RIAA spent millions to collect very little

The Recording Industry Association of America is well known for alienating thousands of people by launching massive legal battles against individual John Doe’s via file sharing lawsuits.  The group’s campaign was lost upon many PC users, and the effort was heavily criticized, but the RIAA soldiered on anyway with additional lawsuits.

A recently discovered tax filing indicates just how much the RIAA paid in attorney fees — and how much it won.

RIAA spent millions to collect very little

In 2007, the RIAA spent more than $21 million on legal fees, with $3.5 million going to industry watchgroup MediaSentry. That same year, the music industry group won just $516,000 in funds as compensation for copyright infringement.

The next year, the RIAA reportedly paid more than $16 million in legal fees to secure just $391,000 in compensation. Specifically, the RIAA received an average settlement of $3,500 in 110 legal cases that year.

Throughout its entire battle against peer-to-peer piracy, the RIAA has reportedly spent more than $64 million to win back $1.4M over a four-year period.  Most people chose to avoid court and settle with the RIAA, paying $7,000 or less.

Even though it’s done with the John Doe lawsuits, the trade group will still end up paying additional legal fees related to its Jammie Thomas-Rasset and Joel Tenenbaum cases.  Very few people ended up in court related to file sharing, although student Whitney Harper was fined $27,000 in March.

These numbers aren’t too surprising, as it was long believed that the lawsuit campaign was really just meant to scare the public, attempting to deter others from file sharing — but it didn’t slow down P2P file sharing.

A view into the RIAA’s finances related to file sharing can be found here (PDF file, courtesy of p2pnet).  Salaries for the RIAA CEO and other executives also can be found, offering another insight into the RIAA’s corporate structure.

The RIAA has successfully forced LimeWire to sort itself out and re-launch before the end of 2010 as a legal music service. Otherwise, the music industry as a whole continues to struggle as consumers migrate to individual digital track purchases and musicians continue to drop big corporate record labels.