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The RIAA Might Want To Sue You For Downloading Music Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 July 2002
The Wall Street Journal reported today that a number of the major media conglomerates have authorized the Recoding Industry of America (RIAA) to start suing individuals who publicly share copywritten music files. Their target will be people with the largest collections of copywritten music available on file sharing networks like Gnutella. Their goal is to make a public statement that the music industry isn’t going to stand for having their music traded freely on the internet despite the grassroots consumer popularity of peer to peer music sharing networks like Gnutella and the now defunct Napster.

Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, publicly attacked end users (AKA: Metallica’s young fan base) for downloading music on Napster during testimony in front of Congress in 2000. At the time Metallica had been the most successful, most popular band in rock for over ten years. In the two years since then, their popularity has waned. Limp Bizkit, the most Napster friendly band ever, is now arguably the king of the hill when it comes to rock and roll popularity and sales. Now it looks like Hilary Rosen of the RIAA is picking up where Ulrich left off by directly attacking and insulting those who buy the most records and are most enthusiastic about music. It is most definitely Rosen’s job to protect the interests of the record labels and their copywritten music however in the second down year in a row for the music industry, an industry that historically doesn’t have off years, Rosen’s timing is likely making some record execs cringe.

Throughout the battle over downloadable music the RIAA has consistently taken a “we’ll break it before we let you have it” attitude especially with their legal onslaught against Napster in 2000. The problem is that the consumers want downloadable music but the RIAA and the labels have yet to figure out a way to give it to them thus consumers continue to find ways to swap copywritten songs online. Perhaps if the record companies realized that if there is such tremendous demand for music delivered on line, they could find high performance ways to deliver the consumers what they want in a way that the labels could live with. This doesn’t mean a $3 per song record label download site. Nobody in their right mind will pay for that. BMG is trying to resurrect Napster with its former subscriber base of 54,000,000 users so they can turn it in to a pay-per-download service but nothing is live to date. AOL-Time Warner is rumored to be working on a similar service which would add nicely to the exclusive values AOL subscribers get from the on-line and entertainment giant. With no good options available to consumers, the RIAA’s timing with lawsuit threats couldn’t be worse.

The solution to the problem is not litigation of the world’s most enthusiastic music fans. The answer is to provide a new audio format like DVD-Audio which has much dramatically better sounding prerecorded stereo music, high resolution surround sound remixes, music videos, band interviews and more all for $16.99 and can play most features on one of over 30,000,000 DVD-Video player already on the market. Gen Y, kids currently in high school and college, think the record labels and the concert promotion companies are the evil empire looking to steal money from them. They ask why should I pay for a disc when I can download it on to the computer my parents bought for me and then rip it on a $0.20 CDR disc? The answer is the DVD-Audio disc that sounds that much better, often has a few bonus tracks on it, has interviews with the band and more. The fact that the disc has copy protection on it will be of small consequence when the buying public can get a recordable media with enough value in it that it is actually worth $16.99.

If Hilary Rosen and the RIAA started urging artists and labels to produce higher quality recordings specifically mastered for surround sound so that the labels could directly appeal to Gen X and Gen Y, she would be doing far better than making threats of law suits against the most enthusiastic music fans. Whether the RIAA’s claims are right or wrong about downloadable music being stealing (others say it is fair use), the music business is guaranteed to lose if Rosen goes lawsuit crazy with people sharing music on-line. The negative PR will be unprecedented when the RIAA could be supporting a solution that urges people to take the high road and support one of two exciting new audio formats.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, USAToday.com

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