The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) is at
it again - whining. This time their money and clout has
awarded them a legal victory over Napster - the music
"sharing" website recently found to be infringing upon
copyright laws? For heaven sake, we can sample any
one of Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors before we buy the cone. Why
not a song before we shell out $15.99 for a CD?
In the late 1970's a simple spread sheet program named Visi-Calc
was widely popular - and widely copied. In the early
1980's another computer program dBase-II also became immensely
popular and illegally copied. To many computer historians
the theft and distribution of these two programs were a boon for
the Apple and IBM personal computer markets. But does that
make it right? Morally and legally - no!
Technologically - perhaps. Financially - Absolutely!
The computer industry has learned how to reap billions by giving
out free samples. One such example is the Netscape Internet
browser. Netscape Communications distributes a version of the
browser over the Internet - even upgradable, for free.
Assuming the RIAA argument against this type of free
dissemination then Netscape Communications would soon be
bankrupt, but they're not. In fact, this distribution
process helped facilitate their rapid growth and eventual $4.2
Billion dollar merger with America Online in February of 1999.
Why did it work? because when the customer is satisfied with
what they see for free they're more willing to purchase an
enhanced version or request it's use at work - where it is sold
to businesses at a premium!
So, if successful business models are so obvious in other
industries why does the RIAA continue to fight this new
technology? Because they always have. When
reminded that the recording industry long ago fought the
emergence of 8-track tapes, Hilary Rosen, president of the RIAA
said, "thanks for reminding me about the sordid past -- I
don't think the industry complained about 8 track. It
certainly helped Neil Diamond -- you might be referring to our
industry's wavering support over the years for technological
change. I like to think we have moved past that."
Hmm, Think again.
The RIAA claims they are loosing $5 billion annually to
pirated music worldwide. As a result they're attempting to lock
in sole distributorship of music in every form - including
computer copies. As a "compromise" to the
disenfranchised Napster-type listener, they are brokering deals
to 'license' their music on the Internet through monthly usage
fees or "a dollar a song" type schemas. But
their vision is too occluded by dollar signs to recognize that
their industry is about 'content', not format. The
Recording industry is an expert in music and recording artist -
not information technology. At Napster - it took a
nineteen year old a few weeks hacking on a computer to create an
environment where 50 million people are all interconnected and
are "sharing" exactly what the RIAA is promoting -
musical recordings. Why does the RIAA insist upon inserting
themselves in a technology where they have no footing?
In 1998 the RIAA tried to prevent to prevent Diamond Multimedia
Systems from releasing its first MP3 player with this prophetic
statement from Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and
general counsel for the RIAA:
"What we think will really be damaged and perhaps be killed
is the nation's market for a digital distribution
infrastructure. We can't have a digital distribution that's
commercially legitimate coincide with an illegal market where
the same material is available for free. We're very concerned
[Diamond is] going to kill off digital distribution before it's
been born." Well that didn't happen.
Now the RIAA says it's only protecting the interest of the
recording artist. More malarkey, and a notion that's easy
to dispel. - It assumes that recording artist get rich by
selling individual CDs. But very few could earn a living
that way. Recording artists make their money by receiving
a part of gate receipts while touring. Only after
establishing a sufficiently large following, and hence
negotiating more lucrative contracts based upon sales, do they
see any significant profits from recordings. Perhaps
that explains why the "one-hit wonders" are not all
millionaires. If a recording artist wants to become famous -
then rich, they need exposure. That is exactly what Napster
That leaves only the RIAA (and already established recording
artist, such as Metallica) left to cry foul. Isn't this
the same organization that complained when vinyl gave way to
8-track tape, then to cassette, then to Digital Audio, then to
Compact Disk, now to MP3, and tomorrow to ??? In
many ways this fear of technology is ironic. With Napster
shut down the RIAA members could actually loose CD sales that
were prompted specifically because of Napster. A
personal example is offered:
I am not a CD collector. My personal library is less than
robust - as attested by all the empty slots in my Fifty-CD
holder. (Lots of room left for Metallica).
Recently I heard about an amazing blues/gospel singer named Eva
Cassidy who passed away from skin cancer. I was anxious to
hear this waifish blonde with the booming voice, but her CD's
were not in the bins at either Best Buy or Barnes and Noble.
So, I downloaded several of her tracks from Napster and I
enjoyed the songs enough to order the CD "Live at Blues
Alley" from Amazon.com. Now then, who benefited
from this 'theft'? Well, I discovered a wonderful voice,
Eva's heirs made some change, and an RIAA member made a nice
chunk of dough for a CD that cost them zero to market, zero to
promote, and zero to mass distribute. And that's not all!
As Eva Cassidy's popularity grows then the RIAA member earns
more royalties from radio stations and CD sales. Nice work
if you can get it. And that's my point, the RIAA just
doesn't get it! Sometimes crime does pay.
Not one to be accused of whining I propose the following to the
RIAA. First, leave Napster alone. They will soon be mired
in competition from hundreds of sites waiting to offer similar
services - for a profit. Let the free market help you
promote your product - free of charge. Second, continue to
support technology - not litigation. Soon, digital
recordings will be embedded with something that prevents them
from being played as MP3s, etc.. Let technology work.
After all we live in a world where some people have nothing
better to do than create computer viruses? and other people are
"selling" the anti-virus programs. The
money is there - if you're patient. In the meantime,
here's a really nice picture of Anna Kournikova.
David DeWitt is a computer consultant living
and working in Atlanta, Georgia.
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