Why I have a problem with the RIAA

The following is a rant I went on about the RIAA on 24 August, 2003.  While many of the specifics have changed, the philosophy of this once “sue-em’-all” organization has only shifted to “take-em’-all-down”… semantics in my opinion.  Granted other things have changed as well but, by far and large, the RIAA is still more concerned with maintianing a stranglehold on the market than having any concern for the consumer or the artist.  For the record, I still despise the organization.  I often refer to them as the Racketeering Idiots Association of Absurdity.

The RIAA’s “About Us” page reads as follows;

“The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Its mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members’ creative and financial vitality. Its members are the record companies that comprise the most vibrant national music industry in the world. RIAA members create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States.

In support of this mission, the RIAA works to protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists; conduct consumer industry and technical research; and monitor and review – – state and federal laws, regulations and policies. The RIAA also certifies Gold®, Platinum®, Multi-Platinum&trade, and Diamond® sales awards, and recently launched Los Premios De Oro y Platino&trade, a new award celebrating Latin music sales.”1

English: gold record (for future use in riaa g...

The statement just doesn’t sit right with me. My intent here is to analyze it line by line. I believe that actions and logic speak louder than words. I intend to take a look the words, their actions and logically analyze them. This is my opinion. I do not intend to litter this work with numerous citations and facts. This is a human being expressing his right to free speech. His ability to remember things accurately and his ability to free think.

“The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry.” 1

Hey, this line I agree with. This they do represent. Selfishly, diligently and, in my opinion, with some serious lack of vision and a total lack of any grasp for the consumer demands and technology. I suppose it is only fair that I back this rather brash and offensive statement up with some opinion for it. Before I do that I wish to state something else.

I am not a pirate. I did at one point and time try some of these file sharing services and, in my opinion, feel they are clearly not worth it and, in more importantly, unethical. I would much rather pay for a high quality recording, give the industry and the artist their fair shares, and have some legal recourse if my product is substandard and/or defective. I song write, write and compose music as a hobby. I also author a I do allow limited use of my blog because it is my choice to do so. I respect and appreciate copyrights. I honestly do respect the pursuit of protecting copyrights. If somebody creates something they have a right to reap the benefits of it. This is just right.

English: Music industry: Pie chart of music fo...
English: Music industry: Pie chart of music format marketshare in 2004 based on RIAA data (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My problem is that they seem to be forgetting the fact that, the bottom line is the consumer actually supports their industry. I will buy a product only if I desire it. I have hundreds of cassettes and CDs and, honestly desire them no more. My feeling is that they are trying to force me to stick with CDs. I want MP3s… More specifically, I desire to buy them. Yes! LEGALLY…

I have a sound system that initially cost me just under 2000 dollars. It now is best termed a dust collector. I have a cell phone, now less than two years old, which I am very seriously considering doing away with for I desire one which can play MP3s and shoot video. I do not wish to clutter my home with cassettes and CDs when my hard drive will serve the same purpose. I will still pay for the stuff but I want it in my format. The RIAA is defending, in my mind, crusades for a dying medium more than a right. They are trying to institutionalize a dying industry and medium.

“Its mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members’ creative and financial vitality”1

Hmm… well they certainly seem to be on a mission. They, in my opinion, certainly seem to be concerned with the financial vitality. However, I do not see how the word “creative” fits their actions. I wonder what impact an advertising campaign promoting the legal alternatives would be? Have they tried this? If they did, it had to be pretty lame. I never noticed it.

Creative would, in my eyes, imply employing new synergistic solutions. I can recall them trying to get legislation passed to put a tax on every blank cassette sold, trying to help get legislation passed to make used cassettes and CDs illegal, filing lawsuit after law suit, and, most recently, attacking the consumer on other fronts as well.

Compact Disc Logo

I am rather hard pressed to find this creative. They come off more as a bully trying to keep things the way they are and force the consumer to stick with whatever technology was the thing of yesterday. Maybe I just don’t get it? Referring back to what I said above, the consumer doesn’t want to buy CDs anymore at least not as much as they did in the late eighties. In a few more years, they will desire them even less. I do not see how their members, short of Sony, since they are now affiliated with Apple, have been very creative.

I understand that Napster and such entities do encourage the violation of copyright law but I do not feel the consumer is concerned with breaking the law as much as desiring the convenience of the newer MP3 format. I rarely touch my CDs and cassettes any more. The only exception is when I convert them to MP3s. Short of iTune, I do not know of any legal MP3 sources. Currently, I am not a member of either. Provided my college strained budget allows I intend on joining. My opinion is that these two entities are fostering a business and legal climate that is realistic and not acting like an industry entrenched in dying technology.

“Its members are the record companies that comprise the most vibrant national music industry in the world.” 1

This one really seems like an oxymoron to me. It seems more like some type of coalition to force things to stay profitable. Change has always come though innovation. They launch suit after suit and claim that the newer technology is damaging their revenue. If laws and such need be in place to keep it vibrant, what does that say for a free market?

When cassettes were what the consumer wanted, they tried to tax them. Now that MP3s are what the consumers want, they want to restrict that. This is not the actions of a vibrant industry. This is an industry entrenched. This is an industry out of touch of who really makes it vibrant. This is an industry which needs to wake up and look at the current technology. Maybe they should invest the litigation funds into technological R&D?

I thought any industry was based on demand. Rather than embrace the demand, they try to tell the consumer they have to stick with the old medium. Eventually, they loose. The demand is shifting from CDs to MP3s. Get with the times, change with them or get left behind. That is all there is to it.

“RIAA members create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States.”1

Is this one is telling us that the Association is more or less a monopoly? 90% of one industry, lobbying, litigating, and trying to control what is available, is in my opinion, just that. Do some searches on stuff regarding recording contract and see how much the “artist” actually profits. They are not concerned with the artists here! They are more like Dubois Diamonds.

Rather than find ways to capitalize on new technology trends they attempt to force the consumer to stick with the old. Maybe we should feel for all the train companies due to the airlines? Or the horse and buggy companies that were hit by the Model A, I think not. The bottom line is that the demands in the market have changed. The RIAA is not hip to the change. They are trying to hold together a corner on a commodity (music) that is no longer going to exist.

We used to have to get our phone service from “Ma Belle”. We all paid the same price, got the same service, and had no choice. Now we can choose carries, haggle prices and things are different. Sure there are problems with the transition, just like any other, but the consumer is rarely worse off with more choices. We might well be the breakup of the RIAA. I actually hope so. I feel the consumer pays far too much for music and that the “artist” actually gets too little from the industry.

Technology has gotten to the point where I can quite literally produce and record an album in my living room. (Granted it will sound like a some strange alien animal, but let’s leave my musical skills, or lack there of, out of it.) Recording quality will be just as good as the overpriced studio, perhaps not 100% perfect but as far as the human ear goes, close enough. The real deal is that the recording industry is a dying breed.

“In support of this mission, the RIAA works to protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists; conduct consumer industry and technical research; and monitor and review – – state and federal laws, regulations and policies.”1

WOW!! That is a mouthful. This one I can almost concur on but what about the first amendment rights of the consumer? I think their technological research missed the whole cassette boat, MP3 boat and many others. They are now left standing at the dock with expired tickets.

They claim that they have lost tons of revenue due to MP3 pirates and DO have a right to sue them. I have heard that this has made an impact on pirating. This is good. I can’t help but wonder what type of impact it will have on RIAA sales though…

It seems rather obvious that consumers wanted cassettes, and now want MP3s and I did not even have to research it. I concur that intellectual property rights need protection and laws and policies need review but they seem more concerned with maintaining dying breeds than embracing the changes.

Furthermore, MY right to copy a CD to a MP3 or a cassette should also be protected. I should also be able to buy a used CD or Cassette on NOT pay the artist another royalty. I am an individual and not a radio station. Do used car lots pay R&D fees to the auto companies?

“The RIAA also certifies Gold® , Platinum®, Multi-Platinum&trade, and Diamond® sales awards, and recently launched Los Premios De Oro y Platino&trade, a new award celebrating Latin music sales.”1

This means they give an award to those that helped them make a ton of money ans give them a trophy and a pittance in return.

Now in more general terms. The RIAA is not concerned with the artists beyond what the artist can do for their bottom line. They are not concerned with the right of them beyond that. They represent an industry entrenched in old marketing schemes, technology and sales. They lead the cause of the past. They actually hinder creativity in terms of technology.

Television killed the radio serial, the “talkie” ended the careers of many producers, actors and writers who could not adapt, a certain MTV changed how music superstars were to be made forever, and the world still turned as the market change. The RIAA is desperately trying to stop the world from turning. Newer technology is allowing musicians to do more on their own. They no longer need a middle man. Timbuk3 recorded a lot of their stuff in their living room. Bela Fleck (who is on an RIAA label by the way) did the same. Why can’t others?

I know the counter to my argument is that they miss out on all the promotion and benefit of the RIAA but if that is so great how is it that they are so hurt by these pirates? After all, pirates only market by word of mouth. The reality is that the times are changing. I do applaud all of the consumers who seek a legal alternative.

I however loath the RIAA facade of being on a moral crusade when in fact they are a large monopolistic industry in the same boat (which obviously only arrives late) the major radio networks were in when television arrived. They need to either change with the times or fold up shop.


¹ http://www.riaa.com/about/default.asp