More on the RIAA

August 15, 2008

According to a post on the site of political blogger Michelle Malkin, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is plannning to try to ram through a tax that would be added to everyone’s Internet bill. She reported on this back on March 28, quoting the site as follows:

The plan—the boldest move yet to keep the wounded entertainment industry giants afloat—is simple: Consumers will pay a monthly fee, bundled into an internet-service bill in exchange for unfettered access to a database of all known music.

I have said before that the RIAA is behaving in a manner that smacks of borderline illegal strong-arm tactics. Ms. Malkin hits the nail on the head, remarking that the RIAA is “engaging in a protection racket, pure and simple.” And so they are. I am all for musicians receiving due credit for their creative efforts. But record companies are not the creators. And with the technology that consumers currently have at their disposal, the question arises whether the recording companies even need to exist. However, that is a question for another discussion.

First, let’s ask our elected representatives first if  they plan to support this thinly-veiled attempt at extortion. Even though I consider the music freeloaders as thieves and have no sympathy whatsoever for them, I for one intend to oppose this new idea of the RIAA with every effort I can muster.


RIAA Thoughts

August 14, 2008

As a working musician, I am conflicted about the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and their war against illegal downloaders and sharers of music. On the one hand, content does indeed belong to its creator, and the folks who illegally download and share said content are in fact stealing from the creators of the music.

However, the tactics that the RIAA is using are quite simply over the top in my opinion. The companies that produce the methods should in fact be held accountable and be forced to pay the fines associated with this stealing of music, since they are the ones who made it possible. Finding the actual people responsible seems to be invasive and the RIAA has a long -standing (and deserved) reputation for engaging in borderline legal tactics and out and out strong-arm behavior in its efforts to pry money out of people.

If it were up to me, I would remove the RIAA from the picture entirely. Instead, I believe that this should be the responsibility of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM- the musicians’ union), not the RIAA. Just as the songwrtiers’ associations, ASCAP and BMI, regulate the used of songs for which they own the copyright, so should the AFM regulate the use of a performer’s music illegally.

Currently, if an establishment- restaurant, bar or whatever- wishes to have live music, unless the band is playing entirely original songs, that establishment must pay the ASCAP and BMI for the use of songs for which the copyright is owned by that association. For traditional jazz and swing bands, this means that anywhere they play this fee must be paid, as the classic tunes of Glenn Miller or Louis Armstrong are what the clientele comes to hear. ADCAP and BMI retain people who will visit these establishments and if they recognize songs being played for which their organization owns the copyright, then that establishment will be forced to pay or they will be legally forced to discontinue their sponsorship of live music. I believe that the musicians’ union needs to do something similar with respect to their members. The RIAA should merely be the medium- not the end-all.

Having said that, I also believe it is incumbent both on the musicians and the record companies to find a better way to deliver their product. Apple’s iTunes Store is certainly one option. It allows the consumer to purchase a single song, instead of forcing them to buy an album that said consumer may or may not want. As opposed to the current structure that forces a consumer to spend 20 dollars or more on a whole album that (especially in the case of popular music) may contain at best one or two good songs.

The major gray area here is what happens once a consumer purchases an album or a single song. Does that consumer now have the right to freely distribute it to anyone he or she wishes? Or is it like computer software, where one purchases a license for use on a limited number of systems? Copyright law seems to be divided on this issue. Personally, I would suggest that it ought to be treated like software- a consumer is purchasing a license to use (listen to) the music, but that license does not contain a transferable right. In other words, a consumer can use it or copy it onto a different medium for personal use, but does not have the legal right to transfer it to another person. Of course, that brings up the issue of enforcement, especially among the younger generation who are the biggest listeners and the biggest offenders in the area of copyright. How would one enforce this?

I will continue to post thoughts on this issue going forward, but the problem of illegal copying is not going away, and the RIAA’s ham-handed tactics are not doing anything to gain either goodwill or support for the content owners’ positions. We need a third way- preferably one in which the role of the lawyers is extremely limited….