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Deeker's Message of the Week

September 21, 2003

Really Idiotic Assholes of America (RIAA)

Since I don't really have any announcements related to the web site, and that I have had a lot of thoughts about the latest developments in the music industry, I hope you won't mind me going off-topic here to share my feelings and opinions on this subject, as I know many of the people who visit this site also listen to the same kinds of music I enjoy.

The RIAA, in case you are not familiar with it, is the Recording Industry Association of America. Many of the major and even smaller recording companies are members of this association, which has been at the forefront of the controversy surrounding the distribution of MP3 files for free over the Internet. They allege that reduced sales of CDs (they claim a 31% drop) since 1999 is because of the proliferation of file-sharing services. Naturally this equates to reduced profits. The RIAA claims that downloading MP3s is akin to stealing because people are obtaining music without paying for it. There are issues involving copyright law, which states it is illegal to make additional copies of a copyrighted piece of work without permission, and to sell such copies is even more illegal (this is called piracy, which has been an issue with the software industry, which has dealt with similar problems far longer but still thrives). The law allows people to make copies for personal use, but if you must destroy any copies before selling or passing on the original (yeah, right, like anyone would actually do this!)

The RIAA has been in the news because they have been threatening to sue individual people who furnish MP3 files, starting with the people who are known to have distributed the largest volume of MP3s. They are trying to claim $750 to as much as $150,000 per song (yes, per SONG!), which is absurd at best, as most people who don't have the last name of Gates could possibly afford to pay such a ludicrous settlement. They are going after individuals because they couldn't shut down Kazaa, WinMX or other services because, unlike Napster, they do not use a central server, and this makes it difficult to target the people who make the software. This is comparable to suing a gun manufacturer because someone commits a murder. The premise is that it isn't the software that is illegal by itself, but rather in how it is used. Guns, while legal in the U.S. (though subject to stringent laws and other regulations), are often used illegally, and so it follows that file- sharing software is also used illegally, even though the product itself is deemed legitimate.

Since the RIAA lost that argument, they are now going after individual people, people who have been subpoenaed by their ISPs, who have furnished user activity logs to the RIAA's legal staff. I haven't seen anything in the news for the past week or so, but when the latest story broke they were targeting 261 individual users at first and would then go after other people, eventually suing thousands. As if the RIAA hasn't already tarnished its reputation, they gave themselves a public- image black eye when one of the suits involved a 12-year-old girl, which received a lot of media attention. The suit was reduced to $2,000. Several people came forward to donate money to help settle this case. Another case that garnered national attention involved an elderly man who was unaware of any of this until he received a summons in the mail to appear in court. While the internet account was in his name, it was his grandchildren who were doing all the downloading. I don't remember what became of this.

One thing for sure is that cases like this will continue to proliferate and worsen the RIAA's reputation all the more. I hope that the courts and other people involved will come to realize that the whole damn thing is a waste of time and money and not worth pursuing. In the 1930's we had a period in the U.S. called Prohibition. Quite simply, Prohibition outlawed the sale, production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. People like to drink their liquor and their beer (except me, as I am a non-drinker) and will do anything they can to skirt the law and find ways around it. It was determined impossible to enforce and control an activity in which so many people engaged, so Prohibition was defeated by the masses and soon abolished. Of course I wouldn't mind seeing Prohibition again, but in this day and age I know it could not happen (this was in the 1930's, when people were thought to have more conservative values and morals).

I suspect (and hope) the same fate awaits the RIAA's lawsuits when they are determined to be futile. The worse thing about it is that even though some of the artists (like Metallica, more on them later) are claiming lost sales are cutting into their profits, as I understand it, the recording artists get a mere pittance in terms of royalties from the sales of their CDs. Most of the money goes to the recording studios and the RIAA itself, which makes this organization even less popular among the buying public. I foresee that even if the RIAA is successful in curtailing the widespread distribution of MP3 files (either via scare tactics in the form of lawsuit threats, making CDs uncopyable or shutting down distribution services), the public will protest and there will be a backlash brought about by people not buying CDs. I know several people who are doing this. Efforts to prevent unauthorized duplication are usually thwarted since someone will eventually come up with a way to defeat and circumvent such methods. The artists make most of their money through sales of concert tickets, T-shirts and other promotional items.

Other arguments against the RIAA's stance is that some individuals as well as artists have claimed that file-sharing has helped boost sales of CDs. People discover new music by downloading it and trying it out. If they like the artist they'll go out and buy the CD. There are a few CDs I have that I have bought because of the initial exposure on WinMX. I have also found new music on DMX, the music channels that comes with my digital cable.

In an attempt to retain what little remains of the RIAA's public relations, they have instituted an amnesty program for people to protect themselves from a lawsuit. The way this works is that a user comes forward and admits to downloading and saving MP3s, pledging that he or she will delete all their MP3 files and cease downloading new files. I personally think this is a crock of shit and is just a veiled attempt by RIAA to gather more names of people to sue. I'm sure even the RIAA isn't too stupid to realize people who claim they will stop downloading, won't (and will keep the ones they have), which makes them easier to track, so the RIAA is hoping to sue these people as well. I'm not about to reveal my identity to the RIAA and anybody who is smart won't do so, either.

A good site to visit is www.boycott-riaa.com. This is where you can follow the latest news and discussions regarding the RIAA. Another good site is www.campchaos.com. Here they have some funny flash animations poking fun at Metallica (who is largely to blame for precipitating the RIAA's actions) and the RIAA itself. Like many, if not most fans, I like Metallica's older stuff, everything up to and including the black album. Load and Reload were big disappointments, and St. Anger is an all-out disaster. I have no plans to buy it (hell, I won't even download these songs! Looks like Metallica solved the problem of having people downloading their music by making it suck so bad that people won't even want free MP3 files of it). I've heard four songs off of so far and they all suck. The singing is weak and the lyrics are insipid, nothing at all like the old Metallica. Also, the snare drum sounds like a damn tin pot or a garbage can lid! As if Metallica couldn't go any lower, I'd say their career is finished and St. Anger is just another nail in the coffin. The band has been steadily declining in popularity since the black album was released. many critics said Metallica was going mainstream when this album was released. The songs were shorter, which appeal to mainstream audiences, whereas Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All have songs that are 8 to 9 minutes long. Still, the black album is good by most people's standards (including mine). Load and Reload were drastic departures from their roots and these CDs lacked the power heard in older Metallica music. It took them awhile to release any new material. Garage Days Revisited was just a bunch of cover tunes, and while their collaboration with the San Francisco orchestra was a novel idea, I wasn't impressed with the new songs on it. Metallica knew their remaining fan base was clamoring for harder, louder rock, and they attempted to deliver it with St. Anger, but as I stated above, it's just not the same Metallica I knew and loved in decades past. When I was in high school a guy could easily get his ass kicked for saying "Metallica sucks!" Nowadays if you said that you'd have a lot of people agreeing with you.

Top Ten Story Downloads for Week of 09/14/03 to 09/20/03

Due to errors in reporting, data for the top ten downloads are not available.

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Stay happy and thickly diapered!

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