No Sympathy for The Devil

I’ve been trying really hard to have sympathy for the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). After all, unlike a lot of cheap-ass people with unrealistic expectations, I don’t expect that music “should be free”. Being a musician, I understand all too well that it takes a lot of money to make music, from instruments and amplifiers to recorders, mixing boards and effects. Not to mention that most musicians have this annoying expectation that they might get paid at some point.
But …
I’m also aware that the music industry has been raping the public for decades. Compact discs only cost about $1.50 each to manufacture, and even when you add in the cost of distribution and what not, the average cost per CD is only about $6. So why exactly does the music industry expect people to pay $18 for a compact disc? I’ll tell you why. They discovered the people would pay it. Had consumers balked at the price and refused to buy CDs, the price never would have gotten that high.
The obvious effect of this is that people started being more selective about their purchases. I used to go out and buy four or five vinyl LPs a week. Who can afford to buy that many CDs at $18 a pop? A lot of other people felt the same way, and so eventually they started looking for other ways to get their music. That’s when mp3s came along, and that’s when file swapping became a big headache for the music industry. That’s when people started with this punk-ass mantra that “music should be free, man”. Yeah, well. It is free. Buy guitar and learn to play it. You can make all the music you want. Or are we next going to hear “guitars should be free”?
What I’m trying to say is that while I disagree with file swapping, I understand what drove people to it. The record industry created its own problems here.
So … what brought on this topic?
A woman named Jammie Thomas, a “single mother of two who makes $36,000 a year was ordered by a jury last week to pay the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) $220,000. She was not accused of stealing music, but the jury found that she made 24 songs available online — allegedly for others to download.”
It’s obvious the RIAA is trying to teach people a lesson. Personally, I think it’s going to backfire, and make people even more determined to avoid given any more money to the music industry than they have to. But I don’t think the solution is in file swapping. For one thing, it’s illegal. You can’t distribute something that you don’t own. You may say “I bought the CD, man”. Well, sure. And you can do whatever you want with that CD. Give it to a friend. Mail it to a stranger. You own the CD. It’s yours. But, you do not own the music on that CD, and when you start copying that music and distributing it, that is piracy. At that point you’ve stolen something and you’re a thief. There are no semantic arguments that can be made. You may as well have walked into a store and shoplifted.
Put it this way, let’s say you bought a new book that you liked so much that you wanted other people to read it. You scan the pages into your computer and print out your own copy of the book, and start giving them away on street corners and flea markets. Would you really be surprised when the police show up and arrest you? And are you really such an idiot that wouldn’t be able to understand why they were arresting you?
It’s no different posting that online. You’ve taken someone else’s work and product, and you’re giving it away for free. You don’t have the right to do that.
Here’s my issue. I don’t give a shit about the record industry. They’ve created their own problems by extorting money from music lovers for decades. I have zero sympathy for their mafia tactics. But I’m very aware that if you make it impossible for record labels to make money from music, the people you’re really hurting are the artists. They’re the low end of the totem pole, and they only get paid when it trickles down from the record labels. And while there are surely spoiled, rich pop and rock stars at the top of the heap who are making a whole hell of a lot more money than they deserve, most musicians in the middle are toiling away just trying to make a living.
I promise you this; if you make it impossible for those artists to make a living as musicians, they’re going to get regular jobs to feed themselves and their families. They’re going to stop making music. That’s when we all lose. And for all those people who say “well, they can make a living by performing live” I’d just like to say fuck you. You’re going to sentence me to a life on the road, being away from my family, eating junk food and playing in a different town every night because you’re too much of a cheap-ass sumbitch to actually pay for that music that supposedly means so much to you and is such a part of your life?
However, I don’t think that’s what Jammie Thomas was doing. A jury in Minnesota ordered her to pay an alliance of six major record companies $9,250 for each of 24 songs which she supposedly uploaded to the Kazaa peer-to-peer file sharing service (a service she claims she never used). $9,250 per song. That’s outrageous. I’ve heard people say that they could have awarded damages as low as $750 per song instead, as if that would have somehow been better.
I say help chica out. Her attorney has established a web site at http://www.freejammie.com/ that allows people to make donations to help her pay her legal fees and this outrageous fine. Instead of calling for a boycott against the record industry (yeah, stop buying your favorite artists’ work and make it harder for them to make a living … that’ll show the suits in the offices), go make a donation. Help fund chica’s appeal. Help defeat the RIAA in the courts and force them to change. Force them to stop targeting their own customers for punitive damages when their own inept and predatory business practices are the reason people are swapping files as it is.
I have reason for hope that things are changing. I’ve always thought that the Internet would upset the apple cart, and that eventually record labels would go the way of the dinosaurs. They have a stranglehold on music, and have extorted money from music-lovers for far too long, building their wealth on the backs of and at the expense of the recording artists. But recently the bands Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have found themselves without recording contracts, and, rather than seek a new label, they have decided to sell their music themselves. This is pretty serious. Two major recording artists have struck out on their own. That says a lot about what the Internet is making possible.
According to Trent Reznor, “I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.”
I’m sure hearing words like that will scare the hell out of record labels. Before their eyes they are being rendered obsolete. But in true corporate fashion, instead of addressing the real problems that have brought the recording industry to the precipice it finds itself rapidly approaching, they are resorting to intimidation. They’re trying to send the rest of us a message by punishing people like Jammie Thomas. She’s being made an example to intimidate people like you and me.
Quite frankly, if that’s the way they feel about it, I’m more than willing to watch the record industry whither on the vine and die. Hopefully more artists will follow the example of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and reject the recording industry altogether. But if that happens, that’s something for tomorrow. It’s not here today. But when it does happen, I’ll be interested to see what new excuses people will come up with to keep from paying for music. Once the record industry is dead and you can buy music directly from your favorite artists, will you stand by your stated principles and pay for that music once the profits are going directly to the artist? Or will you bitch and whine that the artist is charging too much?

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