The failure of the RIAA

RIAA Logo

I just finished reading an article about the first Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) trial going on in Duluth (Catch it on Wired here.) I could not believe the RIAA is still going after people, and even going to trial! I cannot believe that this group is not done getting blasted by the public… again. Now, do not get me wrong I understand that the RIAA is trying to protect their rights, and people are downloading songs illegally, but going after people one by one seems to be a huge waste of time and money.

The problem that the RIAA has is that they are trying to deal with an entrenched idea. When file sharing was available, this would be pre-Peer-to-Peer (P2P) (ie: Kazaa, BitTorrent, Morpheus, and LimeWire), the big concern was not music it was software piracy. The software industry responded by developing more advanced anti-piracy techniques. For whatever reason the music industry did not see what was going to happen. Now they are trying to play catch-up.

So what is the problem? The problem is the RIAA is prosecuting people in an effort to stop others from downloading music. It is not about the money. The RIAA cannot expect to recoup the estimated $4 million in damages in the Duluth case, and in many other cases the RIAA has taken significantly less when they have settled out of court. So is this tactic creating fear in the public? Have people started downloading less music because they are afraid that they RIAA is going to sue them?

I doubt it.

I checked download.com (operated by CNET) to see what the file sharing software downloads looked like. The top downloaded software is a program called Morpheus. This piece of file sharing software was added to download.com’s list on September 28th, 2007 and was downloaded over 170 million times (If you are looking for the updated list visit Download.com).

Now it is unlikely that all 170 million people that downloaded Morpheus did it to download illegal music. This number may also represent several downloads by a single person. Lets suppose 30% of this total number did use this software to download one song (the minimum number of song’s the RIAA says they will prosecute you for downloading). Of this 30% let’s say 20% could be tracked down so the RIAA can prosecute them. That means the RIAA would be trying to prosecute 10.2 million people. Why would any company even want to try and do that? Multiply whatever dollar amount you want per prosecution and you will get an even better idea of how impractical this would be.

So what should the RIAA be working on? First, increase the amounts of money put toward copyright protection and continue to put money toward this. Second, develop an automated way to “spoof” the files that are on P2P sites. They should work with the companies that built them, or on their own to find ways to stop piracy through these sites. Third, the RIAA should stop trying to fight the public through prosecution of those people that download music. This will not stop piracy, but drive it underground and increase the number of avenues given to people. This will only make it harder for the RIAA to monitor. Fourth, they should work with the companies that provide mp3 downloads, like Apple’s iTunes. These services should be promoted as the legal way to download music.

If the RIAA continues to go after anyone that downloads music illegally they will be more likely to see more t-shirts lambasting them. What will be worse for the RIAA is that piracy will be driven deeper and fractured even more. It will require more effort on the RIAA’s part to find out who is pirating music. They need to cut their losses and work on ways to curb piracy in the future rather than try and scare people into submission.

3 replies on “The failure of the RIAA”

My take on the RIAA, is it a good thing, yes, is it a bad thing, yes.

I download music, I am a criminal. Now before you think I am some longhaired hippie who thinks all music should be free, hear me out. I do not download music that is popular or is playing on the radio. I either already like those bands and will buy their CD’s or I don’t and wont. The point is, with those; for the most part I know what I am getting.

However, I do like to find new bands and my tastes can get more than a little out there. Which means that these are bands you will not hear on MTV, the radio, or find in a music store. If it wasn’t for downloading I might hear of the band, I might not. One thing I will say is that I would not drop $20 or more on a CD because I like the artwork or Amazon says I might ‘be interested’.

Some of you out there are saying that I steal these bands music, I don’t. I download it, I listen to it, if I like it I usually will buy it along with 2-3 of the bands other CD’s. Because I was able to listen to it first and regardless of whether I buy or not the download is erased within a few weeks. So technically I do steal a CD for a short time then but then if I like it I buy it and others as well. So what have I actually stolen, two weeks of interest that the music companies would make on my money?

Downloading wasn’t available when I was growing up in the 70’s but then it wasn’t necessary either. I could turn on my radio and listen to many different independent radio stations that played things that the DJ liked. Which meant if you found a DJ that liked the things you did you listened to him or her to find out what was new and worth listening to.

It was great, I found out about bands I had never heard of, I could listen to the DJ talk about them and then play tracks on the radio. You can’t do that anymore, now all of the radio stations in my area, read large California City, all play the same 250 songs over and over again. Gone are the days that DJ’s even mattered to the music at all. Some of the stations here don’t even have DJ’s now just music and commercials played by computers.

Then came Internet radio, it was like going back in time. I could pick what type of music I was interested in and hear some new bands. Not anymore, the RIAA didn’t like that they didn’t make royalties on the songs that were played and I can totally understand their reasoning. But most of these stations were not professional stations, they were just people with a passion for a certain type of music and wanted to share what they had discovered. They could not afford to pay the royalties so they, for the most part went away.

If I was starting a new band today, I don’t know what I would think. Of course they have to sell albums to support their art, but if nobody hears it who cares. I wonder how many bands that were great and really had something to say vanished because nobody ever heard of them. In the 70’s a band could take a demo tape to a radio station and possibly, if it was good enough, get it on the radio and people could hear it. Not now. Name me one famous DJ that isn’t doing comedy, weather and drive times in the morning, or shock talk in the afternoons, I certainly can’t think of one.

Sorry I got off on a bit of a rant, but it gives you some idea how crazy the current situation is making me. I don’t want some corporate type in a suit telling me what I should like and buy. The RIAA wants to lock up music so tight that soon we wont even have to go the music shop. We will just send our personality profile to the record companies and sign up for the regular, jumbo or deluxe box ‘o’ music and it will arrive on the doorstep once a month in a plain brown paper package perfectly matching the selection inside. A wonderful assortment of the latest ‘BritneyAvrilU2MelloncampPumpkinsMadonnaStingGenericPopBullDroppings that anyone would ever need to listen to’ [TM].

Until there is some way to hear new bands, to try new songs without rolling a $20+ pair of dice I will keep downloading and deleting and then spending my $200 – $300 a month on music I have a good chance of liking.

I guess that makes me a criminal.

downloading is the new Radio.

If RIAA got what they wanted, sales of their artists would plummit.

Ask Microsoft…as you said they worked on anti-piracy measures…they were so successful in slowing the adoption of IE7, that they had to back out, and retrack, and now offer IE7 to download by anyone…even those who didn’t pass the Windows Genuine test.

It’s because you make money after wide distribution.

In the future, books will be absolutely free to read…but you want a hard copy…that you will pay for. It’s a new world, but the RIAA is gasping to keep the old one in place.

They may damage a lot of families, harass a lot of single mothers…but in the end, they cannot reverse progress.

In the long run of things, entrenched ideas, don’t go away. But artists can get paid. Live concerts, t-shirts, unlock codes that give you access to web content….and ideas that haven’t been invented. You will pay for some things, and the industry will be as big as ever….other things will be free.

Eventually it won’t require a law…wide distribution doesn’t happen when there is a cost to it. Right now the old system is mostly still in place, but over time, it will be impossible to get famous if you CHARGE..and people will eye you like you are the criminal.

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