When it comes to the information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the security agency’s activities, the hits just keep on coming. Ironically, this time the hits are recorded: among the kinds of data captured and stored on NSA servers are terabytes of digital music and other digital media acquired through an NSA operation, dubbed “RAINBOWPIZZA,” that was designed to trace possible terrorist money-laundering via pirate media sites.
The latest spin on the spy agency’s activities may prove to be a thorn in the side of both the NSA and, surprisingly, Apple: apparently, many NSA employees and contractors have taken advantage of the archive of confiscated media, dipping into it to populate their own personal media collections, making the NSA a possible accessory in copyright infringement. At least, that is the way the Recording Industry Association of America reads the situation, according to RIAA spokesperson Ricard Roltz, who said, “A preliminary audit of the revealed archive holdings suggests that the NSA may hold the largest collection of pirated media ever found, with an estimated 32 million songs and 3 million commercial videos.” In his statement, Roltz noted that RIAA legal counsel has begun preparing for legal action, and did not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit targeting the agency itself, noting that “Even the federal government must adhere to laws of the land.”
What makes this concerning for Apple is that, based on the samples examined in the course of the audit, less than a third of the media appeared to originate from Apple’s iTunes Music Store, even though Apple claims to have almost twice as many songs available as its closest competitor, Amazon. 26 million songs were said to be available in the iTunes Music Store as of late 2012, the last time Apple released statistics about its music holdings, compared to the 14.8 million songs available from Amazon (reported in early 2013). If these statistics hold up when the archive is more thoroughly examined, it would suggest that Apple is rapidly losing market share among the most active and vociferous segment of music fans to its competitors. Or, more positively, that fewer Apple users choose to share illicitly copied music.
In any case, RIAA will face tough legal sledding in its attempt to bring the NSA to justice. One issue is whether the NSA can be held to be a contributing infringer or whether the suit will have to be restricted to the actual employees and contractors involved. Sources say that RIAA is preparing to subpoena the media devices of an unspecified number of John Doe defendants, but those subpoenas are themselves problematic, as the identities of their targets are classified.