Beyond the Barline
The People vs. the Recording Industry—Part 2
Three months ago, I expressed my opinion regarding the RIAA’s lawsuit against MP3.com. Part of my concern was personal. I have a page on MP3.com, and I hope, as an independent artist, to continue using its service for the distribution of my work—not the copying of others’. Out of my concern I researched the case and discovered the RIAA’s true motivation: maintaining a stranglehold on its distribution monopoly. That way CD prices will remain at an outrageously inflated $15.99 to $18.99 per unit.
Sadly, the RIAA won its case at the end of April, but the decision on damages has yet to be made by US district judge Jed Rakoff. The RIAA is asking from $750 to $150,000 for each CD copied into MP3.com’s database, even though all the CDs in question had already been sold. How can the RIAA claim financial losses up to $6 billion for CDs already sold? Obviously, the true motivation of the suit is to bankrupt a potential competitor.
Meanwhile, the RIAA has won its first round against Napster. On May 5, US district judge Marilyn Hall ruled that, unlike ISPs, Napster is responsible for copyright infringement on its network. The San Francisco rock band Metallica also sued Napster in late April and provided the company with a list of 317,377 users who (the group alleged) downloaded MP3 files of their music. Napster replied by booting the users, and received over 30,000 complaints from people claiming they were misidentified. Napster then demanded that the band take individual action against the users in question, or the accounts would be restored. (Note: the deadline for Metallica’s response was May 26, three days after I submitted this column.) A one-time rebellious and ground-breaking band could break new ground by suing their own fans. Rapper Dr. Dre also sued Napster around the same time, and he has provided a list of over 200,000 alleged violators.
An Investment in Piracy
In my previous column, I also discussed Myplay.com, an industry-supported site that is no less vulnerable to accusations of facilitating piracy than Napster or MP3.com. In the last three months, the size of Myplay’s lockers (disk space for each account holder’s MP3 files) has been increased from 250 MB (not 25 MB as stated in my column; I apologize for the typo) to 3 GB. At an average of 1 MB per minute of compressed stereo audio, that adds up to 51 hours and 20 minutes of CDs that may or may not belong to the consumer.
Why does the RIAA support one potential source of piracy while suing others? Rafe Needleman of Red Herring got the answer from Doug Camplejohn, the CEO of Myplay. According to the April 27 Catch of the Day, Myplay’s “profit model is built on ‘relationship marketing’—knowing what listeners like and marketing that data to music companies.” So the RIAA gets a return for its investment, offsetting potential losses due to piracy (which are highly questionable and totally unverifiable) with valuable demographic information. Oh, and if you are a good citizen and only upload your own CDs, you’re giving this information away for free. And who gets this information? Well, last month I cited the AOL/Time Warner merger as an example of the potential danger of one corporation controlling both content and access, and Myplay has made me look like quite the prognosticator. According to Needleman’s article, Myplay recently entered into “a partnership with AOL.” I wonder if Myplay will be included in future versions of AOL’s software, or perhaps in Netscape. You listening Bill? Better act fast before you lose this one.
Fight the Power
If you thought these columns are only rantings unsubstantiated by facts (even though, excluding one minor typo, all the facts are accurate) or unsupported by others in either of my chosen fields, you’d be wrong. Chuck D has spoken out in favor of the “revolution” of digital music since the release of Public Enemy’s latest album, There’s a Poison Goin’ On, through Atomic Pop, an Internet-based record label. Fellow rappers Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill will mount a month of free concerts sponsored by Napster. I’m guessing that Dr. Dre isn’t invited. In addition, a growing number of columnists (such as Charles Moore and Del Miller from Apple Links) have cited concerns over both the RIAA’s distribution monopoly and its callous abuse of the intent of copyright law for its own gain.
So What Can You Do?
First, if you value your privacy or are just sick of paying up to eight times over cost for a CD, boycott Myplay.com. Second, please frequent MP3.com while it’s still in operation, and discover for yourself some of the many independent artists creating music that falls far out of the narrow world of the record industry. While you’re surfing, I’d also like to recommend another site. EarBuzz is an Internet-based record label that sells independently recorded and packaged CDs. For artists it offers non-exclusive contracts, handles all promotion (through MP3 samples) and distribution (through online ordering), and returns all profits to the artist. There are no setup fees, no minimum sales demands, and no attempts to influence the artist to change in order to sell more CDs. For the customers, it offers great prices, and a 15-day money back guarantee. If that isn’t enough to recommend it, the site is 100% Mac and, not surprisingly, it’s been highlighted on Apple’s Web site.
Also in This Series
- Ready or Not! · November 2002
- The Other Petition · August 2002
- The Samples Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent · May 2002
- Record Execs Ate My Hard Drive! · April 2002
- And the Award Goes to… · March 2002
- Expos, From a Distance · February 2002
- My Resolution · January 2002
- Too Much Hype · November 2001
- And They’re Off! · September 2001
- Complete Archive
Reader Comments (3)
Second, I fully understand that people want to transfer music over the Internet. It is the wave of the future and, while I don't think MP3s happen to have the sound quality I get from a well-produced CD, that will eventually change. There is nothing wrong at all with people, like the writer of this article, to distribute their own works. The problem is when others take it upon themselves to distribute an artist's works without permissoin or compensation. It is illegal according to copyright law -- change the copyright law if you don't like it. (As a writer and frequent benefactor of the copyright law myself, I hope it doesn't change.)
The fact that one form of distribution is sued and another is apparently not is a non-issue. As has been stated, this is happening everywhere, and the RIAA and concerned artists are and will have trouble keeping up. A place that hasn't been hit with a suit yet is likely just lucky. Legal action is expensive, so money and effort is directed at what are felt to be the best cases first. Such is the way of the world; deal with it.
Personally, I think the RIAA is not doing this exactly right. While the lawsuits are proper, they aren't doing much in the way of promoting good use of Internet music technology. they should be partnering with other sites and promoting their use (such as CDNow or other retailers where one can download samples of songs and then buy the album -- no need to use Napster when you can sample and buy right from the same site). [Of course, then you're only getting samples of songs, so you'll flush out the liars who claim they are going to buy an album if they like what they hear - one doesn't need the full songs to know that.]
This loosey-goosey dancing around the law has got to stop. If it is against the law, that is that. The trick is not to demonize the RIAA and artists for wanting to make a living but discover a way to make all of this technology work within the law (or fix the law, but I really don't think it is broken). It frankly frightens me to hear artists rail against these lawsuits and seemingly be ready to give up any and all right to make a living from their creations.
One other thing, if it is illegal to download a CD or music from the internet, shouldn't it also be illegal for people to put nudity at easy access to children? We all should have the same advantage.
As for children accessing nudity - sure, there are a lot of sites with filthy content. But the truth is that a good portion of it, while distasteful, is not technically illegal. I don't fully understand the law and might be corrected, but my understanding is that it is up to the parent to monitor their child's internet activity. HBO doesn't quit airing R-rated movies just because children can turn on the television and tune in, therefore it won't be illegal for noncriminal nude sites to post pictures.
Yet, there are tools parents can use to help keep their children away from the content. Many cable boxes and television sets no include parental block controls where you must enter a code to access particular channels. To that same end, there are a number of products a parent can install on a computer to help restrict questionable content from appearing.
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