The RIAA shouldn’t stop ‘piracy’

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is engaged in a fierce battle with swarthy pirates. The kind of mean, nasty criminals that make children shudder with fear. You are that pirate.


If you have ever downloaded a song, movie or any other form of copyrighted media from the internet, the RIAA says you are a criminal and deserve to be prosecuted.


From its web site: “No black flags with skull and crossbones, no cutlasses, cannons, or daggers identify today’s pirates. You can’t see them coming; there’s no warning shot across your bow. Yet rest assured the pirates are out there because today there is plenty of gold (and platinum and diamonds) to be had. Today’s pirates operate not on the high seas but on the internet. The pirate’s credo is still the same – why pay for it when it’s so easy to steal?”


This kind of archaic thinking is preventing the RIAA from changing with the times. Their refusal to adapt to new technology, and to create new and innovative ways to profit from it, is doomed to fail.


The largest problem with their heightened outrage over music and media downloading is the complete disregard for the artists that make the material. Newer artists are offered a broad range of exposure from the new phenomenon of web-accessed music that they would otherwise not have. A local solo guitarist can play in local venues but is unable to get national exposure without a deal from the recording industry. Independent artists are finding themselves able to sell albums worldwide because they can offer free downloads of their music on the web. Without internet “piracy,” this independent musician would not be able to make these sales, which are becoming a growing sector of the music industry.


Apple Computer’s founder Steve Jobs helped to revolutionize the MP3 downloading format, with the popular iTunes program. This program links directly into a huge online music database, where just about any song imaginable is downloadable for 99 cents. Because of the profit, the RIAA is demanding higher prices to ensure greater profits. Steve Jobs has said no. “We’re trying to compete with piracy and say, `You can buy these songs legally for a fair price.’ But if the price goes up a lot, they’ll go back to piracy. Then everybody loses.” Music industry execs are complaining that Jobs makes more money selling iPods than he does selling music. A cheap price for music, they argue, benefits Jobs and not the music industry. That’s not fair, they moan. They want a bigger piece of the pie. They are even trying to get internet service providers to pay them a monthly amount based on how much music is downloaded over their bandwidth per month.


The RIAA is completely ignoring the benefits of increased, free media propagation. If they were interested in more than bottom-line profits, they would see the advantages of peer-to-peer file sharing.


On a P2P (peer-to-peer) network, I downloaded “The Hulk” and saw what all the reviews had said: it was long and plodding, and Eric Bana was unable to act his way out of a wet sock. But some of the directing techniques used by Ang Lee I found really remarkable. Based on this exposure to his work, I became interested in him as a director. When I came across a reference to another of his films, “Ride with the Devil,” I checked it out from a video store. I spent money I otherwise would not have, because of my swarthy status as a pirate. The big FBI warning at the beginning of every movie states that personal use of the film is acceptable. If you show a movie to make money off of it, then you are breaking the law. But watching it, selling the tape to a used resale store, or buying an old videotape are all acceptable methods of media transmission. Downloading a movie is functionally no more different than letting someone borrow your tape.


The RIAA needs to work with the tendency of consumers, instead of against them. Our tendency is to spend money on what we like, and get whatever we can for free. After making a bundle at the box office, or during a musician’s tour, the media will be disseminated over the internet. It is inevitable. Instead of asking, how can we stop this, they should ask, how can this make us more money?