Get Outta Town September 10

(September 10) You know, I wanted to attack a local this week. It’s been awhile, actually, with the exception of that imbecile who decided he’s a private eye working for Wild Bill.
But this past weekend, I didn’t get much sleep. No, it wasn’t because of booze, pills, and whores. I could only dream of that sort of weekend.
My lack of sleep was due to those bastards from the RIAA. That’s the Recording Industry Association of America, who promised to launch a wave of lawsuits against anyone caught trading MP3’s online.
Actually, I didn’t lose much sleep. While I do download a lot of music, it’s mainly higher quality shn files of concerts, and a few upcoming releases that I inevitably purchase when released. I don’t waste my evenings looking for the same Eminem and Pink tunes that you hear on the radio every few minutes.
And I rarely use Kazaa, or it’s similar sister networks. My downloads come from newsgroups and other obscure programs that are next to impossible to trace…which also shows how futile the record industry’s heavy-handed approach really is.
This story began earlier this year, when the RIAA filed lawsuits against a handful of college kids who had set up their own search engines on their campuses. What wasn’t publicized was the fact that these programs weren’t used primarily for music – they were search engines to assist students in research.
Aided by quick settlements with these students, and a crazy court decision that opened the records of Verizon Wireless, two months ago the record industry announced plans to initiate lawsuits against anyone that they discovered downloading.
Last week, the bastards offered what they called a “general amnesty” to file traders who stepped forward and promised not to do it again. Like anyone would do something as stupid as assisting these people in creating a database that could be used against them in the future.
Here’s what the RIAA required in this so-called amnesty – a notarized form promising to delete illegally downloaded files from their computer, a submitted copy of a photo identification, and a pledge to refrain from future downloading. In return, the RIAA would agree to not sue them.
Wired Magazine covered this story last week, and many experts questioned this idea. “I would think that many of the people who have downloaded music would be concerned about their privacy rights,” said attorney Tom Lewry. “I think people distrust the RIAA.” I would think that we should be worried anytime a giant entity starts collecting information on individual Americans. Who knows how that info will be eventually used, especially since there are many questions concerning the RIAA’s authority to even grant amnesty. After all, they don’t represent songwriters and music publishers. I don’t think it would be a stretch to imagine the RIAA providing this information to someone else looking for a quick buck.
People that were already being eyed by the RIAA were exempt from this program, and earlier this week 261 people were sued. That number may not seem very high, but it’s just the beginning. Included in this group was a twelve year old girl, whose parents have stupidly already settled for $3,000, at least two grandparents, and a number of other parents who had no idea that their computers even housed illegal files.
I don’t deny that downloading is a part of the record industry’s declining sales, but it’s not nearly the entire problem. As I stated a few months ago, the entire economy is struggling, and more and more of the ever-shrinking discretionary dollar is going to DVD’s, video games, and even cell phones. Plus, the cash cow for the record industry for years was not new releases but old catalog. Twenty years after the CD was unveiled, anyone who wants the Eagles Greatest Hits already owns it. But they don’t already own those Simpson’s box sets on DVD.
And let’s face it, this has been a piss-poor year for new releases. I’m not saying that there isn’t great music coming out this year; I’m talking about the so-called superstar releases that make or break the industry. With the exception of Metallica’s new album, no new release has had realistic dreams of multi-million sales. You can hype Ashanti and Mya all you want, but those albums were dead on arrival. Madonna had to suck face with Britney just to stay in the news.
So what does the record industry do to bring attention to themselves? They piss off their potential best customers. Keep in mind that an independent study conducted earlier this year indicated that the biggest downloaders were actually purchasing more music than ever before. Keep in mind that people like me are almost forced to use downloading to discover those hidden gems that are a bit off the beaten path.
And now listen to these numbers. If the record industry’s intention was to piss of their best customers, they have succeeded. The backlash has begun. While downloading has declined since the RIAA’s crackdown, the decline in CD sales also accelerated. On June 15, the day the RIAA launched their subpoena campaign, CD sales were down 6.1 percent for the year to date. In the seven weeks since, the sales decline has accelerated 54 percent.
And let’s face it, this entire problem is the fault of the record industry. They were the people who developed a digital version of music that was easily duplicated. They were the people who constantly resisted calls to set up a system for LEGAL downloading. They were the ones whose initial attempts at downloading services were so cumbersome that nobody in their right mind would subscribe. Who’s going to pay for songs that you couldn’t even burn to disc? Who’s going to pay to listen to low-quality streams that expire at the end of the month?
It’s time that the record industry changed the way they operate. They need to look at the success of Itunes and develop a model that grants access at reasonable rates. They need to realize that downloading services are vitally important during a time when discovering new music through traditional methods is next to impossible. And they need to realize that the majority of people who fill their computers with song files are the same people who borrowed their friend’s album to copy to cassettes just a few years ago. They didn’t buy music then; they don’t now.
I’ll conclude with a pledge…or is it a promise…or maybe it’s a threat. I currently purchase an average of five CD’s a week. Just yesterday I dropped $150 on new releases. I’ve been a lifelong consumer of music, from 45’s when I was barely out of diapers through the eras of albums, cassettes, CD’s, and now DVD-Audio discs. If I ever receive any sort of threat from any label or any music-related organization, I’m through. My music collection will suddenly be considered complete. I’ve got more than enough tunes to last me a lifetime…and maybe that extra money will be better spent on booze, pills, and whores. If I’m going to break the law, I might as well do it right.


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