The Renegade Rip

Recording industry sues own fans

Jeff Eagan

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Despite the ethical qualms millions of music file sharers may now be feeling since the Recording Industry Association of America issued subpoenas to 261 individuals earlier this month, technology is on the side of the individual user.

The culture of the Internet has evolved an ideology that everything must be free, including music, regardless of copyright laws. This scare tactic might be the last resort for the RIAA and their affiliates, but due to the sheer volume of users punishing all of them is simply not feasible.

However, since Napster’s dismantling, industry losses are at nearly $2 billion according to an RIAA estimate in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The RIAA includes, but is not limited to record industry giants Sony, Elektra, Universal, Warner Bros., Interscope, Arsta and Virgin. And the downloading continues to flourish. According to an RIAA report, over 2.6 billion copyrighted files are downloaded each month.

In a move aimed to keep revenues from falling, the trade group RIAA is suing 261 people accused of illegal file sharing of music.

This move by the RIAA should not be overlooked as just a financial power grab, but a public relations nightmare that pits them against the consumers they are railing against. These tactics only seek to further alienate their potential CD buyers, and 70 percent of those under 40 believe labels overcharge for their music, according to a recent Newsweek poll. Meanwhile, efforts to encourage people to legitimately buy music range from alternative pay sites such as Apple’s iTunes, offering bonus DVD’s with albums, and downright slashing prices.

And what about the starving artists these generous record executives are looking after? J-Lo, 50 Cent, Eminem, I can’t hear you behind your armored SUV’s and cadre of swollen bodyguards and faithful entourage. Why would these artists, among the most downloaded, be reluctant to voice their opposition to file sharing when they stand to lose millions? Because the corporate record executives must play the role of the staunch protector of the artist’s intellectual property.

So when fan backlash does occur, as in the case of Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich, the product, the musician, will not seem as dissatisfying when the protest against file sharing is coming from a faceless trade group.

As the media lays out the digital battle with pictures of RIAA investigators side-by-side with those of software developers promising upgraded encryption and increased anonymity, it shows how futile the industry’s struggle will become. With millions of users, the side of file sharing does have the numbers. And who can account for the thousands of independent labels and bands, many which see file sharing as a way to bolster their exposure to the public? What we are seeing is the technological age’s answer to taping off the radio, which is allowed under copyright laws for personal use.

If the RIAA seeks to attract customers, it must make clear incentives to alternative avenues of obtaining their music. Otherwise, what will stop the millions of music pirates surfing the vast and perilous ocean of the Internet from spawning their own sites and creating a circular legal fiasco for years to come?

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Recording industry sues own fans