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The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a group which represents the recording industry distributors in the United Statesmarker. Its members consist of record labels and distributors, which the RIAA say "create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States".

The RIAA was formed in 1952 primarily to administer the RIAA equalization curve, a technical standard of frequency response applied to vinyl records during manufacturing and playback. The RIAA has continued to participate in creating and administering technical standards for later systems of music record and reproduction, including magnetic tape (including cassette tapes and digital audio tapes), CDs and software-based digital technologies.

The RIAA participates in the collection, administration and distribution of music licenses and royalties. The association is also responsible for certifying gold and platinum albums and singles in the USA.

The RIAA lists its goals as:
  1. to protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists;
  2. to perform research about the music industry;
  3. to monitor and review relevant laws, regulations and policies.

Company structure and sales

, the RIAA is led by Mitch Bainwol, who has been Chairman and CEO since 2003. He is assisted by Cary Sherman, the President of the Board of Directors. The board of directors consists of 26 members of the board, drawn mostly from the big four members of the RIAA.

The RIAA represents over 1,600 member labels, which are private corporate entities such as record labels and distributors, and which collectively create and distribute about 90% of recorded music sold in the United States. The largest and most influential of the members are the "Big Four" which include:

The total retail value of recordings sold by members of the RIAA is reported to be $10.4 billion at the end of 2007, reflecting a decline from a high of $14.6 billion in 1999.

Sales certification

The RIAA operates an award program for albums which sell a large number of copies. The program originally began in 1958, with a Gold Award for singles and albums which reach US$1 million sales. The criteria was changed in 1975 to be based on the number of copies sold, with singles and albums selling 500,000 copies awarded the Gold Award. In 1976, a Platinum Award was added for one million sales, and in 1999 a Diamond Award for ten million sales. The awards are open to both RIAA members and non-members.

The RIAA also operates a similar program for Spanish language music sales, called Los Premios Awards.

“Digital” sales certification

In 2004, the RIAA added a branch of certification for what it calls “digital” recordings, meaning roughly “recordings transferred to the recipient over a network” (such as those sold via the iTunes Store), and excluding other obviously-digital media such as those on CD, DAT, or MiniDiscs. In 2006, “digital ringtones” were added to this branch of certification. , the certification criteria for these recordings are as follows:

  • Silver: 100,000
  • Gold: 500,000
  • Platinum: 1,000,000
  • Multi-Platinum: 2,000,000+ (recertified at each million-unit interval)
  • Diamond: 10,000,000

Video Longform certification

Along with albums, digital albums, and singles there is another classification of music release called "Video Longform." This release format includes: DVD and VHS releases, and certain live albums and compilation albums. The certification criteria is slightly different from other styles.

  • Gold: 50,000
  • Platinum: 100,000

Efforts against infringement of members' copyrights

Efforts against file sharing

The RIAA opposes unauthorized sharing of its music. Studies conducted since the association began its campaign against peer-to-peer file-sharing have concluded that losses incurred per download range from negligible to substantial.

The association has commenced high profile lawsuits against file sharing service providers. It has also commenced a series of lawsuits against individuals suspected of file sharing, notably college students and parents of file sharing children. It is accused of employing techniques such as peer-to-peer "decoying" and "spoofing" to combat file sharing.

As of late 2008 they have announced they will stop their lawsuits and instead are attempting to work with ISPs who will use a three strike warning system for file sharing, and upon the third strike will cut off internet service all together. However as of 2009 no major ISPs have announced, and Verizon has publicly denied, any involvement with this plan.

Selection of defendants

The RIAA names defendants based on ISP identification of the subscriber associated with an IP address, and as such do not know any additional information about a person before they sue. After an Internet subscriber's identity is discovered, but before an individual lawsuit is filed, the subscriber is typically offered an opportunity to settle. The standard settlement is a payment to the RIAA and an agreement not to engage in file-sharing of music and is usually on par with statutory damages of $750 per work, with the RIAA choosing the number of works it deems "reasonable". For cases that do not settle at this amount, the RIAA has gone to trial, seeking statutory damages from the jury, written into The Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 as between $750 and $30,000 per work or $750 and $150,000 per work if "willful." In the case RIAA vs Joel Tenenbaum, the jury awarded $22,500 per song resulting in a judgment of $675,000 for the shared 30 tracks and in the case RIAA vs Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the jury awarded $80,000 per song, or $1.92 million for 24 tracks.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union and Public Citizen oppose the ability of the RIAA and other companies to "strip Internet users of anonymity without allowing them to challenge the order in court".

The RIAA's methods of identifying individual users has, in some rare cases, led to the issuing of subpoenas to a dead grandmother, an elderly computer novice, and even those without any computer at all. The RIAA has also brought lawsuits against children, some as young as 12.

In February, 2007 the RIAA began sending letters accusing internet users of sharing files and directing them to web site P2PLAWSUITS.COM, where they can make "discount" settlements payable by credit card. The letters go on to say that anyone not settling will have lawsuits brought against them. Typical settlements are between $3,000 and $12,000. This new strategy was formed because the RIAA's legal fees were cutting into the income from settlements. In 2008, RIAA sued nineteen-year-old Ciara Sauro for allegedly sharing ten songs online.

Settlement programs

In February, 2007, the RIAA launched an 'early settlement program' directed to ISPs and to colleges and universities, urging them to pass along letters to subscribers and students offering early "settlements", prior to the disclosure of their identities. The settlement letters urged ISPs to preserve evidence for the benefit of the RIAA and invited the students and subscribers to visit an RIAA website for the purpose of entering into a "discount settlement" payable by credit card. By March 2007, the focus had shifted from ISPs to colleges and universities.

Lawsuits against other recording, distribution, and search technologies

In October 1998, the Recording Industry Association of America filed a lawsuit in the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals in San Franciscomarker claiming the Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP300 player violated the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act. The Rio PMP300 was significant because it was the second portable consumer MP3 digital audio player released on the market. The three judge panel ruled in favor of Diamond, paving the way for the development of the portable digital player market.

In 2003, the RIAA sued college student developers of LAN search engines Phynd and Flatlan, describing them as "a sophisticated network designed to enable widespread music thievery".

RIAA has also filed suit in 2006 to enjoin digital XM Satellite Radio from enabling its subscribers from playing songs it has recorded from its satellite broadcasts. It is also suing several Internet radio stations.

On December 21 2006, the RIAA filed a lawsuit against Russian owned and operated website in the amount of $1.65 trillion ($1,650,000,000,000). This number was derived from multiplying 11 million songs with statutory damages of $150,000 per song. The Moscow court ruled in favor of

On October 12 2007, the RIAA sued seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the company from "aiding, encouraging, enabling, inducing, causing, materially contributing to, or otherwise facilitating [copyright infringement]" This suit, the first that the RIAA has filed against a Usenet provider, has added another branch to the RIAA's rapidly expanding fight to curb the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials. Unlike many of the RIAA's previous lawsuits, this suit is filed against the provider of a service who has no direct means of removing infringing content. The RIAA's argument relies heavily on the fact the, the only defendant that has been named currently, promoted their service with slogans and phrases that strongly suggested that the service could be used to obtain free music.

On April 28 2008, RIAA member labels sued Project Playlist, a web music search site, claiming their copyrights are infringed by the site's index of links. Project Playlist's website denies that any of the music is hosted on Project Playlist's own servers.

The "Work Made for Hire" controversy

In 1999, Mitch Glazier, a Congressional staff attorney, inserted, without public notice or comment, substantive language into the final markup of a "technical corrections" section of copyright legislation, classifying many music recordings as "works made for hire," thereby stripping artists of their copyright interests and transferring those interests to their record labels. Shortly afterwards, Glazier was hired as Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Legislative Counsel for the RIAA, which vigorously defended the change when it came to light. The battle over the disputed provision led to the formation of the Recording Artists' Coalition, which successfully lobbied for repeal of the change.

See also


  1. Board of the RIAA (RIAA website)
  2. [1] (RIAA website)
  3. Latest Video Longform Certifications Retrieved on May 14, 2008
  5. A Heretical View of File Sharing, by John Schwartz, The New York Times, 5 April 2004
  6. Siwek, Stephen E. The True Cost of Sound Recording Piracy to the U.S. Economy (2007) IPI Policy Report 188, 2007, 6-10.
  7. Butler, Susan. Report: Piracy Has Cost U.S. $12.5 Billion, Billboard magazine. August 21, 2007.
  10. I sue dead people, Ars Technica, 4 February, 2005.
  11. RIAA sues computer-less family, by Anders Bylund, Ars Technica, 24 April, 2006.
  12. RIAA settles with 12-year-old girl, CNet News, 9 September 2003
  13. " RIAA Adopts New Policy, offers Pre-Doe settlement option if ISP Holds Logs Longer, Asks ISP's to Correct Identification Mistakes" Recording Industry vs. The People, February 13, 2007.
  14. " RIAA targets university students" (
  15. "Recording industry battles piracy" by Elizabeth Lauten, The East Carolinian (East Carolina University), April 4 2007
  16. Court OKs Diamond Rio MP3 Player, by Elizabeth Clampet, InternetNews.Com, 16 June 1999
  20. XM Faces The Music In RIAA Copyright Suit, by Joseph Palenchar, TWICE, 22 May 2006
  21. RIAA sues Internet radio stations,, July 2001
  22. ALLOFMP3. Digital music.,, November 05, 2007

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