Saturday, June 20, 2009

Comments on Yesterday's RIAA Ruling

Yesterday, a jury ruled that a Minnesota single mother was guilty of violating copyright laws following a lawsuit from the RIAA that claimed she illegally downloaded 24 songs in 2007. I just had a few thoughts about this.

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. The presiding judge commanded that Jammie Thomas pay the sum of $1.92 million to the RIAA for damages on those 24 "stolen" songs. There's very little I can say here that that sentence doesn't say for itself. Remember that this woman is a single mother of two children living on a very modest income. Consider also that it's likely that her children downloaded the songs. $1.92 million. The fact is that the RIAA knows full well that it won't get that money; Thomas simply has no means of paying it, even if every cent of her income for the rest of her natural life went to the RIAA. Therefore, consider the message that the RIAA is sending here: Do not fuck with the recording industry, or you will be fucked. Painfully.

However, there is much more being implied here. It's important to think about the state of music in today's world, the environment in which this travesty was created. Consider these offhand examples:

Radiohead releases "In Rainbows" through a variable-pricing scheme in which the listener chooses how much to pay.

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) releases "Ghosts I-IV" independently through a staggered pricing scheme. Months later, Reznor releases another full-length album completely free of charge in a variety of formats.

Girl Talk releases "Feed the Animals" independently, and most listeners receive it for free.

The point is that music, and the technology used to distribute it, is evolving at an unprecedented pace. The music industry is simply failing to keep up. Not only this, but they have actively chosen to turn a blind eye to the obvious path of the industry in favor of a constant struggle for control that they cannot hope to win.

The underlying message of the Jammie Thomas ruling, then, is that the music industry is becoming increasingly and obviously desperate. Last Christmas, record sales were down a staggering 21% from a year before. This simple statistic shows that the industry as it currently exists is failing, dying a slow death brought on by the revelation of freely shared music through the advent of widely-available internet access.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the RIAA seems to be thinking the same thing. With massively popular artists like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Girl Talk going outside the previously established lines, the industry sees its demise approaching. Unfortunately, it is too late to capitalize on the growth of filesharing technology, so the record labels are left with no choice but to pursue petty copyright cases until it is finally put out of its misery.

So, in light of this, I encourage any readers I have to load the shotgun and fire. Take what you want from the vast pool of freely available music; you're cheating yourself not to. Eventually, this dying industry will be forced to change radically or finally suffocate. It's fucked, and everyone knows it.

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