Music, RIAA, Financial Monkeyshines

Another post of stuff that I’m clearning out of my Shrook saved list, this time all about music and downloading and the RIAA. Let’s start off with the prototypical RIAA story, one that puts it all their moralizing in perspective:

Via BoingBoing comes this story of how major record companies had to be sued to actually pay out $50 million in royalties that they had collected but not disbursed. They claim it was because they lost contact with the musicians and couldn’t send them checks, but the list of those owed money includes P. Diddy, Dolly Parton, Gloria Estefan and other very hard-to-lose artists. Remember this kind of malfeasance when the RIAA talks about how downloading screws artists out of money. What they really mean is “it is the job of our member labels to screw artists out of money and we resent anyone else trying to get into the act.”

From BoingBoing (a lot of these are from BoingBoing) comes this story about a study that correlates file-sharing versus album sales and finds no negative impact. Here is the PDF of the study. The RIAA contends this study is “incomplete and flawed”. Ed Felten writes a analysis of a “grand unified theory of filesharing” which incorporates the findings from several of these studies. He breaks down filesharers into two classes – the “Freeriders” and the “Samplers.” Interesting stuff.

As if that wasn’t enough to shoot holes in the RIAA assertion of monetary losses, BoingBoing points out this story that actually sales are up. The RIAA is claiming lost sales because they are shipping fewer discs, but retailers are actually selling more CDs. The discrepancy comes from the amount of inventory on hand. Retailers are making smaller orders, selling more, and returning fewer discs via the distribution channels. This should be good for everyone because the costs go down, but this is the evidence that the RIAA uses to show they are incurring fiscal harm from downloading – one that ultimately has them making more money than they did a few years ago. As you can see, this organization is institutionally in aggregate lying sacks of shit.

Via Cult of Mac comes this story in the New York Times about the iTunes Music Store. It points out that iTunes has redefined the unit of consumption from the CD to the song, and that with the playlist sharing it allows for much more eclectic tastes to be supported than with CDs. I love Donnie Iris’ song from the 80’s “Ah Leah” but I’m not planning on buying any of his CDs anytime soon. I might be willing to pop for $0.99 for that song though.

Via BoingBoing is a link to a PDF of a report from Pew Internet and American Life Project that says that while musicians are of mixed opinions towards filesharing in general, they really dislike the RIAA suing their fans on their behalf.

When asked what impact free downloading on the Internet has had on their careers as musicians, 37% say free downloading has not really made a difference, 35% say it has helped and 8% say it has both helped and hurt their career. Only 5% say free downloading has exclusively hurt their career and 15% of the respondents say they don’t know…

67% say artists should have complete control over material they copyright and they say copyright laws do a good job of protecting artists…

Some 60% of those in the sample say they do not think the Recording Industry Association of America’s suits against online music swappers will benefit musicians and songwriters. Those who earn the majority of their income from music are more inclined than “starving musicians” to back the RIAA, but even those very committed musicians do not believe the RIAA campaign will help them. Some 42% of those who earn most of their income from their music do not think the RIAA legal efforts will help them, while 35% think those legal challenges will ultimately benefit them.

Via BoingBoing comes this link to a guy who Cory Doctorow went to school with and now is a copyright reformer who tracks the history of the music industry fighting current technologies in this PDF paper. The quote from Sousa is by itself worth downloading and reading the paper – image a stirring march playing while you read it:

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy…in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal chord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.

The history of the music industry fighting new technology because of the harm it will inflict on the status quo is long and hallowed. Before filesharing was the death of the music industry, other deaths included CD burners, DAT machines, cassette machines, reel-to-reel recorders, radio, player piano rolls, and printed copies of sheet music. One can only wonder what will be the future deaths of the recording industry.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.