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Freedom Control

I just spotted this, the latest in the Recording Industry Association of America's recent fundraising activities. Basically, they accuse you of file-sharing, and whether you have commited this heinous crime against humanity or not, you have already lost. Even if you win, you lose. They subpoena your Internet Service Provider(ISP) for your information, and if/when your ISP succumbs to the RIAA's bullying on their own part, and on the part of the people in Washington that are in their pocket, you have two choices: defend yourself against one of the largest corporate advocacy groups in existence, which would cost tens, even hundreds of thousands, even if successful, or settle with the RIAA, and sign a document that states that you, under penalty of an even bigger lawsuit, promise to refrain from file-sharing ever again, as long as you live, even when it eventually becomes legal.

This translates to an excellent revenue generator for the RIAA, and a horrible bit of PR. The very people they are attacking are the same people that buy CDs, go to concerts, and listen to their radio stations. In most industries, they would be called customers. Here, they are called criminals, and their crime is so ambiguous(hosting a copy of a recording of a copyrighted work), there's no legal precedent upon which to justify the RIAA's draconian actions. In one way, it's shocking how ravenously they are attacking their own revenue base, but in another, it's harrowing to watch them rampage, unchecked, simply because they claim that they are dealing with something new. The thing is, they aren't dealing with anything new. This is all well-covered ground, already heavily explored in the early eighties, with the recording of cassettes and videotapes. It seems to me that the only difference now is that the Internet makes such activity easier.

However, ease does not make a law or precedent any more or less potent. Law is law, and precedents are precedents. That's why the RIAA(and their evil twin, the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America) have gone to great lengths to present today's file-sharing activities as something new. In addition, and this is the kicker, internet filesharing, helps the RIAA. They benefit from its rampant use. It's free advertising for them, yet they fight it, tooth and nail. Why? Control.

The companies that comprise the RIAA, through their network of internally-owned radio stations, record stores, and websites, have, for almost the entire history of recorded music, controlled the production and distribution of music. Prior to the widespread acceptance of computers as an Everyman tool, the production and ditribution of music were prohibitively expensive pursuits. They were so expensive, in fact, that record companies, as they got larger, were the only ones to turn to, for musicians. Enter computer technology. What once had a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars(recording an album and pressing a CD), has become as cheap as buying a computer and some sound equipment.

Distribution was also very expensive, as record companies, by the 70s or 80s, ceased to be regional entities anymore. When an album was made, the goal was widespread distribution, spurred by heavy and expensive promotion. Also, this was only available to a handful of musicians at a time, as the top 40 only has room for 40 songs. Enter the internet. Distribution of music, all of a sudden, is as easy as clicking a link on a website, and waiting a couple minutes.

For decades, the RIAA has depended on three things for continued success. First, they needed it to be expensive to produce music, meaning that anyone who wants to record has to come to the RIAA do get it done. Second, they needed it to be expensive to get your music to the people. Third, they needed to be the only real player in the industry, or else competition might drive down the profits. So, the oligopoly, managed by a couple of large companies, turned into an outright monopoly, with the collusion of these companies to form the RIAA, an advocacy and lobbying group that speaks, swings, and pockets politicians on the industry's behalf. The third point is neccesary, but useless without the first two points. They have already started to lose ground on the first point, which has forced them to evolve a bit, cutting into their substantial bottom line, but that it about the only compromise they are willing to make.

They will continue to prosper, at the expense of the musician and customer, until the second point I listed becomes out of their reach, and their recent litigative actions are their desperate gropes to hold on to that point. With a combination of government action and litigation, they just might hold on to their position as arbiter of music, but it's my opinion that the more people know, the less they'll be able to get their interests passed in Washington. Only time will tell.

8:39 AM, Jan 22, 2004

1 comment

hagakure wants you to know:

You tell em Che!

11:09 AM, Jan 24, 2004

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