Musical Agenda-setting

Wednesday, August 4th 2004

And I thought my time in college working towards a degree in Mass Media was wasted.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of Agenda Setting, it states that the media doesn't tell us what to think, but it does tell us what to think about.

"One role of a free press in a democratic society is ostensibly to provide the public with information necessary for them to take part in governing themselves. Therefore, the question of how media organizations decide what stories are important and how to cover them becomes a matter of great importance in our society."

In the same way, the RIAA, the trade group that represents U.S. record companies, has a monopoly on music such that the vast majority of what we hear on the radio and what music is available in retail stores is that music produced by RIAA member labels. Thus, they can't decide what music we like, but they do decide what music we listen to.

In this day and age, record production companies are almost entirely unnecessary. Artists can promote and distribute their music via the internet more easily and with a far lower cost. But the system has been established, and the RIAA, of course, is willing to fight to keep itself alive.

The RIAA states on its anti-piracy site that "Each sale by a pirate represents a lost legitimate sale". However, the vast majority of "piracy" is profitless, as in P2P file-sharing, and those who engage in often download the music because they have no desire to spend money on it. No sale lost. Even those true pirates who do copy and sell music (of which I'm certainly not in favor) are able to do so because they sell it at a far lower price than that at which it would be available in a retail store, thus we must again assume that purchasers of the pirated products may not be willing to pay the retail price. Once again, no actual money lost.

On the same anti-piracy page, the RIAA proports that "Though it would appear that record companies are still making their money and that artists are still getting rich, these impressions are mere fallacies." To this, I respond that the only artists getting rich are those whom the RIAA selects, and that file-sharing has been repeatedly shown to actually increase music's popularity. However, I suppose it would be embarrasing for the RIAA to reverse course now, after having sued 71-year old grandfathers, 12-year-old girls, prestigious colleges, families who had no knowledge of any wrongdoing, and everyone else they could.

The RIAA says that "the shortcut savings enjoyed by pirates drive up the costs of legitimate product for everyone." The folks driving up the cost of music are the companies employes by the RIAA. This is a monopoly, folks. Plain and simple. They've been found guilty of price-fixing in the past. However, the RIAA is lobbying to exempt themselves from antitrust laws. This means that even if they look like a monopoly, act like a monopoly, and smell like a monopoly, they can get away with it. Pardon my french, but that's f'ing ridiculous.

One of the premiere draconians championing the cause of the music despots is Senator Orrin Hatch, who wants to outlaw iPods, overturn the betamax decision and make it illegal to time-shift television shows, and is interested in destroying the computers of file sharers. His INDUCE act would make illegal any technology even capable of being used to engage in copyright infringement. I doubt I need to go into how far-reaching such legislation could be.

So where should we get music? I buy much of mine from EBay, but some excellent alternatives are CD Baby, DMusic, and my favorite - MySpace Music, where you can listen to entire songs online.

Well, this has somehow turned into a full-fledged rant, so I'll quit here. In any event, it's quite obvious that the RIAA is more interested in making money than in making music.

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