Posted by: Brian
There have been some comments written in response to the post about Gizmodo’s March boycott of the RIAA, and I would like to add a bit more context to the discussion.
Gizmodo’s boycott of the RIAA has very little to do with DRM…and the RIAA definitely doesn’t exist to help music artists.
The boycott has everything to do with the fact that the RIAA is evil in almost every sense of the word and does not exist to serve the artists in any way. In fact, in most cases, the RIAA blatantly hurts artists from the second they sign their first contract and stifles creativity in the mainstream music industry.
U.S. copyright law had for years been interpreted so that you had the right to make personal copies of legally purchased music under “fair use” rights. Also, falling under fair use was the right of educators to use recordings of music as a teaching tool. For instance, a very popular course at Rider University looks at the social impact of rock ‘n’ roll. Fair use protects the professor from making a CD of various songs he or she feels are relevant for a discussion about, say, the 1960s and playing that for the class.
However, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 has put the traditional concept of fair use in jeopardy. A little more than a year ago on my personal blog, I wrote about the RIAA insisting that simply making a copy of a CD you legally purchased should be considered copyright infringement.
Fortunately, some of these “fair use” concepts would be protected under the Fair Use Act of 2007 being proposed by Reps. Rick Boucher and John Doolittle.
The RIAA, as it stands now, is nothing more than a glorified collection agency using tactics that would put some loan sharks to shame.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the RIAA has filed 18,000 lawsuits and counting against users of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks. Now, downloading music from P2P systems is illegal…no question about it. With most of these lawsuits, the actual amount of money lost by the record industry would only be a few hundred dollars. But the typical lawsuit is for tens of thousands of dollars and then the RIAA tries to intimidate the defendant into paying a settlement usually in the $6,000 ballpark.
If these were people who were mass producing CDs and distributing them illegally, I would have no problems with the RIAA going after them. But in many cases, these are kids in families that are barely getting by. What joy does the RIAA get in destroying a family? Well, if that’s what it takes to get that extra dime to Eminem, so be it.
You may also want to read this EFF report (PDF) on the RIAA’s legal activities.
Realizing these tactics against ordinary folks are not going to amount to much, the RIAA has begun going after bigger game–the Internet service providers [read here and here]. The RIAA has even gone so far as to propose that the ISPs find illegal music downloaders/sharers themselves and notifying the account holder he or she has been identified as a music “pirate” and they can simply pay a $1,000 settlement on a Web site set up by the RIAA to avoid a lawsuit.
WHAT? That’s not even close to legal! It goes against due process and borders on extortion!
Seeing how badly the RIAA wants this money, I guess it can’t wait to get it in the hands of the artists and songwriters. You know, the people who actually generate the product. Oh, what’s that? I see…it turns out the major record labels have been set up all along to make sure the people who make music make as little money as possible.
Courtney Love (of all people) made the following strong points in a speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference held in New York City way back in May 2000:
“Today I want to talk about piracy and music. What is piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing an artist’s work without any intention of paying for it. I’m not talking about Napster-type software.
I’m talking about major label recording contracts…
…Since the original million-dollar advance is also recoupable, the band owes $2 million to the record company.
If all of the million records are sold at full price with no discounts or record clubs, the band earns $2 million in royalties, since their 20 percent royalty works out to $2 a record.
Two million dollars in royalties minus $2 million in recoupable expenses equals … zero!
How much does the record company make?
They grossed $11 million…
…Story after story gets told about artists — some of them in their 60s and 70s, some of them authors of huge successful songs that we all enjoy, use and sing — living in total poverty, never having been paid anything. Not even having access to a union or to basic health care. Artists who have generated billions of dollars for an industry die broke and un-cared for.
And they’re not actors or participators. They’re the rightful owners, originators and performers of original compositions.
This is piracy.”
Read the full transcript of Courtney Love’s speech.
And there are other artists who have voiced their displeasure with the RIAA.
Singer-songwriter/engineer/music journalist Steve Albini wrote:
“The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 millon dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.
The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never “recouped,” the band will have no leverage, and will oblige.
The next tour will be about the same, except the merchandising advance will have already been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won’t have earned any royalties from their t-shirts yet. Maybe the t-shirt guys have figured out how to count money like record company guys.”
And singer-songwriter Janis Ian had this to say in an article she wrote for the May 2002 issue of Performing Songwriter magazine:
“One other major point: in the hysteria of the moment, everyone is forgetting the main way an artist becomes successful – exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, no one buys CDs, no one enables you to earn a living doing what you love. Again, from personal experience: in 37 years as a recording artist, I’ve created 25+ albums for major labels, and I’ve never once received a royalty check that didn’t show I owed them money. So I make the bulk of my living from live touring, playing for 80-1500 people a night, doing my own show. I spend hours each week doing press, writing articles, making sure my website tour information is up to date. Why? Because all of that gives me exposure to an audience that might not come otherwise. So when someone writes and tells me they came to my show because they’d downloaded a song and gotten curious, I am thrilled!
Who gets hurt by free downloads? Save a handful of super-successes like Celine Dion, none of us. We only get helped…
And Janis was just getting started…
I have no objection to Greene et al trying to protect the record labels, who are the ones fomenting this hysteria. RIAA is funded by them. NARAS is supported by them. However, I object violently to the pretense that they are in any way doing this for our benefit. If they really wanted to do something for the great majority of artists, who eke out a living against all odds, they could tackle some of the real issues facing us:
- The normal industry contract is for seven albums, with no end date, which would be considered at best indentured servitude (and at worst slavery) in any other business. In fact, it would be illegal.
- A label can shelve your project, then extend your contract by one more album because what you turned in was “commercially or artistically unacceptable”. They alone determine that criteria.
- Singer-songwriters have to accept the “Controlled Composition Clause” (which dictates that they’ll be paid only 75% of the rates set by Congress in publishing royalties) for any major or subsidiary label recording contract, or lose the contract. Simply put, the clause demanded by the labels provides that a) if you write your own songs, you will only be paid 3/4 of what Congress has told the record companies they must pay you, and b) if you co-write, you will use your “best efforts” to ensure that other songwriters accept the 75% rate as well. If they refuse, you must agree to make up the difference out of your share.
- Congressionally set writer/publisher royalties have risen from their 1960’s high (2 cents per side) to a munificent 8 cents.Many of us began in the 50’s and 60’s; our records are still in release, and we’re still being paid royalty rates of 2% (if anything) on them.If we’re not songwriters, and not hugely successful commercially (as in platinum-plus), we don’t make a dime off our recordings. Recording industry accounting procedures are right up there with films.
- Worse yet, when records go out-of-print, we don’t get them back! We can’t even take them to another company. Careers have been deliberately killed in this manner, with the record company refusing to release product or allow the artist to take it somewhere else.
- And because a record label “owns” your voice for the duration of the contract, you can’t go somewhere else and re-record those same songs they turned down.
- And because of the re-record provision, even after your contract is over, you can’t record those songs for someone else for years, and sometimes decades.
- Last but not least, America is the only country I am aware of that pays no live performance royalties to songwriters. In Europe, Japan, Australia, when you finish a show, you turn your set list in to the promoter, who files it with the appropriate organization, and then pays a small royalty per song to the writer. It costs the singer nothing, the rates are based on venue size, and it ensures that writers whose songs no longer get airplay, but are still performed widely, can continue receiving the benefit from those songs.
Yeah, it really sounds like the RIAA has the artists’ best interests at heart.
Oh, and let’s see how the record industry gives money earned by artists that it actually has collected through SoundExchange, the now-“independent” organization originally set up by the RIAA to collect and distribute royalties for artists earned through satellite radio and webcasting. Oh…SoundExchange can’t find a lot of them. But many of these artists are on major record labels…all of whom hold seats on the SoundExchange board. Oh well, I guess they can just keep the money instead of making a couple of freakin’ phone calls.
The RIAA exists only to maximize the profits for the major record labels. It doesn’t care about music, it doesn’t care about the artists, it doesn’t care about songwriters and it certainly doesn’t care about the consumers.
The RIAA only knows strong-arm tactics designed to squeeze the last dollar out of anyone it thinks owes one cent to the major record labels. That’s why it will never come up with a new business model.
And if you are wondering what proposals for a new business model are out there, how about this one proposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Sounds pretty good to me.
If you are a fan of music, you should support Gizmodo’s boycott of the RIAA. In order for the music industry to save itself, the RIAA needs to go away and be replaced by something new…something that is beneficial for the labels, artists, songwriters AND consumers.
The time has come.