The Corporate Music Threat

Start policing your employees' use of file sharing networks or we sue you. That was the threat from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to Fortune 1000 companies last week as the organizations announced the publication and distribution of a guide "to assist US companies in preventing copyright abuse on their computers and networks."

While some feel that online file trading is the only thing keeping the music business afloat, because it exposes listeners to new music, the RIAA clearly disagrees. The guide, titled A Corporate Policy Guide to Copyright Use and Security on the Internet, requests that companies take steps to ensure that their computer and Internet systems are not being utilized for what the RIAA and MPAA term "film and music piracy." The groups say the guide has been delivered to many of the largest companies in the US.

The guide requests companies to advise employees against copyright abuse on computer systems in the workplace, in particular "copying and uploading copyright material to the Internet without permission from the rights owner." The brochure adds, "Such unauthorized copying of music, movies and other copyright material is illegal and can tarnish corporate reputations, increase security risks for computer systems, and put organizations at risk of legal liability."

While the RIAA and MPAA issued their guide in the US, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the trade body representing the recording industry worldwide, drafted a version of the brochure for European companies and is spearheading the effort overseas.

The guide (which can be downloaded here) emphasizes that companies, if they police their employees, can avoid "potential legal risks such as injunctions, damages, costs, and possible criminal sanctions or financial penalties against the companies and their directors where corporate systems are used for copyright theft."

The trade groups point out that "companies could face substantial penalties if convicted of this kind of copyright infringement." Every threat needs a big stick to back it up, so the RIAA cites an action taken in April 2002, where Arizona-based Integrated Information Systems paid a $1 million settlement after employees were found to be accessing and distributing thousands of "infringing music files" on the company server.