Tuesday, March 20, 2007

RIAA = Villain

How evil is the RIAA?

Seriously, how baby-eatingly bad is the RIAA? Are they Hitler bad? Slobodan Milosevic evil? Maybe just Dr. Evil semi-evilish?

The RIAA has been under some serious heat from them there intranets of late. By enacting the strategy of suing anyone who doesn’t genuflect fast enough, the record industry is shooting themselves in their be-spatted foot. Yes, the RIAA is doing a whole lot of dumb things. Many, many stupid decisions are made by the Recording Institute Association of America. That being said …

They are not really wrong. The RIAA is actually right about the core issue. Stealing music is wrong. Yes, I know I just came out for tyranny and against sunshine.

I believe illegal downloading is bad. It is stealing. Taking something that is not yours is against the law and it should be. Recent changes in technology have made it very easy to grab up the music (and movies and software) you want online. But easy and right are not the same thing.

People that want free music will shake their fist at the RIAA and offer many excuses as to why it is/should be okay for them to steal music: CDs are too expensive, labels are the man (and the man is ALWAYS bad), the RIAA sucks, I don’t have enough money, the labels rip off the artist anyway, blah, blah ...

The basic thoughts behind the excuses might be true, but the core of it is that those are just excuses. Just listen to yourself.

It is not okay to steal other things that you find too pricey (jewelry, Ferraris, sushi). It is not okay to steal from places run by jerk wads. If you don’t have enough money for something, maybe you ought to readjust your priorities rather than stealing if you don’t wanna get in trouble. These excuses and justifications are all a bunch of noise. It is wrong to take stuff that doesn’t belong to you, and you know it. (Pardon my use of the second person, it just seemed to work better.)

People who steal music say all kinds of dumb stuff. “I download it first and THEN I buy it later if it is good.” Really? With a straight face, you’re gonna tell me that you had to download the entire Roxy Music Greatest Hits Collection to see if you liked it? What are the CDs you bought after downloading the songs first? What percentage of those “involuntary free samples” given out by the musicians and record labels turn into purchases by you?

There are millions of excuses and justifications and they might bring comfort as Limewire does it’s business and fills your hard-drive with music you love/like/sample – but the excuses are all bullshit. All us humans like stuff for free. And we will take that stuff as often as possible, especially if we have someone else to point at (RIAA) who is also behaving poorly so we can feel better about our own actions.

This blog, jefito, is pretty cool, but on this topic I think he is totally missing the point.

“The sad irony here, I think, is that file sharing probably won’t ever die. It’s just too easy, and appeals too deeply to our need to have common experiences.”

Common experiences? So THAT is why people download? Not for free stuff, but to share the communal e-campfire experience and talk story like our long lost ancestors? The bullshit in that statement is just as stinky (and in my opinion far more-so) than anything the RIAA tries to serve up as the truth.

Scott McCloud draws a cool on-line comic and he has a long post/drawing that explains the theory of micro-payments very well. I think micro-payments will drive on-line commerce, if not all commerce, in the future. Check out his piece, I thought it was great until …

He would pay twice the amount if he knew it was going to the band? Really?!? How Smurfy. Again, I call “bullshit” on that. This is simply not human nature. Downloading is rampant because people like free stuff. Period.

If the RIAA and all it’s dastardliness did not exist, would downloading stop? If CDs (or a comparable download) cost three dollars would internet users everywhere agree this was a fair price and simply pay for their music and not illegally download?

Every time someone makes lame excuses like this, it completely undermines any other salient points they might be making. Which destroys credibility faster? The RIAA’s stupidity and heavy-handed-ness or pretending that stealing songs with your computer is some kind of internet Kumbaya? That is just as BS as wanting to smoke pot, but acting like you are only interested in hemp clothing? How about saying your country stands for freedom while torturing people to support your own lies?

Bullshit positions (no matter how convenient or affordable) don’t lead to solutions. The RIAA posturing that the current, artist-screwing label structure is the only way for musicians to survive is BS. So is pretending that you illegally downloaded a song because you love The Beastie Boys just that much.

Even the Gawker empire (and their month long, anti-DRM rant and their copyright/royalty discussion) might be starting to realize that their RIAA jihad is not where the solutions lie.

April addendum: This is an important point that I meant to cover in another post, but I never quite got around to that "other post" so I will add it here. Pirating music (or movies or Halo expansion packs) hurts you. I imagine that anyone who has taken the time to get to this point on this blog somehow works in music/media/entertainment - or at least has visions of doing so. If you want to be the next Spielberg, why would you want to participate in an action that steals from artists you love AND decreases your chances for getting your own shot to direct a feature film (that you don't finance with Grandma's inheritance). Copyrights (or whatever the "intellectual property 2.0" deal will be called) protect me and, since you are reading this, probably you as well. Why shoot myself in the foot?

I have no idea what the future of the music industry will be. It certainly won’t look like what we have now. There will be many changes, and that is as it should be. But I do know that …

Any effective change will be based on reality. The reality is that people like to get stuff/music for free and right now they are getting as much of that free product as they want. So the solution does NOT lie in acting like downloading is caused by “extreme music love” or “angsty defiance” or “justified disaffection with cultural structures.”

Getting people the music they want, as easily as possible and at a fair price is the goal.

The solution will come from people who understand that illegal downloading is driven by the most basic of instincts. Greed.

Acknowledging that, is the first step. This is one area where the RIAA is actually out in front.

Kumbaya, snitches!

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you're actually using the second person, not the first.
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Sorry for the deletions, I kept editing this..

The future of the music industry won't look a lot different from how it's been, imo.

There will always be a need for structure: large labels, small labels, etc. But money needs to go where the honest, hard-working people are (sorry, save teachers for another blog). Rewarding successful/signed musicians with at least a living wage and health care should be our goal. Rewarding label execs and the other minions with a fair wage is also acceptable.

The market seems to be working itself out in this case by eliminating some of the top-end "waste," if you will. The RIAA happens to be doing the work that will later, hopefully, help even out the fiscal spread, although that may not be the execs' intentions. (Who the RIAA chooses to sue, of course, is their own folly.)

I think some people, particularly the more avid music fans, will respect the artist's need for cash. I would easily buy more mp3's (say, the latest Cat Power or Prince or Rah Digga track) if I was shown that a good amount of the money was going directly to the artist. Justin Timberlake? I love the guy's music, but he's got tons of money, don't he? Sorry, but even the most generous person has his/her limits.

It's a celebration, bitches.
Finally someone speaks the truth.

We can make all the rationalizations we want, but come on. Seriously. Be honest with yourself for once.

Justin Timberlake having enough money is your personal rational for stealing his music? That's terrible and you know it. That holds up for about the length of time it took to type.
Ok then, so what about music videos? They began as non-profit modes of advertisment for the bands. Now they are being sold via iTunes for 1.99. We at the SRO (and I suspect a few others out there) got hit up about hosting downloads of music videos, hence why we no longer offer them up as freely as in our infancy.

While videos are a creative work, they were never meant to be sold in the first place. Only now, with the advent of the video iPod, are they being turned into product. And we all know that the directors and such aren't getting shit in terms of payment (yes, big name directors for big name artists are the exception, but still, I doubt they rely on those gigs to carry them far into the future).

30f and Antville are music video oriented, however, no one on either site has asked this question or confronted this issue. Can we be liable or even called thieves when we download videos (for free) that were never out to be profitted by in the first place. Let alone works of art that rarely reward the true artists of the form, the directors. Yes the artist is whats for sale, and they should get a chunk of that sale (seeing how it's their song), but technically, the directors should get more than now, if not most, since they're normally responsible for important ingredients, such as ideas for videos, treatments and in the case of more indie directors/bands actual filming, editing, and effects work.

Lastly, if videos aren't making enough to warrant more money to one or more of the parties involved, then where is the worth in even selling them in the first place? I'm just sayin'...

P.S. - My bad for making this so long peeps. I'll repost this on Antville as well, to gather up those hits! Ya heard!
Did you even read my post? In the sentence you quoted, I was talking about the motivations of mp3 bloggers -- the folks doing the sharing, in other words, not the ones downloading Roxy Music's entire catalog or whatever.

And for what it's worth, I don't feature more than a couple tracks from commercially available albums on my site, and I include purchase links with every applicable post.

I actually said a few things that supported your point in my post, but you were too busy presenting yourself as one of the only People Who Gets It to bother reading them, I guess.
I think it gets complicated though, because there are those who will take whatever's offered (Itunes, $2 ringtones), those who just feel entitled to free stuff (however they justify it), and those who will buy if they think they're getting a fair deal. Look at the markets that Emusic or, to a lesser extent, Magnatune have been able to carve out for themselves, for example.
So with all this honesty, let's be honest about what we pay for when buying a CD/DVD in stores, shall we? Or, to make it clear, what we thought we payed for _before_ MP3's were invented.

Do we buy a "license" to play music? Do we give the least bit about the small print that doesn't allow us to put the music on an iPod? Or on 2 iPods?

Do filesharers really believe what they use as excuses? Or do they just want to be left alone? It's like smokers won't stop if you tell them about lung cancer. They _know_ about lung cancer.

The real problem the record labels have is that "records" aren't a real product anymore.

We have our own iPods and mix-CDs now, thanks. All that stays is the music itself. If it's played once and recorded, why pay for the same 200 hours of studio-recording over and over again? From there on it's clearly the record label who performs a service by copying it to a format we can play and thus lets us hear the echo of what was once performed by the band. A concert, that's different. Or, say, a movie or radio station licensing the song to make money themselves or sell their own product. But the copy of a copy isn't really a product or service anymore because it's quite easy to do now at home. It's _way_ too easy.

And not even that is the reason people share media files. It's because, in order to track down all "pirates", the RIAA or their friends, would have to monitor the entire Internet traffic of the world, Big-Brother style. I love music, but not that much.

A good example for how this will end (and it will end, positively and with no lost money for either side) is Joost. Internet TV. Fewer commercials, P2P traffic (thus no central server costs) and faster and better quality than any underground rips.

A P2P-supported downloading service with unlimited downloads and no DRM for 5-10 Euros a month. With the proper marketing this could be a service that is both profitable _and_ a competition to free h4xxor filesharing programs. I still prefer CDs and DVDs (I like holding them in my hands) and am too scared for P2P but I could imagine signing up for a service like this.

The RIAA shouldn't run away from the obvious and instead try to re-calculate their marketing plans.
some more comments round here and, finally, here.
30, The confusion is inevitable and likely permanent. People have a hard time separating morality from legality. They also have a hard time admitting personal fault, even when it is innately human. You're fighting an uphill battle getting people to realize their own wrong-doing. Some people absolutely refuse to believe what they are doing is illegal in any way. They will justify it Robin Hood style. Robin Hood was a thief. He did good, but he was still a thief.

Is sharing/downloading illegal. Yep. Is it immoral or wrong? Maybe not, maybe so.

We're greedy and lazy. Nothing really to be ashamed of: it's a human trait. We steal when we can get away with or can rationalize that we aren't. Sometimes we truly aren't (legitimately trying something to justify a later purchase). Sometimes we are (downloading something with no intention of purchasing). The fact that the intent is gray makes it easy to assume the act is gray. It isn't: either way it is stealing in a legal sense. If breaking the law results in a greater good (you do go buy that album or some t-shirts or whatever) then it doesn't mean the law hasn't been broken, just that the law might need to be changed. We're supposed to have a nice legal system that accounts for this. Apparently, it's not working.

The question is not whether what people are doing is illegal (because it is) but whether it *should* be illegal. A moral stance is a moral stance but laws are just as arbitrary and even easier to change. Being a (rough) democracy, the people eventually decide what is allowed and what isn't. Sounds like the people have decided some laws need to be changed or broken. The record companies don't seem to agree. Part of the confusion is that music is one of the few products you often get for free. You don't get to see whole movies before you pay for a ticket or DVD (theoretically) but you CAN hear a whole song on the radio or through a video or TV show soundtrack or what have you. That taste of "free-ness" creates a lot of unjustified entitlement.

The only point I'd disagree with you on is the first step. I say the first step is not that people admit that they are stealing. The first step lies in the record labels defining what it is they are selling. A physical disc? a license? a moment in space-time? Fuck if I know what I'm buying because they don't seem to know. But I do know it does what I want, which is get ripped to a hard-drive so I can disperse it to various devices for my listening pleasure wherever and whenever I want. The record companies are selling repetition: they are selling control. Once they, and the buying public, realize this then we can start putting new, more suitable distribution systems into place.

- James of SRO 
I for one think the Music industry as a whole is being deconstructed down to a more level playing field. Bigger labels/distributors are losing money by the truck loads and the smaller labels and Indies are either holding steady or in some cases making a little.
"The record companies are selling repetition: they are selling control. Once they, and the buying public, realize this then we can start putting new, more suitable distribution systems into place."
-I completely agree. But I don't think labels/distributors on a whole will ever enjoy the some kind of profits they once had (before file-sharing, etc).
The plus side seems we as music listeners will and do have access to more artists. The sad part is that it'll be much harder for most of them to use music as their way of life.
As for the future of the music video...I have no clue. I will say this though. It's a completely different ball of wax across the pond. Music videos get played on TV all day ever day. I recently spent 2 months abroad and found myself watching 3 different MTV channels as much as possible...getting my music video fix. I'd be interested in hearing anyone comment on why it's different there.
Morality doesn't matter.

Say what you like about it, but young people now simply don't buy music. Music is now no longer economically scarce, which means it has no sensible price. Pirating music is not only cheaper, it is faster, more convenient, and with the advent of CD root-kits and 'copy control', just as safe.

The 'sound quality' issues are irrelevant; most pop music is so badly compressed (in terms of dynamic range) that the lossy data compression won't really make it any worse. The sound is awful to begin with.

Physical record stores are in a death spiral... less sales means less floor space, which means less range, which means less sales... there won't be physical record stores by 2012, except for vinyl, jazz and classical specialists.

In order to enforce copyright with modern technology being as it is, the major record labels require nothing less than the complete apparatus of a police state. That won't happen. Hence, the major record labels are doomed.

And no, I don't infringe music copyrights, and I'm not making excuses. I find that those who bleat about morality in the record industry often think that the world should somehow conform to their moral code; they see the world as they wish it to be, not as it actually is.
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