It has been quite a while since the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, has made any moves that required discussion. Over the past few weeks, however, the industry trade group has begun sending out letters to organizations that they believe to be actively harmful to the music industry as a whole. First they contacted CBS complaining that the company provides software that promotes the theft of otherwise legal music.
In particular they take offense to software that allows people to strip the audio from online streaming services, such as YouTube. These products are easily obtained from all over the Internet, including in most of the YouTube clients available in Google Play, the Apple App Store and Windows Store. So, with all of this easy availability, why CBS? Because they own CNET, and CNET runs Download.com, one of the original popular software download services. The site dates back to 1996, before most people really knew about the Internet.
In addition to the audio strippers, Download.com also hosts installers for BitTorrent. The BitTorrent client for windows on Download.com has nearly 24 million downloads as of this writing, which is likely the actual reason for targeting CBS. This guess is because BitTorrent was the next company to receive one of these letters. RIAA believes that BitTorrent is used solely for the transfer of illegal content and they want it to stop.
The problem with this assertion is that BitTorrent is a protocol, no different from HTTP. The protocol can be used to transfer any content, and is used by many companies to transfer large amounts of data in a decentralized manner, allowing them to free resources on their corporate servers. For example, Amazon, Blizzard, Facebook and Twitter all use the protocol. It is less than likely that Facebook is out there moving music they don't own.
BitTorrent responded to the claims in a rational, calm manner, certainly setting themselves apart from, say Napster, who would respond to RIAA like a scolded child. In a statement, the company said,
Our position is that they are barking up the wrong tree, as it seems they were with their approach to CBS last week.
As informed commentary in the past few days has made plain, there is a distinction between the BitTorrent protocol and piracy. Piracy is a real thing, but BitTorrent, Inc. is not the source. We do not host, promote, or facilitate copyright infringing content and the protocol, which is in the public domain, is a legal technology.
It is difficult to vilify a company who provides a service for the purchasing of music direct from artists by saying they promote the theft of music. It is actually in their best financial interest to discourage theft and, instead, encourage the purchasing of said music through their own platform. My guess is this is RIAA trying to get their name back out into the world as a legal group, though I suspect it will be with the same laughable tactic they have used before. Anyone remember the older woman who was sued for using Morpheus to download music, though she had a Mac and the software wasn't available on Mac?