Thief, Sinner, Downloader

The RIAA has reached a new low in their efforts to blame P2P file-sharing for their declining profits. Recently, they have made the argument that it is illegal to copy a CD you have purchased to your own computer (a summary of the events can be found in this Washington Post article, and numerous other places). It really makes me wonder when, if ever, will they realize they are not going to succeed in their attempts to invade privacy, prevent technological growth, and assume the role of dictator over the price, use, and distribution of music.

I am really amused by the language on their website, which is brazenly assuming a morally pedantic tone. Here are some highlights:

“Our response to the online theft of music is multi-faceted. Most important is to offer fans legal alternatives. That’s always the most effective “anti-piracy” strategy.”

Ok, on this point, they get no sympathy from me. A decade ago programmers and software companies tried to get funding and investment from the music industry, but since CDs were still close to the 20$ range, they refused, assuming the good times would keep on coming. In fact, if you look at their revenue reports (found on their website), digital downloads were not even present on their yearly totals until around 2004-2005 (at which time their sales numbers actually went up). So what does that say about their real efforts to present the listener with “legal” options for getting music in digital forms? Let’s continue with what they have to say:

“We work with a variety of respected educational leaders to develop curriculum and other materials that seek to engage fans and encourage them to think critically about how they acquire music (hyperlink to part of site with various programs) and other forms of intellectual property.”

This is funny for two reasons; first is the missing hyperlink that their copywriter apparently forgot to add, where the parenthetical is – yes, that is exactly how it appears on their site right now, and no, the section it refers to is not; secondly is the idea that they want fans to “critically” think. They seem to be missing the point that people are. I also love the idea of an organization saying something equivalent to “buy the music of this artist Jessica Simpson (or Brittany Spears, or Paris Hilton, or any other awful entertainer), but think critically about how you get it.” Of course, they have all sorts of “downloading is theft” language there, and they have the gall to say this:

“More broadly, the industry’s efforts have made an impact on attitudes, practices, cultural norms, awareness and the business climate for legal services.”

I love how it is the RIAA who claims to be making on impact on cultural norms and attitudes, when in fact they are trying to hinder them. This, and all the anti-theft language, is what really makes me angry. This is an organization that takes no issue with the fact that a large percentage of the albums/music it is behind is so-called “music” that celebrates and glamorizes criminal and gang activity, mistreating women, and often features known felons. This is an organization that, when demanding a university hand over the names of certain users on their campus network so they could then issue those students “pre-litigation” letters that gave them the option of going to court or settling for a few thousand dollars, refused to pay the university the measly 11$ or so it cost the university to produce those names (here is a pretty good summary). This is an organization that has been overpricing CDs for years and for even longer has let artists be vastly underpaid, all while it claims to be an organization that protects the artists’ rights – but is in actuality made up of record companies. Yes, I’m sure this is exactly the kind of organization that we need to remind us of what is right and wrong.

The bottom line is that the RIAA is so misguided – and only because it is made up of the wealthy and politically connected have they gotten this far in their reign of tyranny. They want to blame college kids and grandmothers for their loss of revenues – then expect them to continue to buy. No, it has nothing to do with a barrage of shallow music created by producers and packaged onto models and boy bands; it has nothing to do with bands so fed up with mistreatment that they begin sidestepping as many middlemen as possible between them and their fans; it has nothing to do with record labels and music distributors acting nearly a decade late on the explosion of the digital media. No – it’s your fault, for downloading. This is the message the RIAA wants you to buy into. I don’t think so.

I truly believe most people will buy music worth buying; I know I do. Often, yes, I download it first, if I can find it, and make sure I’m not wasting my money. Smart bands – ie. Radiohead, Weird Al, etc. – have done really genius things like making the purchased product more than simply 10-15 songs, including artwork, videos, and so forth – making the album itself its own experience. And there is a reason these musicians thrive, while the wasteland of the mainstream music culture is “dying” (i.e. – making slightly less millions and millions of dollars than in previous years).


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