For years the RIAA has put themselves up as the champions of the poor music creators whose livelihood is being stripped away by piracy. This justification has been touted for every action they have taken, from litigating against their customers, to the restriction of customers fair use. I don’t think anyone was naive enough to believe that their methods were altruistic, as they were paid by and obviously working in the interests of the large music publishers. The same publishers that, unlike the smaller labels, have never had a fantastic reputation for being generous to the talent.
Now the RIAA is showing how committed they are to the needs of the artist by proposing to the copyright board that the mechanical royalty that goes to the songwriter be almost halved. At 13% of wholesale revenue currently(split with the publisher), the songwriters are not exactly getting away with daylight robbery. Especially when you consider that the writing of the song is at least as important (more in some cases) than the artists interpretation to the success or failure of the song.
Big record companies were a powerful and efficient way to get music to consumers until about 10 & 15 years ago. Now the game has changed and the big labels are not willing to change to suit the new environment. Rather than suffer from their own mistakes they would like to make others pay the price. They started with consumers by making them suffer onerous DRM and reducing the value they get from their purchase by reducing the rights of use they have. Now they want to make the people that create and produce the music to pay for their mistakes as well! The audacity is as mind boggling as the short sightedness.
The Big labels Rome is smoldering and Nero is reaching for his fiddle.
Update – I may have given the RI too much credit (i.e. any credit at all) for showing some intelligence. The music industry is backing away from the service and the whole thing might die before it starts. Lets hope sense prevails. Thanks to Mario for the techdirt find
If this article from The Times is completely accurate a new service backed by EMI, Universal and Warner called QTrax will launch in the next 24 hrs that may show that the music industry have been taking at least some of the criticism leveled at them seriously.
While the website is already active the service relies on a custom application that is not yet available for download. This application seems to be a customised version of the Mozilla browser that will allow users to connect to the QTrax website and download and play from a catalog of 25 million songs. The tracks are protected by DRM but are in an MP3 format. There is no details yet on exactly what the MP3 player compatibility and availability is, but presumably the DRM will make this limited. The service will also be supported by ad revenue. The distribution of files is via P2P although the exact form this takes is unclear.
There are a number of reasons why this is a potentially brilliant move.
- This is finally recognition that music is art. As such its value is not diminished by its consumption unless it is bad. The consumption of good art actually increases its value and should therefore be encouraged.
- The inclusion of rare, live and unreleased tracks in the service allows fans to engage more with their favorite bands. It allows them to find and sample material they were not previously aware of and they consequently become more attached to the band.
- P2P technology means that the record companies don’t have to pay the bandwidth bill for free listening and imposes at least a minimal cost to the consumer. It also makes it a more social environment, you can only get your music for free if you help other people do the same thing.
- Unbelievably this is a use of DRM I can support. The point of DRM in this instance is to link you to the player which allows the music industry to receive the advertising revenue, collect good stats, and limit our use of the music. This is absolutely justifiable when there is no charge. It has never been my contention that music should be free, just that there should be a method to interact with it freely. If you want to listen to anything for free use the service and pay with ad revenue and stats. If you want to do anything extra, like put it on an MP3 player, burn it to a CD or listen to it in better quality, buy it.
- It removes any justification for any person that can use this service to use any other method to get unauthorised copies of music. If there is a method that you can listen to the song free of charge any other use must be paid for. Removing the justifications people use in their own minds when they pirate will reduce this activity. The availability of this service will also mend a large proportion of the ill-will a lot of the music consuming public has to the commercial side of the music industry as well.
- It exposes the consumers to the back catalog which is the most underutilised resource in the whole music world. While the top 100 makes the most visible money to the RIAA members, the older releases could be a much greater source of revenue for them.
I am looking forward to seeing, and reporting on what the reality of this service is, but on paper it is very impressive. QTrax has the potential to significantly increase the sales of music. It is an absolute fact that the more music a person listens to, the more they buy. By allowing people to listen to huge amounts of music they will increase sales.
In a case against an unrepresented defendant the RIAA has included a statement into the brief for summary judgment
Defendant admitted that he converted these sound recordings from their original format to the .mp3 format for his and his wife’s use. (Howell Dep. 107:24 to 110:2; 114:1 to 116:16). The .mp3 format is a “compressed format [that] allows for rapid transmission of digital audio files from one computer to another by electronic mail or any other file transfer protocol.” Napster, 239 F.3d at 1011. Once Defendant converted Plaintiffs’ recording into the compressed .mp3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiffs.
While some of the argument relates to the defendant putting the mp3 files into his Kazaa shared folder, the wording clearly tries to get case precedent for two items
I have said previously that the end game for the recording industry is to charge for every time you listen to a song, essentially making you subscribe to music rather than to own it. The concept of fair use means nothing to them but lost revenue.
Copyright was not intended for this, it was meant to stop people playing your music and claiming it was your own. We have already extended this to cover exploitation of the work and into what you can do with music that you have purchased. And how this industry have managed to get so much influence on what so many governments legislate completely boggles my mind.
Commentary on /. and BoingBoing
A study in Canada has been released that proves what many (myself included) have known for years, that on average people that pirate music are more likely to buy CD’s rather than less. The study was sponsored by the Canadian government and is a bit of a slog to read, but there is already some very good analysis of it on the Web.
While I have seen (and helped conduct) a number of studies on this topic in recent years, this one is by far the most conclusive and the most reliable one I have seen. Spanning nearly a year and with over 2000 participants this study has a very low margin for error. From what I have seen so far, there also doesn’t seem to be any inherent bias in the conducters of this study, although this is something I will be researching further.
The study is exclusively conducted among Canadian citizens, and the cultural and environmental similarities make this almost directly applicable to the majority of the English speaking first world. The first key finding was that the net effect of illegal downloads on CD purchases in Canada was zero. That’s right, zero, zilch, nada, nil, the big donut. Amongst those that did download though, there was a direct, positive correlation between the number of songs downloaded and the number of CD’s purchased. The more people got for free, the more they paid for.
I have long known that the RIAA’s tactic of suing big downloaders meant they were also targeting their biggest customers. Ironically the money they win from their lawsuits is money that would probably have been spent on music. It’s not as stupid when you factor in that they are trying to change a cultural mores rather than claim damages. In this case they are only moderately stupid, given that the group they are targeting are not likely to respond well to these tactics, rather than monumentally stupid in driving their best customers away.
This study will generate a lot of noise in the coming days/weeks. It is unlikely that the music industry will come to its senses, but here’s hoping.
Reports from the Capitol v Thomas case are starting to come in with the jury awarding $220,000 to the record companies. There is no mention of an appeal yet, but one would assume this is inevitable.
An interesting fact that came up in the trial was that Thomas was a very large consumer of legal music. This backs up what has been said for years, that the recording industry is sueing their biggest customers. Expecting the recording industry to get their heads out of the sand at this point is a pipe dream.
If you are interested in this trial, keep an eye on Ars Technica this week. They are giving this daily coverage, the first days wrapup already posted.
The beginning has been predictable, with RIAA witnesses banging on about how much piracy costs them. The defence tactic to date seems to be around questioning the methods the RIAA uses to gather their information, and whether they can offer conclusive proof.
After more than 4 years of their much reviled litigation of their customers, the RIAA may be about to get what it has tried to avoid, actually going to trial. While I am sure you have heard of the recent ruling of costs against them, this was after they tried to back out of the case without prejudice, and were smacked for the judge for it. The only facts tried in court in this case were regarding whether they could pull out of litigation scott free after costing the defendant money.
This trial will actually judge the merits of RIAA’s tactics directly, and so far the RIAA has seemed very scared of this. Historically the terms of settlement have been attractive enough that anyone charged that is actually guilty has settled, and in the cases where the defendant has fought, the RIAA has dropped out in some way before getting to a jury. In this case the RIAA tried for summary judgement, meaning the judge makes a determination without going to full jury trial. That was denied so we will see the RIAA in court with a jury on October 2. You can see more detail on the case at Recording Industry vs the People