Long-winded Rant

02007-10-05 | Music | 14 comments

steve comments:
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.

From Wired:
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.


  1. steve

    Before I write anything, I SINCERELY hope I don’t come off as contentious. If I do, I apologize.

    The RIAA has continuously pursued a policy tantamount to neo-luddism.
    They oppose (at nearly every turn) advances in technology, because such technology removes their ability to control the distribution channel. Their business model has been antiquated for decades, and they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, by Apple.

    Lets Consider some hard numbers: “In 2005, album sales through the third quarter (Q3) were 414.5 million units. In 2006 that same benchmark is 393.1 million. A 5% drop. Not 30%. Not even 10%. Extremely negligible and better than other industries like computer and automobiles who have experienced an overall 12% reduction in gross revenue, this year alone.”[1] Likely, a 5% drop in sales is part of the economic cycle that ALL businesses experience. Frankly 5% is pretty minuscule.

    Consider: The RIAA, et. al. doesn’t calculate their statistics honestly. What don’t they include in their data?

    1. CD sales of independent artists. [2]
    2. They don’t include legally paid downloads from iTunes/e-Music/etc.[3]
    3. The don’t include used sales.[4]
    4. They don’t include the fact that licensing fees for getting a hit song in a soundtrack has increased 1000% since 1995, with ZERO additional cost to the label.[5]
    5. They don’t include the 300,000,000 ringtones that generate approx 30 cents in new revenue.[6]

    Note that in the case of 4 and 5 above no additional manufacturing costs are incurred. There are no returns for damaged merchandise. This results in a substantially higher profit margin for newer sales, and on the margin mitigates against their risk for any new talent they pursue and realize poor return on investment.

    Finally, they have started taking a cut of artists profit from touring/live performance.

    The fees the law allows for the most recent case adjudicated ($9,250/song) is excessive. What’s worse, the law allows for fees as HIGH as $720,000/song.

    Does this seem in parity with a culture that is looking to investigate how they view music and art? I submit not. This is a bunch of businesspeople that are inordinately greedy, not interested in anything but inordinately large profit margin.

    I won’t even go into the actual aesthetics of what is currently be “produced” by the big four… that is a completely different rant.

    Again … apologies if I come off as contentious.

    [1] Moses Avalon newletter: WHAT THE RIAA DOESN’T INCLUDE IN “LOST SALES” / verified by Soundscan comparison.
    [2] ibid
    [3] ibid
    [4] ibid
    [5] ibid
    [6] ibid

  2. Carol

    It’s bound to backfire on them. Big mean company picking on one little woman. It really is a problem. It’s sad. Too bad they can’t stop other nations and e bay, etc. As for me, I don’t buy music unless I care about the artist, and I sure want that person or group to get paid for the wonderful music they provide. But I know that isn’t so with so many that don’t even consider the repercussions of stealing from the creators.

  3. Shawn

    I agree that creating this sort of dialog is important. It’s great to hear from an artist’s point of view. Thanks for expressing it so well.

    Speaking from a consumer’s point of view, though, over the past decade I’ve seen a huge shift away from companies appreciating their customers toward treating their customers as inconveniences at best and criminals at worst.

    Sony proved that point quite well when they added viperous copy protection to some of their cds not too long ago. The copy protection caused computers to slow down, crashed computers and was nearly impossible to remove from the user’s computer. This was, of course, justified as a way to combat piracy. Sadly though, it was punishing the people who were actually paying for the albums. I deleted several hundred dollars of legally purchased Sony software from my computer when this ridiculous episode happened and will likely not use any of their products again if there is a suitable alternative.

    Piracy is a problem, but not to the degree expressed by the RIAA and the similar groups in other media like the movie industry. There’s a big difference – in my mind – between someone on a peer network swapping music and an illegal factory in China churning out pirated material to the tune of 100,000 or more cds.

    Essentially, the RIAA is going after the smaller individuals and gaining some money for their efforts. The cost is that the bigger problems are not being addressed and the RIAA is stockpiling a whole lot of bad will. On the current track, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if they can’t raise much support for much needed updates to copyright law down the line.

    The smaller sharers need to be weeded out by changing the culture, not through lawsuits. Spend some to the money put into suing teens and produce some advertising that explains how it hurts artists when they don’t get paid for their music.

    In other words, the RIAA should treat people like intelligent humans and make them part of the team instead of treating all listeners like potential thieves.

    Artists deserve to be paid for the art they create – that’s just common sense. But I believe the bigger damage to musician’s pocketbooks is being done by the very industry they depend on. Music is an almost unique media in the way artist’s material is treated. If the same music was a book, the artist would retain control over the copyright and the publishers would negotiate to release it in different markets, different media and for periods of time. Until that fundamental problem is addressed, it will continue to be difficult for many artists to earn a great living from their music.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment, but I wanted to chime in from a different perspective. It’s done from a desire to find a good solution for everyone and hopefully came across that way.

  4. Curt

    Thank you for this read Ottmar. I think that it is this change in climate in the music industry that is keeping me from actively pushing myself into a music career again. 10-15 years ago nothing would have stopped me from my chance at “making it” (and I tried!) but now I’m almost glad that it didn’t happen for me. I believe that I am happier living with the wonder of “what if” than if I had horrible memories of “what I had and lost”.

    I’m fortunate enough to have a very decent day job that funds my music projects quite nicely. The problem I struggle with constantly is finding the time to “do it all”. Today the independent has to be composer, performer, promoter, engineer, and web designer. I can only focus on one at a time and it’s quite overwhelming to be honest.

    I have no desire to help the RIAA or look to become their property. At least not until this garbage they have been pumping out for the past decade ceases. Several years ago I could identify every artist in Billboard’s top 50 but today my top 10 albums are independent artists. I have no need to know about Billboard anymore.

    The independent world is my/our salvation.

  5. Eddie

    i agree, lawsuits appear to be quite harsh, i download songs rarely…and when i do its to hear the sounds of a band i have heard about or a friend has mentioned…then i will by the album if i like it or delete the song

  6. ottmar

    Steve: Neither artist nor label make any money off of used CD sales – so that’ s a silly number to include. Look, a lot of artists have lost 50% of their income. Let’s see how you would feel if you were running a small company and you were suddenly making about half as much money as before and you are trying to get everyone paid. Album sales have dropped off like a car falling off a cliff.
    What’s the use… I shouldn’t even bother making another album. THAT has certainly run through my mind a lot lately.

  7. steve

    Let’s see how you would feel if you were running a small company and you were suddenly making about half as much money as before and you are trying to get everyone paid. Album sales have dropped off like a car falling off a cliff.

    Well, that’s why I’m no longer an engineer anymore. The market changed. I didn’t. I went out of business. Bankrupt.

    I teach physics now. Sorry I pissed you off. That wasn’t my intent, as I indicated.

  8. steve

    BTW… the reason I included used CD sales was to indicate that many, many people are still buying CDs, albeit used.

  9. Curt

    Ottmar said:
    What’s the use… I shouldn’t even bother making another album. THAT has certainly run through my mind a lot lately.

    Um, I sincerely hope it runs through and right on OUT of your mind! I understand your frustration and I know I would feel the same if I were in your shoes. But you are such an amazing source of inspiration and hope to me and many others so you just CAN’T stop making albums!!!

  10. Carl Cook

    “Well, music is the first product in history that can easily be duplicated and passed around.”
    Music, being more commonly consumed on a unit basis, faces a bigger problem than software, which also falls into this. I own a software company and hackers sell our products all over the internet. Lawsuits are ineffective when the hacker is running his “biz” from an unknown location somewhere in Russia. I would be better off sending “enforcers” to “take care of the problem”.

    Part of the problem may lie in the amorality and “don’t care” attitudes prevalent in many of our societies, or the view in some countries that if it isn’t tangible (i.e., hardware) it should be free.

    You said, “What’s the use… I shouldn’t even bother making another album. THAT has certainly run through my mind a lot lately. ”
    PLEASE carry on. I bought your binaural Fritz Files and various selections off of iTunes and will continue to buy … There will always be honest customers that love your work and are more than willing to compensate you for the unique value you provide.

    The good thing from this is that with any problem comes opportunity. You know, Lemons and Lemonade…

  11. eddie

    i’m very happy that your thought has not manifested itself into reality ottmar, and i hope you continue to make music, because there will always be people to listen

  12. Panj

    Ottmar, just the thought of you never making another album makes my Soul shudder! I do understand your feelings and the artistic dilemma of survival and I cannot believe that God will not keep your’s and all Artist’s Paths opened…we NEED you all so…Art is like Breathe for the Planet! And some like you Ottmar, are truly Heroes! Surely things MUST get better…(hopeful smile)!

  13. Rik

    Nothing is immune. Everything has faults, especially mankind. It’s the world in which we live.
    Your music allows many of your fans to feel something that we never would otherwise. Please don’t let the thought of not making albums take root in your mind. The day that happens would be a very sad one indeed.

  14. Carl Cook

    P.S.: Make more binaural ones, please. I think it enhances further the quality of your artful skills.


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