I just read yet another article on how the RIAA sent out letters to university students threatening to sue those who have downloaded and shared music without paying for it unless they pay a settlement. I have seen dozens of similar articles over the past couple of years. According to this most recent article, a student was asked to settle for $3000 - about $7.87 a song - or get sued.
When will this kind of bullying will stop? My guess, not any time soon.
The music industry is hemorrhaging money like blood in an overly gruesome episode of Grey's Anatomy due to piracy. It's their own fault too. I can understand why they want to re-coup some of those losses but I don't believe bullying college students who have little to no money is the way to do it. They need to keep in mind that the students they are targeting today are the lawyers and policy makers of tomorrow. Pissing them off is going to lead to a backlash down the road.
$7.87 a song is insanity. I personally think $1.00 a song is robbery but that is just me. But almost $8 bucks? I don't want to upset the recording artists who burn the midnight oil recording music they think people want to hear, but what single song is worth that much to anyone? I suppose an artist who spends a year (or even 3 years) creating music might feel like the music is worth that much. To those artists I say go talk to Jack White of the The White Stripes and learn how to make record a kick ass album in two weeks. The artists aren't the ones who are profiting from the RIAA's legal onslaught anyway. Recording artists receive only a small percentage of the overall money received from album sales.
Yeah....I said "album". Twice. I am old.
Most of the money goes into the coffers of the record labels themselves. They can argue that they use the money to promote artists and sponsor tours and blah, blah, blah but since when should the money given to the artists who create the content be only a fraction of what it costs for the consumer to purchase it? Since forever actually and it really needs to change.
The world has moved on. The digital age is now. The record industry has been as slow as a snail climbing Mount Everest in adopting digital distribution methods. It should have been the record companies that created the Napster's, BitTorrent's and Kazaa's of the world. But since they didn't have the foresight to see how quickly the world was changing and other people did, those other people did the hard work for them. Brick and mortar music stores are closing in droves. Getting music online is THE way to disseminate music (and increasingly just about all visual and audio based content).
The industry has also demanded that companies like Microsoft, Apple and others implement digital rights management (DRM) systems which, on the surface sound like an effective way of combating piracy but only muddy the waters for consumers. Different companies implement different DRM methods and the music gets locked to specific devices or platforms and reduces portability and consumer choice. You can argue that companies should work better together to come up with a global standard but that is a whole other problem to tackle. Why are the latter forced to fix a problem created by the former?
The music industry (and ALL industries where intellectual property can be easily disseminated online) needs to understand WHY students (and others) pirate media.
1) Cost - The cost to purchase a CD is crazy. $15-20 bucks for 45-60 minutes of music? Come on! Figure out the online model and get the cost down to a point where poor college students can afford it. They are your target market most of the time anyway.
2) It's Easy - Why get in a car, drive to a mall, fight to find a parking spot, fight the throngs of people, just to MAYBE find what you want when you can DEFINITELY find everything you want in seconds online? I can download a song I want faster than it takes to pump the $10 in gas it will cost me to get to an from the store.
3) DRM sucks - IPods are cool. Zunes rock. But they don't share music with each other because of formats and DRM. For that matter, it should be easy to move that music from my portable player to my PC to my Media Center to my car just like I can with a CD. Stop making me purchase the same song 4 times in 4 different formats so I can listen to it in my car, my home stereo, my portable music player, and my PC's.
4) The social aspect - When I hear music I like, I ask about it. I am a consumer. Consumers are the best advertising there is for music. We blast it in our cars, we play it at parties. We ask then they go try to find it or we send links to each other. We want to listen to what we hear other people playing and we want to share it with others with similar tastes.
But.....I don't want to just bitch and moan about this. I want to offer up a solution. And here it is.....in two short paragraphs.
The recording industry needs to spend some of their own money on R&D to develop a standardized electronic distribution methodology instead of relying on third parties to manage their mess. Either develop their own system or work with the major players in the peer-to-peer world to refine and license existing technologies. Get with the digital age! This will address the cost factor and since it is already easy, that is in the bag as well.
While I think DRM is the worst thing ever for music and movies, I might support it if it was standardized and let me move my music between different devices easily without having to purchase multiple licenses/copies. It should also be tied into the social aspect of this. Cut me in on the action. Develop a DRM scheme that allows me to send a digital copy to someone else, and automatically deducts a (small) payment from the receiver and deposits a small chunk of that in my account, a big chunk in the account of the content creator, and some percentage into the account of the recording industry. That alone would probably solve the problem.