RIAA Continues Crushing The Little Guys, But Music Industry Needs To Be Winning Them Back
The Recording Industry Association of America has continued its random financial assassination of hapless American file-sharers in their campaign to “protect intellectual property rights worldwide.” Forget Pirate Bay, it’s the least prolific file-sharers who are getting bitten.
Over the weekend news of student Joel Tenenbaum’s court proceedings spread across the internet. Tenenbaum (pictured above centre) has been fined $675,000 (£400,000) for illegally sharing 30 songs using software like Kazaa and Limewire. That’s $22,500 per song, which is pretty hefty, but earlier in the year single mum Jammie Thomas-Rasset was ordered to pay $80,000 per song and cough up a total $1.92m. Ouch.
Neither individual can afford to pay anywhere near those amounts, and since Tenenbaum is openly refusing to pay or accept donations to that effect, it must be said that the financial rewards of these lawsuits look pretty thin for the record labels involved. Instead, it looks like the RIAA are keen to convince juries to impose mammoth fines in the hope that such whoppingly crushing verdicts will help choke the practice of file-sharing worldwide, frightening other potential copyright criminals into submission.
The problem for the RIAA is that things just aren’t working out like that. Bewilderingly draconian legal assaults on casual file-sharers have prompted outrage from the digital generation and popular musicians – like Moby and Radiohead. Twitter is full of bite-sized reaction like “Tenenbaum – another victim of the lobby-judges” (IdeaLic). Best of all is Tenenbaum’s own blog on which he’s been interviewed:
“Q. The RIAA are a bunch of rotten bastards.
A. I know.”
We also spoke to Debbie Rosenbaum, one of Tenenbaum’s legal team, who pointed out the wrong-headed approach of the RIAA. “The RIAA loses money in its fierce litigation campaign against individual users, and they are making an example out of Joel in order to quote ‘teach other people a lesson.’ That is an inappropriate use of the court system and we are disappointed in the outcome.”
It’s safe to say that there is a strong movement against the RIAA’s methods, which seem both excessive and ineffective at once. Supporters of file-sharing freedom have even begun cladding their nether regions in protest underwear. On a serious point, the whole file-sharing debate is unlikely to go away quickly, but it has become embroiled in a (curiously American) wider debate about the freedom of all digital property and information, and the right of users to cut, rip, burn, remix and share whatever online material they want to. For example, these guys deal with the concept of a completely liberalised digital culture, and promote file-sharing as the means to that end.
As Rosenbaum told us: “By defending Tenenbaum, we are certainly not indicating that artists shouldn’t make money. That has never been our position and couldn’t be further from the truth. Throughout this trial, our position has always been that the way music labels used to make money no longer works in today’s digital environment. Rather than spending the money defending a business model that no longer works, they should be investing in finding new business models in today’s digital environment.”
So unless the RIAA changes its tactics and stops the heavy-handed approach towards misdemeaning individuals, there will be little sympathy for the multi-million dollar record labels whose “intellectual property” is at stake. I’m not sure if throwing away all copyright laws is actually the way forward, but current trends will only result in bigger tensions between the common file-sharing man and the legal departments of the music industry’s biggest organisations, just when the industry needs to be sweet-talking its customers back into buying music.
Filesharing isn’t perfect – viruses, corrupted files, and poor quality are the norm, and users are therefore ripe for luring back to fine quality paid content. The music industry needs to created added value for its product – not just in sleevenote packages with iTunes, but in higher quality downloads, tie-ins with live performances (one area where people are still prepared to spend money) and other exclusive content. Instead of waiting for the RIAA to put people off downloading, they need to positively engage and incentivise people with a paid model.
In a final wry note, take a look at some of the songs that Tenenbaum has been fined over. You can even arrange them to describe the story arc that this case is going through, from filesharing to the fine, the court battle and subsequent appeals: ”Leech”, ”Killing Me Softly”, ”(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”, ”Loser”, “Pardon Me”, ”Nice Guys Finish Last”. It could be that Joel ends up the “loser” in this particular case, but surely the days are numbered for the RIAA and its unsustainable methods.