IP Strategy and public relations – RIAA's (hollow?) victory in the Jammie Thomas case

The Recording Industry Association ofAmerica (RIAA) recently obtained a $220,000 verdict in the first of their currently pending 26,000 law suits against individuals alleging copyright infringement by file sharing.  The case is big news for tech and copyright lawyers in the US because it is the first of these type of suits to go to full trial and obtain a verdict.

There’s a lot of attention being paid to the case and the ramifications, see for example:engadgetarstechnica, the TWIL podcast and Wired.

As I suggested in a recent post about MTV and Rambus, you can’t just play out your IP Strategy in isolation, even if it best fits your commercial situation.  This is particularly important where it entails an aggressive enforcement approach.  Here we have an organisation which has already had a big serve of bad press, now suing “a single American Indian mother of two making $36,000 a year” (to quote Wired). 

An IP strategy which fails to take proper account of all of the facts and the likely ramifications is at serious risk of failing all together.  The discussion at the TWIL podcast suggested at one point that the RIAA is losing a lot of money and these law suits are meant to do nothing other than delay the final inevitable outcome.  If that’s right, then you still have to wonder whether there is another way to send the (enforcement) signal while dealing with the PR issues. 

As Wired suggests, Jammie Thomas is far from the ideal poster child for the RIAA to hold up as an example in its copyright enforcement drive.  They have settled a very large number of these suits, and they could clearly have been much more strategic about who they chose to take to trial.

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