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The RIAA is a Bunch of Damn Idiots 

And other thoughts on file-sharing

The trees that are willing to bend with the winds of time are always the strongest. This is common knowledge. If you're an old stiff tree -- a Jack Webb of a tree -- you die before your time of broken limbs, or maybe a broken heart.If you're in business, you just go broke. Those winds are starting to swirl for the Evil Empire that is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and they can't blow fast enough. Forever as forward thinking in their business decisions as a Barry Goldwater, the RIAA has now taken the drastic step of suing users of person to person (P2P) file-sharing programs like KaZaA.

Smart businessmen, like trees, also bend with the times. Folks have stolen more of Microsoft's software over the years than any of their competitors have probably sold, and yet the company remains hugely successful. In 1998, Bill Gates told Fortune magazine that, "Although about three million computers get sold every year in China, people don't pay for the software. Someday they will, though. And as long as they're going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade." That, if slightly unsavory, is how you do business. You change with the times. You rely on the superior intellect and ingenuity that made you a success in the first place. Billy Beane, the wunderkind GM of the Oakland A's profiled in Michael Lewis' surprise bestseller Moneyball, wins a hundred games every year with a microscopic payroll. How? He continues to find ways to grow, and to change, and to challenge popular, establishment thinking. Change is not only inevitable for growth to occur, it's a must, especially if you're selling a product. So you're a bit pissed that folks are stealing copyrighted music instead of buying your $18.99 CDs that cost a buck twenty-five to make. Suing them's a great plan to bring them all back into the fold.

Mind you, none of the money the RIAA might win should ever be expected to funnel its way back to the artists, who created the music in the first place (to boot, no amount of money will be able to salvage the RIAA's image and credibility with the majority of music buyers). No, what you're looking at is the RIAA attempting to simply make a case for not only its own survival, but its own existence.

Being that suits prefer the company of other suits, the RIAA gang has enlisted the help of that other bastion of original thinking, Our American Government. None other than Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he even favors developing new technology to destroy the computers of people who illegally download music from the Internet. Not only would this be way more illegal than downloading little three-and-four-minute snippets of intellectual property, it's overkill of the highest degree, and would violate numerous federal anti-hacking laws. It's one thing to hatch a plan, as we all know, but another thing entirely when Orrin hatches one.

Is file-sharing...stealing? When you get down to it, of course it is. But -- and this may offend some moralists out there -- that's not the point. What we are seeing is a sort of musical revolution -- an evolution -- that those in control can't get their (greedy little) hands around. Can 200 million plus worldwide downloaders be wrong? Perhaps. But -- and here's the kicker -- if the whole society is stealing, is it really theft, or an indicator of a sea change that should be realized, and fast, if our corporations and government are to stay on the same page as the people they sell to and represent, respectively? (Both rely on the will of the people, ultimately, for their existence, and risk an uprising if they are not.)

What we are seeing, then, is revolution, and revolutions often break a few laws on their way to re-establishing the will of the people (see casual drug users, civil rights protestors, speeders back in the old "55" days, etc.). We, as people, seem to be willing to put up with the risks of our own, non-violent behaviors, and as Americans, are confident enough in our own ingenuity to figure out a way where the worthy will be rewarded and the unworthy discarded. Why is music played on Internet radio stations a sin, and music played on commercial, over-the-airwaves radio stations lauded? Don't most of us use our computers daily? Don't our cars, our cellular phones, our houses, run on computers? Is it because Clear Channel and some other folks have not yet found a way to make money at it? Dear reader, you are our winner! (Please hold the line for some major-label swag, to be billed back to the artist...)

Yes, Clear Channel and those at the RIAA haven't a clue what we as people want, so they figured the best way to go about their business was with over-saturated, musical carpet-bombing. If we can't get a handle on them, well, we'll just make them like our music, and our antiquated methods of distributing it! We'll form an association, one that will look after our own interests! We'll go in and sue those folks who dare to think there's a better way! That'll show them!

Some people, forever stuck with a defeatist mentality, will gladly eat what they're given. They don't have a taste for change.

Other people, however, tired of years of eating bland, tasteless gruel, take stock in themselves and overthrow whoever's stuffing this shit down their throat. They see a flaw in the system, and have enough faith in themselves and their beliefs to take action. They know you can't sue everybody, because once the majority rules, it's those who were formerly in power that will be on the outside looking in.

If they survive to look at all.

Websites of interest Founded by Brad Hill, a musician and author of The Digital Songstream, an excellent reference guide to downloading music. The website offers reviews of legal online music subscription and downloading services. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights watchdog, has links to issues in the news, and to its "Let the Music Play" campaign. The Recording Industry Association of America represents the music industry. Here you can download, for free, Kazaa Lite, which purports to cover a downloaders' tracks from the eyes of the RIAA. Another file-sharing application. With DC++, users connect to hubs -- usually overseas -- that often require users to have minimum amounts of material to upload before they're allowed to share. One of the largest online retailers of independent music. You can't download here, but this is the place to come to find non-label music. In the mainstream industry, artists are lucky to get a dollar or two from each CD sold. Here, musicians who sell their CD through cdbaby get $6 to $12 from each sale.

Additional sites

-- Sidebar compiled by Steve Fennessy

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