Opinion: Why the RIAA must change or die

It seems that not a week goes by without a report of some poor sod getting sued to within an inch of their life by the RIAA. Here's my take on the whole sorry situation…

File copying is NOT theft
Contrary to what the RIAA's PR machine would have us believe, the act of copying music is not automatically theft. By a legal definition of the word, no form of digital copying can be considered "theft" – if someone breaks into your house and photographs everything within, has anything been stolen? Of course not. Similarly, if no loss has occurred, no theft has occurred. In this hypothetical and highly improbable case, other crimes – such as breaking & entering – have undoubtedly occurred, but there has been no theft. In the case of illegal copying, there may have been a breach of copyright… but there has been no theft.

It's MY music
If I bought it and paid for it, any attempt to control where, when or how often I can listen to it will meet with vehement opposition. If you use technology to "lockdown" the music to my MP3 player, which subsequently breaks or is stolen, will you replace the music? I thought not…

More laws won't help
It seems like every time there is another school shooting, we run around looking for a law to prevent another one from happening. Trouble is, the perpetrators were already breaking lots of laws to start with – do we really expect them to obey a new one? One solution that is more likely to work is to have armed guards in schools – or better, arm the teachers – but I digress…

Faced with the prospect of easy copying and sharing of music, the RIAA did what any large industry organization would do – they lobbied Congress for special-interest legislation just for them. What came out of this exercise was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – one of the most draconian pieces of legislation ever to come out of Washington DC. This law gave the RIAA blatantly unconstitutional powers of search and seizure, turned misdemeanors into felonies and effectively gave them "Secret Police" status and carte blanche to conduct electronic searches without a warrant.

Their attempts to secure a conviction under the DMCA met with repeated drubbings in court. The first successful prosecution under the DMCA had nothing to do with file copying – the fellow who been pirating Satellite TV SIM cards – a crime that was amply covered under other laws, such as fraud, forgery and common theft, and for which the DMCA was neither intended nor necessary to secure a conviction.

Technological safeguards won't work
One reason that the RIAA has refrained from embracing file distribution as a sales medium is that they are waiting for Digital Rights Management (DRM), which will allow them to "lock" and "tag" electronic files so that they can restrict where and when those files can be played.

DRM sounds like a great idea, only… it doesn't work. No matter how much you lock down the technology, somewhere along the line there will be a signal that can be captured, digitized and copied. There's no such thing as an unbreakable lock. To counter this, the DMCA makes it a felony to break or even examine such locks. Making, disseminating or even discussing lock-picks can land you in jail. Want to take a copy of your bought-and-paid-for music to play in the car? See you in jail.

Not every pirated copy is a lost sale
When I was a kid, I used to tape off the radio and buy singles… because that was all I could afford. As I got older and could afford albums I became a customer. The music business knew about home taping, but knew that if they started taking legal action, not only would they make no additional sales, but would put people off buying their products in the future.

Today, the music business is older but far less wise; they actually believe that suing their current and future customers – some as young as twelve years old – is a good thing. They also think that file-sharing accounts for so many lost sales that is it reasonable to sue for $150,000 per song. I disagree – there is clear evidence that the slump in sales is due to far more than piracy and that downloaded music can result in increased sales through exposure to new music. Suing your customers, on the other hand, is a great way to guarantee lost sales; not just from the miscreant, but their friends and, thanks to the Internet, thousands of others who hear about it. The logical end result will be a generation that thinks that the RIAA are a bunch of greedy thieves (they're right – but that's another story) who do not deserve to remain in business. What will happen when that generation hits their twenties and starts buying music? They won't. While the RIAA may hold the legal high ground they are only shooting themselves in the foot.

Give me less and charge me more? No thanks
The music business seems to think that ninety-nine cents is a reasonable amount to pay for a song. Sounds like a good deal? I don't think so…Downloading twenty songs and burning them onto a CD will cost me more than the cost of buying a CD at retail prices, with no CD production or distribution costs – and most people (and the courts!) agree that music CDs are overpriced. Of course the music business will push the instant-gratification angle as an added-value extra, but those of us who are not impulsive don't care – I've never rented a pay-per-view movie either, so trying to up-sell me on convenience does not work.

Consider the source
The RIAA has a long and distinguished history of trying to stamp out anything that represented a threat to their cashflow, including the Compact Cassette, FM radio and rewritable CDs. In all of these cases, not only did they fail to wipe out the threat, but they later found a way to make money out of the "problem". The file-copying issue is no different.

In conclusion, as one netizen so succinctly put it "this ain't Pokemon – you can't catch 'em all"

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