Music Play" campaign is intended to encourage the 60 million users of file-sharing software in the US to make their voices heard in government, as a counterweight to increasingly vehement condemnation of peer-to-peer file sharing networks by the entertainment industry. The campaign, launched on 30 June, follows the RIAA's announcement last week that it intends to begin filing lawsuits against a large number of the individuals who use file-swapping services like Kazaa and Morpheus.
Shari Steele, the executive director of the EFF, said in a statement that copyright law is "out of step with the views of the American public and the reality of music distribution online". Steele said that the RIAA's efforts would be better directed finding a way for the music industry and peer-to-peer networks to coexist: "rather than trying to sue people into submission, we need to find a better alternative that gets artists paid while making file sharing legal."
The recording industry's legal tactics successfully shut down an earlier generation of file-swapping services, such as Napster, but file-sharing usage has continued to grow. The industry blames file-sharing for a precipitous drop in music sales; in the past three years, unit shipments of recorded music have dropped by 26 percent from 1.16 billion units in 1999 to 860 million units in 2002.
As a solution, the RIAA said last week it would begin gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits against individuals who offer "substantial amounts" of copyrighted music over peer-to-peer networks. "The law is clear and the message to those who are distributing substantial quantities of music online should be equally clear -- this activity is illegal, you are not anonymous when you do it, and engaging in it can have real consequences," said RIAA president Cary Sherman in a statement announcing the strategy.
The RIAA has already begun suing individual P2P users. Earlier this year, for example, the RIAA successfully sued four university students for P2P piracy, ordering each to pay $12,000 to $17,000 (£8,000 to £11,000) in compensation.
EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann said that America's politicians are failing to recognise the importance of the P2P community. "Today, more US citizens use file-sharing software than voted for President Bush," he said. "Congress needs to spend less time listening to record industry lobbyists and more time listening to the more than 60 million Americans who use file-sharing software today."
The EFF will place advertisements about the Right to Share campaign in magazines including "Spin", "Blender", "Computer Gaming World", and "PC Gamer".