Pirates Vs. Dinosaurs
The recording industry decided to get tough.
So it sent out its lawyers to find a diabolically clever criminal -- a 12-year-old. Then it filed a lawsuit against her for stealing music over the Internet.
Properly chastised, the pre-teen and her mother (who live in subsidized housing) bought "amnesty" from the multibillion-dollar industry for $2,000 and a promise not to copy anymore songs.
One down, 64,999,999 more lawsuits to go.
This is no way to do business.
Using the Internet to download digital music files has fundamentally changed the way an entire generation listens to and acquires songs. Instead of going to a record store and paying an inflated price for a plastic disc, those connected to the Internet visit online peer-to-peer (or P2P) networks and search out the music they crave. They download a song, burn it onto a disc or load it onto an MP3 player, then crank it up. Beyond minimal P2P and Internet fees, there is no other cost.
Sources put the number of people capable of downloading music in this way at between 40 million and 65 million. That's in the United States, not counting Australia, England, Canada and all the other nations where songs with English lyrics are appreciated.
The increasingly anachronistic music industry, through its lobbying group, the Recording Industry Association of America, has decided to go after these freeloading downloaders -- hence the 261 lawsuits filed last week.
Downloaders are outraged. Web sites such as www.boycott-RIAA.com are dedicated to beating this attack on "sharing." They have hundreds of postings from filesharers, testimonials from artists who embrace the emerging business paradigm and editorials excoriating the RIAA.
"This country revolves around greedy Congressmen and lobbyists," wrote one. "I'm never buying a CD, DVD or anything else."
"Should the laws stick around even though culture has evolved?" asks another writer. "Fine. Bring back slavery."
Finally, "Where was all the fuss during the time that the RIAA was price-gouging the public for the last 20 years? Odd, politicians didn't seem to care too much about that."
The recording industry, basically, calls downloaders thieves. After all, says the industry, they are stealing copyrighted property.
Under current law, the recording industry is right. Downloaders -- or filesharers, if you prefer -- are stealing. No one who uses Kazaa or Morpheus or another P2P can say they haven't been warned about the possibility of being sued.
But the RIAA shouldn't lose sight of two critical points:
Most of those "thieves" are also their best customers, often buying CDs after having heard a song or two via a filesharing site.
The world has changed and the music industry hasn't. To survive they will have to stop assaulting customers in court and find a way to harness the new technology to create profit. Napster, Kazaa and Morpheus figured it out and have at least 65 million fiercely loyal customers.
Regardless of the RIAA members' rights, it is impossible to have sympathy for the four companies (Sony, AOL-Time Warner, Universal and BMG) who dominate the recording industry.
Frank Sinatra didn't have any sympathy for them when he tried to organize artists to get a better deal in the 1960s. The Dixie Chicks -- who sold 20 million copies of their first two CDs (generating $175 million) -- have none. Dixie Chick Natalie Maines told "60 Minutes II" that they didn't make a penny off those sales. The Chicks sued Sony two years ago to force a better deal for their third CD. Don Henley (Eagles), Roger McGuinn (Byrds), Luther Vandross and Meatloaf have all either sued the record industry or testified about its abusive practices.
So when downloaders say they aren't hurting the artists by sharing the songs, they're essentially right.
In an effort to retrieve its customers, these companies lowered the prices of most CDs. That added insult to injury; they could have done that years ago when CD technology made producing discs far cheaper than making LPs. Instead, the price of discs went up and stayed there.
It's impossible for this newspaper to embrace anyone who disdains copyright laws. After all, this is a copyrighted editorial and not available for reprint without permission.
But the record companies are dinosaurs, mired in a dying technology. Instead of embracing the modern and finding a way to profit from it, they flail at their own customers. Don't expect that 12-year-old or anyone else to mourn if they fail.