by Julie Hanson

Record Industry Fights Music Downloading

Mar 01, 20046 mins

I am a criminal. At least, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) I am.

This is how it happened.

A friend told me to check out a fairly new group, My Morning Jacket, a country-rock band that sounds a bit like the Allman Brothers. But before I plunked down 15 bucks to buy the group’s CD, I wanted to hear the songs, and My Morning Jacket is not a band that’s being promoted by a big record label. They’re not on MTV; they’re not in heavy rotation on the radio. So the only way to hear them is to go online.

Using P2P technology, I downloaded a few songs off their new album. It was pretty easy. First, I logged on to the music file-sharing website Kazaa. Soon enough, the network found tracks from the band’s new album, It Still Moves, opening a gateway between my hard drive and a hard drive somewhere storing the new tracks. Within minutes, I was downloading.

The recording industry calls this theft.

Well, maybe it is. But because I was able to hear My Morning Jacket, I ended up buying a $12 ticket to its show when the band came through town. And I convinced three people to come with me. I also gave the tracks to other friends. Next time the band comes around, they’ll go to the concert.

I think that’s good for the music business.

The RIAA doesn’t agree.

Stop, in the Name of Profits

The recording industry blames people like me for a 14 percent decline in its revenue since 1999. It’s so torqued off about all this that it’s filed more than 900 lawsuits since last September. Included in those suits, Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old living in public housing, settled a lawsuit with the RIAA for $2,000 after admitting copyright infringement.

The RIAA has Web crawlers searching the Internet 24/7 for thieves like me and LaHara. Using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the RIAA subpoenaed ISP Verizon, demanding that it provide user contact information. My contact information. The RIAA lost that suit last December when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down a lower-court ruling that forced ISPs to reveal the identity of any Internet subscriber accused of music piracy. But that loss hasn’t discouraged the RIAA, which says the remedies it’s seeking in the courts are necessary to preserve its business model.

Nice model. How’s it working out for them?

By their own admission, not very well.

Meanwhile, the artists are saying we’re taking money out of their pockets. Something tells me Britney will be OK.

As the recording industry attempts to fight us with litigation and legislation, technologies that facilitate our activities continue to flood the market?from Apple’s iPod to sites like Kazaa, which still exists despite these lawsuits.

The history of what happens when special interests try to halt social trends through legislation and prosecution is not good. The 18th Amendment, for example, didn’t do much to stop people from drinking, but it did give organized crime a terrific foothold in American society, one it still enjoys today.

Set Me Free Why Don’t Ya, Babe?

No matter how many 12-year-olds the RIAA sues, people are going to download free music. And whether litigation will reduce downloading remains to be seen. Shortly after the RIAA began suing, illegal downloading did slow (by almost 60 percent, according to research firm Music Forecasting). But recent reports now show an upswing. According to The NDP Group, a marketing research firm, the number of households downloading music files rose 14 percent last fall.

I look at it like this: Let me listen to new music; if I like what I hear, I will support the band and spread the word. According to Music Forecasting, 40 percent of consumers who download from the Internet do so to aid their purchasing decisions.

If the RIAA were to work with some of these online sites, guarantee me a good selection along with easy, secure downloads, I just might be willing to pay a small fee for access. If the recording industry supported one platform, people would have greater access to their catalogs.

There’s some promise in new pay-per-song sites; however, they’re not sponsored by the music industry but by software companies. Apple’s iTunes boasts more than 500,000 songs at a cost of 99 cents each, but Kazaa has twice as many?and they’re free. Plus, I have Windows 98, and iTunes needs at least Windows 2000 to function, so it’s a service I can’t even use. Kazaa works fine on Windows 98 and even Windows 95.

Turn and Face the Change

In addition to working for CIO, I work in a record store. I also write music reviews for a local newspaper. I know what music is out there. The vast majority of the public does not. All they know is what the record industry is paying through the nose to market on television and radio. But if the industry embraced P2P technology, it could expand and diversify its audience at minimal cost. Instead of spending money on lawyers, why not spend it on new technology?

GartnerG2 Research Director of Media Mike McGuire agrees. “The RIAA is trying to put the technology genie back in the bottle,” he says. “People like to share music. When the industry sees this as a benefit and a tool rather than an obnoxious side effect of P2P, that’s when we make the breakthrough.”

As a mass-market entity, the recording industry shouldn’t be turning people off, says John Perry Barlow, cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group working to protect civil liberties relating to technology, and a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead. “They’re standing in the way of a more diverse market being developed,” he says. “They own the traditional distributing systems but are blocking new distributing systems.”

The Grateful Dead is a prime example of a band that found success by bucking the rules. Not only did the Dead allow concertgoers to plug right into their sound system, record and then trade live shows, they encouraged it.

On the surface, this made no sense. The band was competing with its own record sales. But what it was actually doing was building a fan base that continuously recruited new fans. The result was a band that became a consistent seller for its record company and provided a good living for its members.

The fact that I downloaded a few tracks from My Morning Jacket’s newest album, sold a few concert tickets that might otherwise not have been sold and created a few new fans are facts the RIAA should figure out how to leverage, not prevent.

After all, I’m not a criminal. I’m a fan and perhaps, if handled with care, an unpaid marketer.

I’m the person the RIAA should be catering to, not suing.