RIAA chief says illegal song-sharing ‘contained’

Nearly a year after the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling against online music file-sharing services, the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America says unauthorized song swapping has been “contained.”

“The problem has not been eliminated,” says association CEO Mitch Bainwol. “But we believe digital downloads have emerged into a growing, thriving business, and file-trading is flat.”

That’s an optimistic view from an industry that saw its numbers slide to near oblivion after the launch of the original Napster in 1999. CD sales fell as much as 30%, and the RIAA pressed Congress and the courts for relief against what it said was rampant piracy.

After the Supreme Court ruled that the services could be liable for piracy by their users, the RIAA sent cease-and-desist letters to several firms. Most — including BearShare, WinMX and Grokster — shut down. EDonkey and others said they would switch to a licensed, paid model.

EDonkey, which along with BitTorrent is one of the most-used file-sharing services, has yet to make the switch.

Even with Grokster and WinMX shut down, their software programs still exist. Eric Garland, CEO of Internet measurement firm BigChampagne, says that more people than ever are using file-sharing networks. “Nearly 10 million people are online, swapping media, at any given time,” he says. That May figure is up from 8.7 million people in 2005, he says.