Subpoena Targets Organizing on the Net

I expect the idea seemed simple in the RIAA’s boardroom. First, declare jihad against music sharers everywhere. Then make it known that you would be sending out subpoenas and filing lawsuits against anyone and everyone who copies. “It doesn’t matter who they are” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. No doubt, they must have thought, the 60 million Americans out there who currently share music will get the message and the rest of the country will thank the record companies for getting tough on crime.

Only now the spin-doctoring is getting away from them. First, the Associated Press used information in the subpoenas to locate and interview some of the targets before even the RIAA had received their names. Far from being the poster-children for underworld crime the RIAA would have trotted before the cameras, those interviewed were college students, parents of file-sharers, and even a grandfather who uses file-sharing networks to download hard-to-find recordings of European artists.

Now comes a new hard lesson for the RIAA about life in the Internet age: these hapless individuals are starting to use the Net to organize. First was, a site started in April by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Internet Industry Association and other organizations to offer resources to those who wish to defend themselves against the recent torrent of subpoenas. They also host a service where you can enter the handle you use on peer-to-peer networks and see if you might soon be the target for a subpoena. And now a new site called is offering every subpoena recipient their own blog, either signed or anonymous, through which they can let their own story come out. The site, started by volunteers that include MIT Media Lab researchers and programmers who previously worked on the site, is bound to give us the exact perspective the RIAA doesn’t want us to see: just how much those 28% of Americans who share music online look just like the other 72% of us.