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Cary Sherman, The RIAA, And Their Failure To Change The Culture of File-Sharing

It’s not hard to imagine why the RIAA is one of the most loathed, criticized and beleaguered industry trade groups of the last decade. Cary Sherman is the president of their board of directors and has worked there for 13 years; he is, more or less, the public face of the organization, known most famously for suing everyone and their grandmother. Asked in a recent interview for his perspective on how effective their transition in strategy from ligation as a business model to pressuring ISP’s be more accountable for their users has been, Sherman replied:

image from "The time had come to shift over to a strategy that would be more effective. The lawsuits were obviously controversial in the media, but the reality was that most people had no idea that what they were doing was illegal at the time of those lawsuits... We did everything to look at how to begin to change the culture of using illegal P2P. We realized that 1) none of the messages resonated, and 2) most people had no idea that what they were doing was illegal, let alone thought it was wrong. That completely flipped overnight when we started the lawsuits. It made an enormous impression... we think it had a tremendous impact by very clearly searing in the minds of the public that maybe getting all of this stuff for free isn’t legal after all." (Read the rest.)

Why Culture Is Hard To Change:

In effect, what Sherman admits is that the RIAA and their anti-piracy efforts failed to change the culture of file-sharing, because, assumptions, the deepest level of culture, are unconscious, non-confrontable and non-debatable. Another reason that the culture of file-sharing is hard to change is because it’s deeply engrained into the lives of the young and the digital, among others, and the behavioral norms are well learned; therefore society must unlearn the old norms before they can learn new ones. "Culture isn't just an agglomeration of individual behaviors; it is a collectively held set of norms and assumptions," tech-evangalist Clay Shirky writes in his latest book Cognitive Surplus. According to Colonel Andy Nodine:

image from "individuals generally make their decisions about how they are going to behave based on certain widely accepted norms of behavior and conceptions of self-interests, which can be identified and defined as the essence of the culture… you can’t change the culture using any process based on central control or hierarchical  authority. There is no individual or even collections of individuals… who have enough control or authority over enough of the population to mandate cultural change... you can't mandate cultural change..." (Reference.)