I have a difficult time believing that the RIAA is pursuing litigation on behalf of the artists.
The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) pursues file-sharers on behalf of the copyright holders of music, which in most cases are the record companies. They own the master. What’s a master? The master is the recording (song or album) that is delivered by the artist to the record label in return for the advance that paid for the studio, the producer, the band, the hotel, the video-director, the dancers etc… The record company copyrights that master and sells copies of the music on LP, music cassette, CD or as download.
There are three elements of ownership to a recorded piece of music:
1. the recording itself, also called the master
2. the writing, meaning the work of the composer and lyricist
3. the publishing
Did the artists ask the RIAA to pursue litigation? I think most of the artists want to make music and care little for the business. That’s why they sign a contract with a manager, a publisher, a record company. Many artists end up in the poorhouse, if nobody looks out for them.
Let’s, for a moment, look at copyright.
Copyright was not invented until after the advent of the printing press and with wider public literacy. As a legal concept, its origins in Britain were from a reaction to printers’ monopolies at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Charles II of England was concerned by the unfair copying of books and used the royal prerogative to pass the Licensing Act of 1662, which established a register of licensed books and required a copy to be deposited with the Stationers Company, essentially continuing the licensing of material that had long been in effect. The Statute of Anne was the first real copyright act, and gave the author rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired. Copyright has grown from a legal concept regulating copying rights in the publishing of books and maps to one with a significant effect on nearly every modern industry, covering such items as sound recordings, films, photographs, software, and architectural works.
In other words copyright came about because of the ability to mass-produce books. The ability to mass-produce music came much later, in the 20th century.
Now, what possesed people to believe that they had the right to upload their entire collection of CDs to file-sharing sites, to be downloaded for free by anybody? It basically says: this has no value and I am happy to share it with anybody who wants it. Would they have done that with books? The reason people don’t share books is that it takes time and effort to scan every page of a book. No effort goes into copying music. Stick a CD in the drive of your computer and rip it. Most people have shared a music file with a friend, but to share not one but many albums with the world via a site like Kazaa?
Will these lawsuits by the RIAA have any effect, beyond alienating many people? I doubt it.
Despite the thousands of lawsuits — the majority of them settling while others have been dismissed or are pending — the RIAA’s litigation war on internet piracy has neither dented illegal, peer-to-peer file sharing or put much fear in the hearts of music swappers.
According to BigChampagne, an online measuring service, the number of peer-to-peer users unlawfully trading goods has nearly tripled since 2003, when the RIAA began legal onslaught targeting individuals.
At the time, BigChampagne says, there were about 3.8 million file sharers trading over the internet at a given moment. Now, the group has measured a record 9 million users trading at the same time. Roughly 70 percent of trading involves digital music, according to BigChampagne.
What does all of this really mean? Well, music is the first product in history that can easily be duplicated and passed around. When eBooks become popular I expect the same to happen to that industry. The same might happen to wine, if nano-tech develops into a little machine in every household… Why pay for that italian wine, when I can make you a copy of it in my nano-compiler overnight. Because music is going through this process first, there is bewilderment in the whole industry. How do we change the business-model so we can continue in some form? Essentially that means: how do we exchange value? A few centuries ago a publisher would send enforcers to printing presses who printed (copied) books that they had no rights to (and did not pay the author for) – those printing presses were often destroyed and legs were broken… Nowadays the RIAA does the same thing using attorneys. Do I think that is effective? No. Do I think it is evil? Not really – because if you lost your job/profession/value you would likely put up a fight, too. People often don’t think rationally when they feel cornered. And here an entire industry, the once mighty music-biz, has been cornered.
Conclusion? I think we as a culture need to examine how we feel about music and art. I also think we need to develop new business models for musicians. Relying on touring for income is not really feasable for musicians who are getting old. I mean some, like Andres Segovia, toured into their nineties – but that is an exception. In the recent past musicians could rely on income from record sales should they have to stop touring for age or health reasons.
Me, I don’t know. Just fumbling along like everyone else. Did I answer your question? Probably not. The RIAA does not really care about the artists, they care about the content owned by the record companies. No artist was ever asked and the decissions were basically made by the big four – the giant dinosaurs looking to survive. But, I do think these law-suits force us to discuss the issues and possibly find new solutions and that, I think, is a good thing.