Digital music and the internet age – The people vs. the recording industry association of America
Just as the Internet is fast becoming a way of life for many in the United States, music has had its roots embedded in people’s lives, careers, and hobbies throughout history. What do you get when you merge music and the Internet in the year 2002? Chaos, it seems.
In this heated debate, there are two sides that are prevalent.
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The first is brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents the major record labels, musicians, and artists in the United States. The RIAA claims that the Internet is responsible for rampant music piracy that has the power to destroy the music industry as we know it. The RIAA been in the center of countless lawsuits and trials, and is in the forefront of the digital music debate through its use of legal tactics.
The other side of this debate is represented by you and me – the common people. We do not argue that music piracy is illegal and unethical. However, we have much at stake in this argument, as the RIAA has tried to gain approval for strict laws that could affect each and every one of us. The RIAA has tried to invade our privacy, sue the common people, prevent us from playing CDs in our computers, hack into our computers, stop the sale of personal music players, and change key pieces of legislature for their benefit. Rather than approach this issue with public support and regard for the consumers who make their industry possible, the RIAA has continually neglected public opinion and has put us on the back burner in order to protect their profit margins.
So what exactly is this big mess about? In a nutshell, it boils down to digital music piracy. The music industry is hurting from a 9.2 percent global music sales slump in 2001. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, world CD sales fell seven percent last year, while singles and cassettes continued to decline (Wang 147). They claim that music piracy on the Internet is largely to blame for this trend.
By merging the Internet and compact disc technologies, it became possible for people to convert the digital music stored on CDs into a very small computer file format called MP3. A music file converted to MP3 could then be sent to other people on the Internet quickly and easily.
These technological advances eventually led to rampant music piracy on the Internet. While I do not condone nor support digital music piracy, I believe that the battle the RIAA is waging has been unfair, one-sided, and based on greed. In trying to protect their interests, this trade group has bitten the hands of the people who feed it – us.
In 1980, a case came upon the United States Supreme Court docket involving Universal City Studios, a Hollywood movie studio, and a new Sony technology called Betamax, or what we now refer to as the common VCR. Universal City Studios asked the courts to block Betamax sales, which were poised to enter the consumer market. The movie studio argued that consumers would use VCRs to copy and distribute copyrighted films (Wright 16).
In 1984 the U.S. Supreme Court told the movie industry to back off, ruling that most people would use VCRs to record soap operas they missed while at work, rather than making illegal copies of films (Wright 18).
One would think that a lesson was learned from this scenario. Sadly, that was not the case. Fast-forward fifteen years and we see a very similar situation unfold.
RIAA vs. MP3 players
In 1998, Diamond Multimedia introduced the Rio portable MP3 player to the consumer market. MP3 files were starting to become very popular. Using the Rio portable MP3 player, people would be able to convert files from CDs that they owned into MP3 format, and then transfer them onto the Rio MP3 player, which could store hours of music and would eliminate any need for CDs or cassettes (Musician’s Internet, par. 8).
Enter the Recording Industry Association of America. In 1999 the RIAA filed suit against Diamond Multimedia, the creators of the Rio MP3 player. They claimed that the player violated the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which prohibits devices that make copies from digital music recordings. The RIAA believed that since people had the ability to illegally download music from the Internet, the portable MP3 player should be illegal (Musician’s Internet, par. 9).
This was a major flaw in logic for the RIAA. First of all, I personally cannot think of one person who does not own at least one CD these days. Even my grandmother has more than a handful! By trying to ban the portable MP3 player, the RIAA was saying that people did not have any legal or legitimate use for the product. However, people could easily copy songs from the many CDs they owned onto this portable MP3 player, and still remain perfectly law abiding citizens!
Just as in the previous Betamax judgment, this case was thrown out. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Diamond Multimedia’s technology was perfectly legal, as the player made copies from computer hard drives and CDs, not solely from digital music recordings (Musician’s Internet, par.15).
The portable MP3 player has now become immensely popular and successful, and is one of the current best-selling pieces of technology on the market today. In fact, analysts predict that 26 million portable MP3 players will be sold in 2005, threatening the dominance of even CDs (Brull 67)! The RIAA was trying to hinder change. If they had been successful, we would not have portable MP3 players in our lives today.
RIAA vs. Napster
The case of the Recording Industry Association of America versus Napster was very widely publicized. Napster was an online file-trading program that allowed people to trade both legal and illegal MP3 files with ease.The RIAA soon entered the scene, eventually succeeding in shutting Napster down.
I do believe that the RIAA had very good reason to take action against Napster, as it was an online music piracy haven. However, in succeeding to shut the service down, they overlooked a very important issue; people loved downloading music from the Internet. Rather than start their own legal online file-sharing program, the RIAA and the music industry were very slow in action.
The RIAA did not listen to public demand for such a service. With the demise of Napster, new illegal trading programs popped up. Unlike their predecessor Napster, however, these programs would be next to impossible to shut down as they have no central server location. These networks run from user to user. Essentially, the only way to stop the programs is to shut down the Internet itself.
If the RIAA had listened to the people, it is very possible that they would be in a much better position in the fight against music piracy. However, they ignored the need of the public, and dug themselves an even deeper hole. There was a very legitimate and legal answer to Napster. Rather than trying to turn the service into a paying model or creating their own service, the RIAA simply shut it down. They gave no thought to the legal uses, such as promotion, sharing of files by independent artists not signed to any record label, uncopyrighted material, and music available with permission from the artist or record company.
So why didn’t the RIAA and the major record labels jump to start their own Napster-like networks? The answer is simple. Digital music distribution, as it stands now, offers much thinner profit margins. Rapper Chuck D says “a major label makes a CD for as little as 80 cents, then sells it wholesale for $10.50 so retailers can charge $14 – that’s highway robbery.” He gloats further that “the true revenge will come when the major labels start dropping their prices” (Hopper, par. 7).
If consumers are able to use inexpensive technology to download music free or of a much lesser charge, you can bet that they won’t run to a record store and pay $14 for a CD. The key to that $10 profit margin they are making is that manufacturing and distribution would eventually fade in digital downloads, meaning the record labels would have to cut costs and make a smaller profit. It’s all about money.
With so much piracy occurring online and next to no way to stop it, what could the RIAA do next? How about prevent consumers from playing CDs in their computers, or better yet, how about hacking all of your computers? That is exactly what they are trying to do.
RIAA vs. Your Computer
Throughout its many legal battles thus far, the RIAA has continually neglected and disregarded the music consumers. So, it comes as no surprise that it happens yet again. However, this time their focus is on your very own personal computer.
One of the first anti-piracy measures used by the RIAA and the major record labels was a technology called copy-protected CDs. Introduced in 2000, these CDs were designed to prevent a user from copying music tracks to a computer and then sharing them with others online (Cohen 43). Sounds good, right?
Maybe not, as this technology has a major downfall. If you try to play a copy-protected CD in your computer, you will find out that it isn’t possible! In fact, even some older regular CD players cannot play the copy-protected discs. By adding this copy-protection, the music industry effectively stops you from playing these CDs in your computer at all.
In doing this, however, one of your personal rights has been taken away. Imagine that! The 1992 Audio Home Recording Act allows music listeners to make some personal digital copies of their music for their own use and backup (Brull 67). With copy-protected CDs, you are not able to make copies of the music that you have purchased and have every right to copy and backup – another strike against the RIAA. The copy-protection debate is currently being waged by lawmakers.
Another way the Recording Industry Association of America is trying to stop you from copying music and sharing it with others is by hacking you! This is another debate currently up in the air in Congress. The RIAA has recruited Congressmen Howard Berman and Howard Coble to introduce a piece of legislature that would let content owners hack pirates’ computers (Brull 68).
So what does that mean to you? Essentially, it means that the record labels, the RIAA, and copyright owners would be able to hack into your computers and delete or replace your illegal files. This is a huge breach of privacy, but yet another act that the RIAA deems ‘necessary.’ If they cannot stop the software used to trade illegal files, the industry hopes to attack your computer instead!
RIAA vs. Privacy and Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
However, the fight doesn’t stop at your computer. Money means so much to these companies that they want to compromise your privacy as well. On July 23, 2002, the Recording Industry Association of America made an unprecedented request of Verizon Communications, a company that sells Internet access to consumers. The RIAA served the company with a subpoena, seeking the identity of a Verizon subscriber who allegedly illegally traded songs by artists including Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and N’Sync. The RIAA didn’t specify why it wanted to know who the user was, or what it would do with the information (Hopper, par. 16).
Luckily, Verizon denied the request and took this issue to court. Everyone has a right to be anonymous online. A user’s anonymity should not be unmasked without any proof of misconduct. In fact, in defamation and trademark-infringement cases, a judge is first asked to weigh the evidence of illegal activity against the constitutionally protected right to anonymous speech (Black 9). The RIAA is trying to bypass judges, courts, and laws in order to force ISPs to reveal information about their subscribers without even making any charges.
This is yet another personal right that the company is infringing upon. This debate is currently in court as well, and it should be interesting to see what happens in the end. It is very probable that the U.S. Supreme Court will settle this issue.
RIAA vs. Your Integrity
Even after showing no respect for your personal rights and laws as a consumer, the RIAA is now attacking your very own integrity. On September 26, 2002, ads began running on television and in print condemning online music piracy. These weren’t your normal ads, however. This time around, the RIAA thought that since they couldn’t get your attention, perhaps popular music superstars could (Healy, par. 2).
These ads, by such artists as Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, and Madonna have one underlying message – we are thieves. “Would you go into a CD store and steal a CD?” Britney Spears asks in one ad. “It’s the same thing, people going into the computers and stealing our music” (Healy, par. 4).
Rapper Nelly had a similar message. “We really look at it as stealing, because to us it’s black and white, either you pay for it or you don’t. And, you’re not paying for it” (Healy, par. 6).
However, these ads are a bit hard to swallow for the average consumer. Let’s look at this picture again. These are mega-selling superstars. In 2000, Madonna had reported assets in excess of $425 million. Britney Spears makes over $40 million yearly (Healy, par. 9). The RIAA wants us to believe that these artists are hurting from piracy? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel too sorry.
In conclusion, I believe that the Recording Industry Association of America is a devious and thoughtless trade group. They have continuously put their profit margin ahead of the rights of the consumers. The numerous real-life examples presented in this paper should give you a firm understanding of the unethical antics that the RIAA has used to further their cause. Which side are you on – big business, or consumer rights?