Shortly after hiring former Sen. Bob Dole, the trade group said a former Montana governor, Marc Racicot, has joined its lobbying team. Each man, along with less prominent Democratic figures, will be mounting an "education" effort targeted at national political and media figures and focused on the importance of intellectual property in the U.S. economy and legal system, the group said.
"We have recognized for some time the inevitable nexus between public policy and litigation in these online issues," said RIAA Chief Executive Hilary Rosen. "We really believe this is a public policy debate that has very broad implications."
The debates over how to and who can distribute music, videos and other copyrighted works online have risen quickly out of legal and Net circles and into the mainstream, following the success and now possible disappearance of Napster's music-sharing service.
The RIAA and allies such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have consistently won legal battles in court against file-swapping services such as Napster and Scour. But each successive victory has helped galvanized opposition to their actions among an increasingly vocal coalition of free speech advocates, programmers and music fans.
Napster itself has appealed to its tens of millions of members to call or e-mail their congressional representatives and to join a "Napster Advocacy Network," which aims to spread the gospel of legal file-sharing. High-profile intellectual allies--including Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, who came to prominence as a court-appointed "special master" in the Microsoft antitrust case--have aided in the call to action.
As music disappears from Napster "one song at a time, people will become aware that there is a political battle," Lessig said at a recent trade conference. "It's time we should be fighting it."
The RIAA clearly has work to do inside the Republican Party, traditionally the protectors of property rights. Among the biggest public critics of the record companies' actions has been Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). On the floor of the Senate earlier this month, he said the federal appeals court decision against Napster was "shortsighted from a policy perspective" and called again for the record companies to strike deals with online rivals.
Racicot acknowledged that Hatch and other Republicans will be targets of the "education" effort.
"He's one of the American citizens we hope to be able to talk to and educate on this issue," Racicot said.
Hatch has not yet moved for new legislation, saying that he still hopes online companies and copyright holders can reach their own agreements. RIAA executives said they would not press for new laws either.
"Right now I think the market has the tools in the music space it needs," Rosen said. "What we have to do is a significant education effort."