Liner Notes

RIAA: The Collective Devil

by Adam Mico

Over the past couple weeks, I have been reading and progressively stewing about the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA's) pending legal action against file sharers. As a result of record companies' whining, RIAA declared that the sources of the problem are people who download and make their downloads available for other like users, and that they consider this pirating.

The 'pirates' are generally avid music fans. It makes perfect sense for a cost-conscious society to want to test a product before it is purchased. A general business principal relates that a product or service is refundable if a customer is reasonably dissatisfied with it -- but CDs are not generally returnable with opened packaging. Since there are no satisfaction guarantees, if a consumer buys a record and is unhappy, the consumer is stuck with it and has practically no recourse.

One alternative to letting an unsatisfactory CD collect dust is to submit for resale at a music recyclery. Out of the $10-$15 you spend, it is possible to get up to $2-$3 for your submission. In turn, these legal "used CD" businesses mark up the price at least 100% and swallow the profits without submitting a percentage back to the record companies or the RIAA.

In order to publish this editorial not solely based on assumption, I called and spoke with managers of several 'reputable' area shops that include a used CD section. My question: if I were to sell my CDs and it is resold, what percentage is returned to the RIAA or the record company that originally produced the CD? The collective response: um....none.

Are the pirates accused of selling? No! Hence the term "file sharing." People who use this service are generally not looking for resale, but to just listen and participate in the act of sharing. In my 28 years, I have generously submitted coin to 2000+ CDs. At least 60% of the obtained merchandise would have been passed over if I were able to make an informed decision. Today, I use file-sharing services to be able to rationalize the acquisition of a record*. A major upshot is that I am actually satisfied.

Musical acts profit from file-sharing. When downloadable tracks are freely available, a wider audience is exposed and has immediate access to at least a sample of an artist's work. Even if a new fan does not purchase a CD, he/she is more likely to go see the artist(s) when a concert finds its way into town. According to, concert revenues skyrocketed from $1,300,000,000 (1998) to 2,100,000,000 (2002) or slightly steeper than 61.5% in just four years. Unfortunately for the labels, they see none of the profits from these shows, while record sales have seen a $1,500,000,000 reduction between 1999-2002. More than likely, the regularly derided modern and safe/generic sounding acts (en masse) along with a high-cost/benefit ratio of this disposable good.

The music industry's mob reveals a clear contradiction. Most official label and band Web sites even feature their music available for 'legal' download and/or stream. MTV, Launch and Rolling Stone highlight a sample of many large music sites that also make songs, streaming full-length albums, music videos and other media freely usable. At present, with music effortlessly procurable and file-sharing sites seemingly omnipresent, an educated adult (let alone a 12-year-old child) would be hard-pressed to understand the fault.

The terms of agreement with the major file-sharing services indicate that they do not support copyright infringement and users are ultimately responsible for misuse. Although their small print tends to defer any blame to the user, they host copyrighted material and actions by these services convey tolerance and promotion rather than disdain. They realize that the disclaimer is a laugher and they would be dead like Napster if copyrighted material was not illegally served. I sympathize with the sharer.

RIAA has many alternatives other than frightening their customer base. Considering the huge Internet demographic, they need to promote much lower prices, make reasonable deals with the music-sharing services and attack any party that actually seeks a profit from fraudulently ignoring copyright laws. As things stand, RIAA represents the collective 'devil' (thanks Jacko), choosing instead to wage guerrilla warfare on the complacent and half-witted public.

(* I do not use file-sharing services because other options are available to me, but used the example in order to illustrate how that source would be used in my case.)

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