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Why the RIAA Is Fighting a Losing Battle

by Steve McCannell
05/12/2000

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Why the RIAA Still Stands a Chance

The Recording Institute Association of America (the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry) has been up in arms about the distribution of music online, claiming piracy and copyright infringement. As someone who has been keeping up with this thread, I believe their accusations do have validity, but their actions to fight this problem will not do much in their crusade.



People who use the Internet to download music will always find a way around the RIAA, much like my dog always comes up with a way out of my backyard. Build up a new barrier, it will be dug under or jumped over eventually. They have the notion that they can control online music just like they have controlled the market in the past, while not accepting the fact that they are doing too little, too late.

The dog is already out of the kennel

The RIAA has started a war, without seeing that the war has already been lost. There is too much technology, too many hungry music fans, and too many computer programmers. Most people who download music off the Internet have a passion for it. Ever since the MP3 format was introduced, it has been the format of choice for these music fans that now have access to thousands of songs and artists that they didn't have access to before. The lid has been lifted from the musical box that we have been living in, and now we have access to the music outside of the box.

As much as I believe the RIAA is fighting to preserve their income from copyrights, they are also fighting to limit the amount of music you have easy access to. They don't have control over the market like they have had for the past 50 years, and are losing more control over the industry each day. If online music distribution becomes the mainstay for consumers to recieve music, that means that record companies will have to eventually lower their retail prices. If the record companies drastically lowered the price of a CD, maybe online music fans would realize that plunking down $8 for a CD is easier than looking for that particular CD online for free.

I sympathize with the RIAA, I agree that they should have the right to protect their interests, and I'm totally against Napster. The people behind Napster claim ignorance, saying that they can't control what people do with their product. Napster in my mind gives its user a quasi-riot mentality. If everyone else is looting the store, why shouldn't I be doing so as well?

The problem is that those stores have insurance (hopefully), and will eventually have their losses covered by the insurance company. Well, if you are an artist who is signed to a label and struggling to sell albums, wouldn't you be a little peeved that no one is buying your album because they can download it for free? There is no "online piracy" insurance available, the artist does not get paid for downloads. So when someone downloads anything that is copyrighted material, they are basically walking out of the store with a song under their jacket.

What the RIAA doesn't understand is shutting down Napster isn't going to aid in protecting their copyrights. The idea is already out there, and the offspring has been born. Now there is Gnutella, which was designed to create self-perpetuating networks that grow independent of one company's involvement. Almost any type of file can be downloaded using the Gnutella software, and users can search by file type or name of the content desired. The key to Gnutella is that it does not use a centralized server system to let users share files, so this time there is no one to point the finger at, no warm bodies to sue. I can't put a leash on my dog if it has no collar; the RIAA can't stop Gnutella if it doesn't have a parent company.

This fact may be a lost opportunity for the RIAA. They could have done well with an alliance with Napster, where they could promote music from their labels with an extremely popular web site and program. Since Gnutella has only a creator and not a company, the RIAA cannot have an affiliation with it. Did they throw away their chance to have a little more control on the music that is being distributed freely on these types of networks?

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