Recording Industry Needs to Visit the Old Drawing Board

It seems that at least once a month I read a news article about the latest absurd lawsuit that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has brought against an unsuspecting citizen.

Of course there are more than just one or two of these lawsuits happening at one time, but it is part of the RIAA’s ongoing war on music piracy.

For those that are unfamiliar with this marketing masterpiece, I’ll fill you in.

It all started with the advent of Napster (the free one) and a realization from the recording industry that people were downloading thousands of songs for free and they weren’t getting any money out of it.

Once the RIAA was able to get the pesky young man, Shawn Fanning, and his free music service out of the way, they thought they were in the clear and the world was safe again.

No one could have been more wrong. During the time of the Napster trials, numerous file sharing services such as Kazaa, Bearshare, Limewire and others appeared and made file sharing more popular than Fanning could have ever imagined.

Fast-forward to a few years ago, and the RIAA strikes again. But this time, the RIAA begins going after individual users with fines upwards of $10,000.

Some of the more newsworthy instances have been times that they have filed suit against dead people, small children and college students with no money.

In most cases, people end up settling and paying the hefty fine.

However, there have also been courageous individuals that fight back because they know they have been wrongfully accused, at which point the RIAA immediately drops the suit.

I will admit that I, like many people our age, used the file sharing networks quite frequently when I was in high school and didn’t know better.

Once the lawsuits started getting super serious, I decided it might be prudent to start exploring the “legal alternatives” if you can even call them that.

As I have noted in previous articles, I am in most cases pro-Apple but not when it comes to music.

Their approach to selling music is the worst in the business. There are three key factors that a potential convert to “legal” music stores looks for:

1) Is the price reasonable? 2) Can I listen to music before buying to see if I like it? and 3) Can I do what I want with the songs once I purchase them? Apple’s iTunes store satisfies none of those requirements.

To be fair, I will tell you now that there currently is no legal music service that fulfills all three requirements laid out above.

Two services, Yahoo! and the new Napster, now owned by Roxio, do offer a subscription service that allows you to download and listen to music before actually buying it.

The downside here is that requirement one goes down the toilet as soon as you consider this option, since you’re paying twice now. Addressing factor number three, in order to be considered a “legal alternative” by the RIAA, a service is required to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology to prevent you from using your purchased music in ways they don’t like.

The way it works is they put a little line of code in the music file that, if it’s subscription music, requires that you log into the music store at least every week or so and get the expiration date updated on it.

With purchased music, DRM prevents you from burning the song to a CD too many times, editing the music file for other uses or anything else that they’ve decided is bad.

At this point I’m sure there are some of you out there saying, “But John, the reason they have to do this is so the artists can make money.”

No it’s not. Music artists make very little off the sale of CDs. They make more money off of tours, t-shirts, public appearances and pretty much anything but CDs.

If you really want to make sure your favorite artist is getting money from you buying their songs, mail them a dollar because that’s all they usually make off the sale of a $16 CD.

Unfortunately, the RIAA is too stubborn to figure out that we don’t want to pay $16 for a CD or 99 cents for a song with limitations on it.

If they really want to see us support the record industry again, they need to abandon their current outdated sales model and revamp the system.

Perhaps the most logical way to approach this would be to reinstate the file sharing systems but pay a flat fee per month for unlimited, DRM-free songs that people want.

With a system such as this, the costs to the record company are lower, and they don’t have to gouge the consumer.

The real problem here is that there is no way for us consumers to convince the RIAA that what they’re doing isn’t the right answer to eliminating piracy.

Like President Bush, they have vowed to keep fighting their respective wars until the problem is gone. They never learn, do they? Until they come to their senses, I’ll be here fighting the good fight, bro!

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