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The itch to do business is strong

The big record companies are (smartly) using statistics from file-sharing networks to get a TiVo-level look at what people are listening to, but are keeping it on the downlow because it weakens their legal case against those networks:

According to on-the-record statements by many major labels, the scene I witnessed in Fleischer’s office couldn’t possibly have happened. But Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, says his firm is working with Maverick, Atlantic, Warner Bros., Interscope, DreamWorks, Elektra, and Disney’s Hollywood label. The labels are reticent to admit their relationship with BigChampagne for public relations reasons, but there’s a legal rationale, too. The record industry’s lawsuits against file-sharing companies hang on their assertion that the programs have no use other than to help infringe copyrights. If the labels acknowledge a legitimate use for P2P programs, it would undercut their case as well as their zero-tolerance stance. “We would definitely consider gleaning marketing wisdom from these networks a non-infringing use,” says Fred von Lohmann, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based cyber liberties group that’s helping to defend Morpheus, Grokster, and Kazaa.

I was wondering when this issue would arise. There’s just too much information available about people’s music-listening habits on file-sharing networks for the labels to ignore, even if it means that those networks would be legally allowed to exist. The labels and the RIAA must have some inkling of this because their tactics have changed in recent months; they’re now going after individuals in addition to the networks. Might they are willing to concede a distinction between legal and illegal use of file-sharing systems? (via bb)