Recently the RIAA announced that it would stop prosecuting individual file-sharers; rather, what they plan on doing is entering into agreements with ISPs and will send that ISP an email when they discover that someone is downloading content illegally. For the consumer this is a slight improvement, but ultimately is not enough in my mind.
While this could theoretically remove the legal ramifications that illegal downloads now have (provided that you are actually caught) in an internet world dominated by Verizon and Comcast this is not a large enough step. Basic economics would say that those who want to download music for free would simply move to an ISP that is not in an agreement with the RIAA; however, the availability of this is what matters. With the combination of corporate behemoths, like the two aforementioned companies, dominating in terms of providing internet to many people for relatively good prices and the economic downturn the ability for some to pay an independent ISP (like I do) $50+ a month for service might dwindle. Consequently they would be more inclined to get internet for a cheaper price regardless of the restrictions because limited internet access (to many) is better than no internet access.
Also of concern to me is what happens when the RIAA identifies your IP as partaking in illegal downloads. Granted, they claim that notifying the ISP does not entail any required action on behalf of the ISP, but I have a hunch the expectation would be that the ISP would eventually cancel your account. What then happens to your ability to get internet? Will some type of blacklist be drawn up of those customers who have had internet service terminated because of file-sharing? Much of this would be worst case, conspiratorial scenario, but it is possible and its consequences frankly scare me. If an ISP is put under pressure by the RIAA to not allow file-sharing then what would be there motivation for taking on new customers who were booted by Verizon, Comcast, or any other ISP for illegal downloads?
Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly a step in the right direction, but I’m still waiting for the day that the RIAA and the music labels recognize the fact that they can create new forms of revenue that are outside of CD sales. Profit off artists in a different way and allow their music to spread to a greater fan base that would then be more willing to go see a concert, buy memorabilia, or support the artist in some other way. Just a thought.