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Lawyers organization the American Bar Association has a message for its 400,000 members: File-sharing lawsuits “do not yield significant financial returns,” so stop filing them.

That recommendation is buried in a 113-page white paper (PDF) encouraging Congress to draft new anti-piracy legislation like the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills. But while the media industries work toward that legislation, which the American Bar Association (ABA) says should target infringing websites, the group admits that legal action against consumers is largely ineffective in reducing piracy. And, perhaps more important for the lawyers organization, it’s bad business.

“While it is technically possible for trademark and copyright owners to proceed with civil litigation against the consuming public who … engage in illegal file sharing, campaigns like this have been expensive, do not yield significant financial returns, and can cause a public relations problem for the plaintiff in addressing its consuming public,” the report authors assert.

To highlight the futility of such legal efforts, the authors point to several failed crackdowns on illegal file-sharing over the past few years.

For instance, the Recording Industry of America (“RIAA”) initiated a campaign several years ago against consumers who engaged in illegal file sharing of copyrighted music. During that time, the RIAA initiated lawsuits against over 18,000 individual users, most of whom paid a few hundred dollars in settlements to avoid the potential for statutory damages of $150,000 per infringing use. More recently, the RIAA has abandoned its former policy of directly bringing cases against consumers in favor of expanding its focus on educating the consuming public about avoiding piracy. The Motion Picture Association of America (“MPAA”) followed in the RIAA’s footsteps with its own set of lawsuits directed against consumers who engaged in the illegal file sharing of copyrighted films and other video, though on a vastly smaller scale. It, too, later abandoned this approach.

Rather than encouraging legal action, the ABA recommends the content industry spend its time educating the public on the negative impact of stealing content, like damage to the U.S. economy. (That sort of messaging is sure to tug at the hearts of every debt-ridden college student who wants to watch the newest episode of Doctor Who online.)

Whether companies and their legal representatives will listen to the ABA, however, is out of the organization’s control.

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