Excellent article by J. T. Ramsay in PitchforkMedia.com interviewing digital music expert Steve Gordon on the RIAA's war against competition in the digital music field:
Live at the Witch Trials
Story by J T. Ramsay
Pitchfork: Define intellectual property law's application to the music business, and, if you can, explain in plain language the rules of ownership and copyright when it comes to music. Also is there a distinction between file sharing and P2P downloading?
Gordon: The copyright law provides protection for music-- both for the songs (musical composition) and the musical recordings (sound recordings). Under copyright law no one but the copyright owners can make copies of either songs or recordings and distribute those copies to others. Without the copyright law the record companies, which own the recordings, and the songwriters and music publishers, which control the songs, could not make a living. The copyright law also affords other exclusive rights, including making derivative works or variations, and public performance. These rights also contribute directly to the income of those who create music.
The distinction to be made is that if you wrote and recorded your own music, rather than other people's music, you don't need permission to share it. So a band that allows people to download their music from their blog or website is not violating any copyrights so long they wrote and recorded the music and did not enter into an exclusive recording contract that gives labels the right to distribute the music.
Pitchfork: Tell us about the RIAA's lawsuits.
Gordon: They are suing people for sharing recordings without the permission of the copyright owners. Generally they demand several thousand dollars and refuse to negotiate. Many defendants are dissuaded from fighting the cases because hiring a lawyer can quickly add up to more than what the RIAA will accept to settle.
Pitchfork: Of what consequence are these sums? How are they to be distributed to all concerned parties? (Is this really about the artists?)
Gordon: That's a great question! The lawyers are definitely getting some of it because the RIAA farms the cases out to private firms. Of course, some it has to pay as salaries to all those new lawyers the RIAA has hired in the past several years. What's left is possibly distributed to the record company members of the RIAA. It is not clear whether the artists share in any of these monies.
Pitchfork: Explain the subpoena power in these cases, and how it has been used to identify alleged downloaders, heretofore referred to as John/Jane Does?
Gordon: The RIAA initially used a provision in the Copyright Act they thought allowed them to demand names of ISP subscribers who uploaded files in unauthorized P2P services. But the ISPs, specifically-- Verizon resisted, arguing that the record companies did not have the right to their subscribers names. The federal court agreed. Although this made it harder and more expensive to initiate law suits, the RIAA forged on and are now suing more individuals than ever.
Pitchfork: Why are children being targeted in these cases?
Gordon: If the ISP addresses belong to children they can be the defendants. This is due to the fact that RIAA can only get limited info on its targets. In addition to children they are suing soccer moms and grandmothers who may not even know what file-sharing is. Their children or their children's friends are maybe using their ISP addresses to grab free music. So a lot of innocent people are being targeted.
Pitchfork: Is a political message being sent with these cases? Are they a witch hunt?
Gordon: The RIAA hopes to send the message that there are negative consequences for unauthorized music file sharing. One problem is that they may be targeting the wrong people and there may be backlash by the public. Music fans are turned off to the labels for life.
Pitchfork: Next steps: Is there a compromise that can be reached between the industry and the consumer? If so, what is it?
Gordon: I am in favor of a levy on those who truly profit from "free music," that is the electronics business and the ISPs. In exchange, all music file sharing would be legal. This plan would a. compensate the labels and the artists; b. provide music lovers with access to any music ever recorded any time they wish to hear it; c. eliminate the RIAA's lawsuits against consumers
In order to get "free music" you need a computer. You also need a fast internet connection. In addition, if you want to hear your free music at the gym or on the subway you need to buy an iPod or other mp3 player. So you are paying a lot for "free" music. But the money is going to computer and mp3 player manufacturers, and ISPs rather than music content companies. If we imposed a very small tax on sales of computers, mp3 players, and broadband subscription, we could compensate the record companies and the artists. And the RIAA could stop suing their own customers!
Yet the major labels continue to reject this position. Why? At least one of the majors, Sony BMG is partially controlled by a major electronics company. Another reason is that under this scheme the record companies would have to split 50/50 with the artists. The labels rarely pay artists any royalties now because the artists only generally get 10% to 20% royalty after they recoup production and certain marketing costs.
The record companies are desperately still trying to shut down the free digital flow of music and recapture control over pricing so they can sell music for whatever price they want and people will be forced to buy it. Unfortunately, huge economic forces-- the interests of the electronics and broadband industries-- are allied against them. In addition, the technology itself makes it so easy and fast to share music, that sooner than later the labels may become sufficiently enough to embrace this solution -- even if it means the artist would make some of the profits!
Keywords: copyright download upload peer to peer p2p file sharing filesharing music movies indie label freeculture creative commons pop/rock artists riaa independent mp3 cd favorite songs