Beyond the Barline
The People vs. the Recording Industry—Part 2
Three months ago, I expressed my opinion regarding the RIAA’s lawsuit against MP3.com. Part of my concern was personal. I have a page on MP3.com, and I hope, as an independent artist, to continue using its service for the distribution of my work—not the copying of others’. Out of my concern I researched the case and discovered the RIAA’s true motivation: maintaining a stranglehold on its distribution monopoly. That way CD prices will remain at an outrageously inflated $15.99 to $18.99 per unit.
Sadly, the RIAA won its case at the end of April, but the decision on damages has yet to be made by US district judge Jed Rakoff. The RIAA is asking from $750 to $150,000 for each CD copied into MP3.com’s database, even though all the CDs in question had already been sold. How can the RIAA claim financial losses up to $6 billion for CDs already sold? Obviously, the true motivation of the suit is to bankrupt a potential competitor.
Meanwhile, the RIAA has won its first round against Napster. On May 5, US district judge Marilyn Hall ruled that, unlike ISPs, Napster is responsible for copyright infringement on its network. The San Francisco rock band Metallica also sued Napster in late April and provided the company with a list of 317,377 users who (the group alleged) downloaded MP3 files of their music. Napster replied by booting the users, and received over 30,000 complaints from people claiming they were misidentified. Napster then demanded that the band take individual action against the users in question, or the accounts would be restored. (Note: the deadline for Metallica’s response was May 26, three days after I submitted this column.) A one-time rebellious and ground-breaking band could break new ground by suing their own fans. Rapper Dr. Dre also sued Napster around the same time, and he has provided a list of over 200,000 alleged violators.
An Investment in Piracy
In my previous column, I also discussed Myplay.com, an industry-supported site that is no less vulnerable to accusations of facilitating piracy than Napster or MP3.com. In the last three months, the size of Myplay’s lockers (disk space for each account holder’s MP3 files) has been increased from 250 MB (not 25 MB as stated in my column; I apologize for the typo) to 3 GB. At an average of 1 MB per minute of compressed stereo audio, that adds up to 51 hours and 20 minutes of CDs that may or may not belong to the consumer.
Why does the RIAA support one potential source of piracy while suing others? Rafe Needleman of Red Herring got the answer from Doug Camplejohn, the CEO of Myplay. According to the April 27 Catch of the Day, Myplay’s “profit model is built on ‘relationship marketing’—knowing what listeners like and marketing that data to music companies.” So the RIAA gets a return for its investment, offsetting potential losses due to piracy (which are highly questionable and totally unverifiable) with valuable demographic information. Oh, and if you are a good citizen and only upload your own CDs, you’re giving this information away for free. And who gets this information? Well, last month I cited the AOL/Time Warner merger as an example of the potential danger of one corporation controlling both content and access, and Myplay has made me look like quite the prognosticator. According to Needleman’s article, Myplay recently entered into “a partnership with AOL.” I wonder if Myplay will be included in future versions of AOL’s software, or perhaps in Netscape. You listening Bill? Better act fast before you lose this one.
Fight the Power
If you thought these columns are only rantings unsubstantiated by facts (even though, excluding one minor typo, all the facts are accurate) or unsupported by others in either of my chosen fields, you’d be wrong. Chuck D has spoken out in favor of the “revolution” of digital music since the release of Public Enemy’s latest album, There’s a Poison Goin’ On, through Atomic Pop, an Internet-based record label. Fellow rappers Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill will mount a month of free concerts sponsored by Napster. I’m guessing that Dr. Dre isn’t invited. In addition, a growing number of columnists (such as Charles Moore and Del Miller from Apple Links) have cited concerns over both the RIAA’s distribution monopoly and its callous abuse of the intent of copyright law for its own gain.
So What Can You Do?
First, if you value your privacy or are just sick of paying up to eight times over cost for a CD, boycott Myplay.com. Second, please frequent MP3.com while it’s still in operation, and discover for yourself some of the many independent artists creating music that falls far out of the narrow world of the record industry. While you’re surfing, I’d also like to recommend another site. EarBuzz is an Internet-based record label that sells independently recorded and packaged CDs. For artists it offers non-exclusive contracts, handles all promotion (through MP3 samples) and distribution (through online ordering), and returns all profits to the artist. There are no setup fees, no minimum sales demands, and no attempts to influence the artist to change in order to sell more CDs. For the customers, it offers great prices, and a 15-day money back guarantee. If that isn’t enough to recommend it, the site is 100% Mac and, not surprisingly, it’s been highlighted on Apple’s Web site.
Also in This Series
- Ready or Not! · November 2002
- The Other Petition · August 2002
- The Samples Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent · May 2002
- Record Execs Ate My Hard Drive! · April 2002
- And the Award Goes to… · March 2002
- Expos, From a Distance · February 2002
- My Resolution · January 2002
- Too Much Hype · November 2001
- And They’re Off! · September 2001
- Complete Archive