Following a disastrous few years at the turn of the century where the major labels failed to accept the direction their own industry was heading, streaming services such as Spotify are now giving the majority of music consumers what they have demanded all along.
Massive libraries of accessible music at prices suitable for all pocket depths are helping the industry back to its glory days, with last year proving the most successful on record. But despite music being readily available for free, somehow piracy is still an issue for the world’s largest labels, with stream-ripping platforms the current boogeyman.
In recent years, the majors have targeted some of these services in successful civil lawsuits but a new partnership suggests that criminal enforcement may lie ahead for selected targets.
RIAA and Homeland Security’s IPR Center Team Up
A joint announcement from the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reveals a long-term agreement that formalizes and expands cooperation between the public and private sectors in the fight against all forms of digital piracy.
Through the signed Memorandum of Understanding, the IPR Center and RIAA will implement “an aggressive multi-layered strategy to strengthen the digital ecosystem” including training events and the promise to “dismantle large-scale online criminal enterprises” via referral packages on the “most egregious violators.”
Prospects for Criminal Enforcement
Potential targets for dismantling are not discussed in the announcement. Thus far, stream-ripping platforms have been handled in civil lawsuits and services mentioned in the RIAA’s submission to the USTR ‘Notorious Markets’ list (MP3Juices.cc and Newalbumreleases.net) are presumably based overseas, given the nature of the process.
Clues may be available in the European Commission’s equivalent list, but US-based criminal enforcement for music piracy has been rare, with the last notable case concluding four years ago with a five-year prison sentence for the former operator of ShareBeast and AlbumJams.
Given trends over the years, it seems likely that platforms engaged in pre-release piracy could be at the front of the queue for enforcement, while a criminal conviction relating to a stream-ripping service could prove strategically useful in the US. That being said, the partnership appears to be gearing up for greater international enforcement.
IPR Center Acknowledges Overseas Links
“Investigations into illicit streaming services are extremely complex; these services are typically operated from abroad through multi-faceted schemes that touch numerous countries,” says acting director of the IPR Center, Ricardo Mayoral.
“Because of this complexity, our partnership with RIAA brings us one step closer toward dismantling criminal enterprises that think they are above the law, attempting to use the internet to hide illicit activity.”
According to Brad Buckles, the RIAA’s Chief Content Protection Officer, digital piracy is “too big a problem for any one artist, industry, or agency to handle on their own” so the public/private partnership will address that with enhanced cooperation and coordination.
“As global piracy operations evolve their tactics and innovate new ways to steal and profit from creative works, this MOU will empower creators and the federal government to work together on the cutting edge of this fast-moving fight,” Buckles says.
Reading between the lines, rather than the RIAA having to wade through the complexities and restrictions usually associated with civil lawsuits, it will now have have direct access to powerful toolkits only usually available to government agencies – with the public, at least in part – picking up the bill for enforcement.
IPR Center Now Partners With All Major Rightsholders
RIAA’s announcement that it will partner with IPR Center follows similar moves by major players in the movie, TV show and broadcasting sectors.
In September 2020, the MPA and anti-piracy coalition Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment signed an similar agreement with IPR Center and earlier this year, the groups revealed they would embed their own personnel in the government department.