Entertainment industry hits enterprises with legal threats

The entertainment industry hasn't given up its fight to stop illegal downloading of music. It's just shifted its focus to companies that "let" workers download music files.

Enterprises better brace for copyright infringement court battles. The music and movie industries recently sent notice to about 300 companies that they intend to sue, claiming they have evidence that employees downloaded illegally obtained content at work.

The announcement marks a new, if predicted, target for the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America. The RIAA last year vigorously launched Internet-based piracy against hundreds of home users. Then a judge took issue with how the media groups gained those names from ISPs. Now, the entertainment industry is going after deeper pockets.

Still, there may be evidence the legal squeeze was working. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey of 1,358 Internet users shows 18 million in December claim to download music, compared to 35 million in May 2003. But whether the number's down because of legal threats is unclear.

What is clear is that the RIAA isn't giving up, and security managers need to be more vigilant about policing employees.

"The focus on individual home computer users has shifted to corporate America," New Jersey-based cyber attorney Melissa L. Klipp, who works for Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP, said in a news release. "They're going after companies that are ignoring or not adequately addressing the issue of illicit employee downloading."

Illegal file sharing has plagued corporations for years, ever since MP3 fans discovered they could download more files through P2P services like KaZaA and Morpheus -- at faster speeds -- using their company's broadband connections.

Klipp and other legal experts recommend security managers and their staffs adopt and enforce acceptable use policies that ban downloading copyrighted material without first gaining the holder's permission. A key component of enforcement may be employee monitoring and perhaps creation of an Internet compliance officer to handle suspected abuses.

Klipp also recommends that employees sign a compliance agreement after being educated on how copyright infringement harms both workers and their companies. Then violators should be reprimanded, even fired, to limit liability.

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