The record companies, as represented by the RIAA, have lost the battle against online music piracy. They appear to be unaware of this, although they may just be putting up a brave front. But even if they do realize how seriously this will impact their business, it wouldn't do them any good, because they don't understand why they're destined to lose.
Online music traders also know the fight is over, but many think the reason is technology. Shut down Napster, and we'll use Gnutella, or Freenet, or IRC, or e-mail enclosures, or something that hasn't been invented yet. As long as music can be digitized, there will always be ways to squirt it from one PC to another. But technology only gives us tools to break the law, it doesn't provide us with the incentive. And the incentive is much deeper than the outrageous markup on music:
We hate the record companies.
We love our musicians, absolutely and unconditionally. We identify with our music on a deep, emotional level. We refer to it as "ours," even though we had nothing to do with creating it. You can get away with telling a man his religion is stupid and his wife is ugly, but make fun of Molly Hatchet and you're flirting with disaster. But fans have nothing but venom and hatred for the industry that brings them their beloved music. And they are completely justified.
You don't see the same attitude toward the book publishing or movie industry, even though they are also very good at creative accounting. (Gone With the Wind should turn a profit sometime next year.) The difference is in how badly they screw their artists. An actor or author might get shortchanged, but they still get paid, and successful ones get paid well. Contrast this with the recording industry, where an artist can earn tens of millions of dollars for the company, and then be told that he owes them money. It is so common for success to bankrupt artists that the RIAA lobbied for, and received, special dispensation in the new bankruptcy laws. Record company weasels don't just want the food out of the artist mouths, they want the blood from their veins.
And we know that, and we hate them, and we're delighted to screw them over as much and as often as possible. If we knew we were screwing an artist by downloading their latest MP3, we might feel guilty. But knowing that the record company has already screwed the artists, and we're just screwing the record company, gives us a bit of smug satisfaction. It's like hearing that O.J. was killed in a knife fight.
I love Napster, but it's a pain in the butt. There are too many lousy MP3s out there. Some are poorly recorded, some are too loud, and for some reason a lot of them end about three seconds before the song is over. And as I've commented before, it's often impossible to find obscure artists or tracks that weren't hits, (although that's getting better). I'd be delighted to find a place that would let me download crisp, clear, complete MP3s for a reasonable fee.
Reasonable is ten or fifteen cents a track, not the buck a cut record companies want. (This would require rewriting some laws, specifically those on mechanical royalties. This shouldn't present a problem, as the RIAA is already adept at manipulating congress.) The downloaded music has to be free and clear, unencumbered by some kludgey copy-protection scheme. But most importantly, and this is where the RIAA will fail, it has to pay most of the fee to the artists. Not to the copyright holders – the record companies have screwed virtually every artist out of their copyrights - but to the artists. The performing artist should get a good chunk, the song writer should get a good chunk, and the record companies should take no more than 20% of the total for providing the service.
And that will never happen, and that is why they'll fail.
Napster has signed up with BMG, which owns a huge music catalog. They'll be offering their music for sale, although no details have been announced yet. If their price is reasonable, the quality consistent, and the catalogue complete, and the artists get most of the money, I'll sign up, delighted to know the artists are finally getting paid. I'll also plan on opening up a Snow Cone franchise in Hell, confident my product will never melt.
I don't like Courtney Love's music, but I love her attitude
December 31, 2000
© 2000 Dave Hitt