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RIAA Wins $1.92 Million Verdict

The Music IndustryI was posting something about this on Facebook, and realized that I had a lot more to say about it that just the blurb I was putting on the end of the link. I’m not a fan of the RIAA, and personally I think they’re doing a lot more harm than good in the overzealous pursuit of illegal file downloads. But I think most people don’t really understand this issue.
Although I think people lose sight of the fact that when they steal music online, it’s really the artists they’re hurting more than anyone (most musicians are not millionaires by a long shot), I have zero sympathy for the RIAA and their Gestapo tactics. It seems to me the RIAA has done more than anyone else to make piracy popular by ramming through ridiculous cases such as this. While downloading music used to be simply cheap-ass people swiping music they were too cheap to pay for, it’s almost become an act of defiance now. Mostly because of the jack-booted thugs of the RIAA.
So what’s the real problem here? Is it simply that most people have no morals and will rob you blind given a good opportunity (I think that’s a pretty apt description of the average American), or is it a cultural thing? I’ve been amazed by the young people who don’t think twice about downloading and trading music, copying rented DVDs, and generally just taking whatever they want, without ever fearing repercussions or, worse yet, having any moral qualms about stealing these products. But can an organization like the RIAA really intimidate these people into having a conscience?
Admittedly, I’m not the best person to be questioning the morality of those who illegally download music. I might have a hard drive full of mp3’s that were dutifully paid for, but I also have a bunch of high dollar computer programs on another hard drive that most definitely were not. Is it hypocritical of me to bitch about my girlfriend’s daughter copying DVDs and habitually swiping music online, all while I have a few cracked copies of software?
Well, yes. Of course. However I might try to pretend that there’s a moral difference between swiping an over-priced $600 graphics program and paying $1 for a song download, there’s no moral difference. The only difference I see is that there’s no way I could ever afford that $600 software program without using a cracked copy. What bugs me is when relatively affluent people steal music when they could easily afford the $1 download fee.
I guess it seems to me that’s it more wrong, somehow, for a wealthy woman to walk into a supermarket and steal a pack of sandwich meat than it is for a poor, starving woman to do the same.  I suppose the big difference to me in regard to my software versus my girlfriend’s daughter’s music downloads is that I not only know that when my financial means are improved I will purchase a legitimate copy of that cracked software, but I actually am looking forward to it. I’ll use that cracked software because I need it, but I would definitely prefer to have a legitimate copy. My girlfriend’s daughter is in college, training to be an engineer, and works for a company where she makes great money, and yet I doubt that once her income has settled into the $50,000 per year range she’ll ever feel compelled to go back and pay for all that music she’s downloaded.
I keep thinking about something a friend always said, that sort of falls into the “honor among thieves” category. She always said that it wasn’t what you stole, it was who you stole from. Meaning, of course, that the morality of it was shaped by the amount of harm done. So, it would be less wrong to steal a computer from a corporation like IBM than it would be to steal a dime from a homeless person who had, maybe, a dollar to his name. She would have no problem with the former, but major qualms about the latter.
I guess I kind of look at it the same way. When someone swipes over-priced software from the likes of Microsoft and Adobe, they’re swiping digital copies that cost nothing to the corporations in actual goods. And for someone like me, they’re not losing income, because I couldn’t afford to buy their over-priced software anyway. Somehow I have less of a problem with it because I know this software comes from billion dollar corporations. Yes, I know it’s still piracy, but it goes back to the issue of who it is you’re pilfering from.
The biggest problem I have with swiping music is that the musicians are already getting mere peanuts from each download and CD sale. You may think you’re only hurting a record label when you steal music, but you’re also taking money out of the pockets of your favorite artists. While musicians who sign recording contracts sometimes receive signing bonuses up front, for the most part they receive nothing else in way of compensation but royalties from the sale of downloads and CD’s. Remember that artists typically only receive about 25-35 cents in royalties for each CD sold, and much less for downloads. So if you buy a CD from a band with four members, that band gets to split about a quarter between four people. That’s unbelievable. And yet people have no problem with taking even that quarter from them? To my mind, that’s no different then stealing bread from a homeless person who has nothing else to eat.
The problem is that people are basically stupid. They see millionaire rappers strutting out with their necks laden down with bling, and they think every musician in the world lives like that. Sorry. The rich beyotches that you see parading across your television sets represent a fraction of 1% of the working musicians out there (most of whom are barely squeaking by).
I’m sure I’d feel different about the software issue if I knew that programmers didn’t get paid salaries from their corporations, but were instead paid royalties on sales of the software they’d helped write. I’d feel very different about it then. But knowing that those programmers receive their salaries whether or not I swipe that software makes the moral qualms about swiping the software easier to soothe over. But if I download an album of music, I’ve robbed my favorite artist of that income, because they are not receiving a salary. I couldn’t give a damn about the record label. But I care about that artist.
The RIAA could make more headway with this issue if, instead of suing single moms for millions of dollars they know they’ll never collect, they spent those legal fees on advertising campaigns to explain to the general public how the music industry really works, and how people who steal music online are only adding insult to injury to their favorite artists, who have already been screwed over by the recording industry itself. But the RIAA isn’t that smart.
Here’s a direct message to those who steal music online. Don’t tell me “everyone is doing it”. I don’t care. That doesn’t make it right. If you have a problem with giving money to the record labels, fine. Go to your favorite artists’ web sites and purchase their music directly from them, if you can. If you must steal their music, at least have the decency to buy a shirt or a poster from them to make amends. They make far more money on average from merchandise sales than they do from CDs and downloads. In other words, if you must steal bread from a starving, homeless person, at least have the common decency to give them something in return with equal or greater value.
In the end, I think the RIAA seems so desperate because the corporate fat cats are watching their sales figures drop dramatically. Yes, folks. The free lunch is probably coming to an end. I’d like to see a future in which music lovers are directly supporting their favorite artists by buying music and merchandise directly from them, completely eliminating record labels altogether and making the RIAA and its Gestapo tactics a thing of the past. But I’m not foolish enough to believe that when that happens that music piracy will stop.
I’m reminded of a band I was involved with in the early 1980’s. This band put on a series of free concerts in the parking lot at a restaurant in my home town. At the last show the crowd estimate was somewhere around 500 people. Hoping to build upon this, a month or so later this band put on a show at the high school auditorium and charged a small admission fee (about $2, I think). 10-20 people showed up. That, in a nutshell, is a perfect metaphor for downloads. Big crowds show up when they can peruse the buffet for free. But when you charge for it, suddenly your product isn’t worth even a modest fee.
I suppose where this issue is concerned, my sympathies are with the artists. Which they would be. I’m a musician, after all. I have friends who are musicians. I have friends in the music business who have been nominated for industry awards, yet are still driving to their gigs in vans and making ends meet from one week to the next. So yeah, when you steal music from them, you take bread from their table. And they’re the ones least about to absorb the loss.
Fuck the RIAA. Support your favorite artists.

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