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Switched On: Apple, RIAA Should Sue Each Other's Fans


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Every Wednesday Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

Apple and the RIAA have had a good partnership. Since the launch of the iTunes Music Store nearly 11 months ago, Apple has sold more than 300 million songs. More significantly, it has shown the recording industry the promise of Internet distribution, reversing a trend that had started with the rise of the original Napster service that rekindled consumers' interest in music

However, both organizations still face problems with the pesky dissemination of Internet content. Terabytes of music continue to flow freely through peer-to-peer networks such as KaZaa. The result is that today's multi-millionaire artists must make painful sacrifices such as marrying Kevin Federline. Apple, meanwhile, must struggle against teenagers who must violate the Geneva Convention in order to extract information about mind-blowing new products such as pastel socks. It's clear that the next step for Apple and the RIAA is to join forces in doing what they do best and sue each other's most enthusiastic fans.

According to the legal doctrine of prila slofo, companies that are engaged in contracts can take legal action when a party with which they have a binding agreement is enjoined from fulfilling its contractual obligations. While not covered much in the mainstream media, these lawsuits are as common as cell phone bill disputes with one�s baby daddy on The People�s Court.

For example, if a dead grandmother downloads a copy of The Who�s �Won�t Be Fooled Again� and Apple could have estranged cellular carriers by selling a digital copy of that song, Apple may sue the dead grandmother directly. With the average RIAA lawsuit settling for around 5,000 critical Slashdot posts, the numbers quickly add up; Apple and the RIAA can make more money suing customers than selling them songs.

Astonishing as it may seem given that few companies besides Apple have the raw engineering acumen to remove the LCD screen from an MP3 player, the RIAA also has technology that could benefit Apple�s legal department. The anti-piracy probes that RIAA member companies put into peer-to-peer networks could be a boon to Apple rumor control. This would be similar in design to the government-supplied e-mail spying software at ISPs that sniffs out subversive phrases such as �open source� and �Al Franken.� Indeed, a trial of this technology last year rounded up nearly half of the American Zoological Society, an obvious front for rumormongers discussing unannounced Apple system software code-named Cougar, Lion, and Leopard.

Furthermore, the RIAA could also help Apple with its technology that plants decoy song titles by changing the name of certain key Apple technologies so that their true origin is not recognizable. The RIAA licensed this software from Microsoft, which has been using it effectively with its Windows team for 10 years.

What can you do to support these pioneering plaintiffs? It�s simple. Buy iPods. Buy music. Shut up. And if you can�t resist the urge to spread leaks to one of those Apple rumor sites, at least have the common sense to have a dead grandmother do it. She�s already in the RIAA�s files.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at
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