Letter to the Editor

Thursday, September 2nd 2004 ·


The following is a letter I wrote a while back to the editor of a newspaper. Actually, a few newspapers. Looks like none of them want it though. So I figured that I might as well post it here, despite the inundation of other anti-RIAA stuff on my site. If I'd written it for my site, it'd be full of links, but as is, I wrote it for the paper, so there are just a couple footnotes.

I've always been a lover of music and a law-abiding citizen, but I can't help but feel that there's something wrong with the recording industry's crusade to punish the "criminals" who are violating their rights.

Copyright was created to protect the rights of artists and other creative minds. Without copyright, once a work was performed or printed, anyone could copy and sell the work without sharing any profit with its creator. Makes sense, right? The problem came when publishers began requiring writers to sign contracts that declared that what they wrote was a "work for hire", so that the authors wouldn't own any part of their own work. In the end, the record label owns the rights to the music, not the musicians. And they're manipulating copyright law to their own - not to the musicians' advantage. Corporations aren't the author of anything, and they don't deserve the protections that actual human beings have.

The Recording industry has made it known at length that their profits are lower than ever due to internet pirates "stealing" their property. But in saying this, they've failed to acknowledge a number of things. They've failed to acknowledge that their profits have now risen beyond pre-file sharing levels. They've failed to acknowledge the sizeable portion of music-downloaders who would not be buying the CDs anyway, and those who purchase the music only after hearing downloaded copies. It has been shown by university studies - those studies NOT funded by the recording industry - that file-sharing increases music's popularity1. Lastly, the recording industry has failed to acknowledge that the majority of their music is targeted towards an audience most likely to share MP3s over the internet: students.

The current uproar about file-sharing is history repeating itself. When radio first started airing recordings rather than live music, the recording industry was irate! Why would anyone buy music if they could just turn on their radio and listen for free? When televisions first came into the home, it was feared that no one would attend movies any longer. And the VCR was a bigger scandal than either of these2. But radio caught on, and for decades now the major record labels have controlled what's on the radio by paying radio stations to play their songs. Pay-for-play radio (aka "payola") is illegal, but labels skirt the law by paying through third parties. Payola hedges out independant artists, and encourages radio stations to play the same twenty songs all day, while the cost is picked up by listeners paying $25 for a CD.

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 recording industry is a monopoly which continues to push a commercial model with retail-level markups, and pours millions into self-serving legislation. Their latest, the INDUCE act, would create vague and broad criminal liability for "inducing" someone to violate copyright. This law would allow them to file lawsuits against companies that make unrestricted music hardware or software, such as the iPod or filesharing programs. This law could pass as soon as September 6th.

I haven't purchased a new CD in years. And I don't download music. I just can't stand putting money into the pockets of an industry that promotes music I don't enjoy and sues the very music fans who are its sole means of income.

1- Study by Jupiter research, 2002 - determined that about 34 percent of veteran file swappers say they are spending more on music than they did before they started downloading files.

2- See "The Betamax Case", U.S. Legal Decision, October 1981

Comments on Letter to the Editor
Comment Thursday, September 2nd 2004 by Tagger
The "Betamax" case was of personal interest to me because my employer at the time was involved in movie special effects (among other things). One of out clients (Universal Studios) was the primary instigator if the lawsuit, and we stood to make (or lose) money depending on the outcome. Had Universal prevailed, sales of video recorders directly to consumers might have been outlawed.

Those of us who were into videos at the time (a VCR cost around $800, so not everyone had one then) remember that commercial tapes from, for example, Disney could retail for $80 to $150 each. Is it any wonder people preferred to tape their own stuff?

As we all know, the case was settled in Sony’s favor, and the film industry changed the way they market and sell pre-recorded movies.

The music industry is just going to have to stop whining and do the same thing.

Comment Wednesday, September 8th 2004 by Greg

and interestingly, I've just found a link to Jack Valenti's testimony at the Betamax trial.

Comment Friday, September 10th 2004 by tagger
Good find. Note that the hook for Valenti's entire case was the "great national asset" provided by the motion picture industry. Valenti was suggesting, rather strongly, that VCRs would put them out of business, reducing tax revenue and throwing all these poor people out of work. This was supposed to scare the Congress into banning recorders.

I remember when I was a little kid, people said the same thing about television -- that TV would hurt the film industry. Didn't happen either time. What did happen was that the film industry had to learn to coexist with TV and video.

Going to a movie now is a LOT more expensive than it was 40 years ago -- refreshments used to cost less than the ticket, not more, but people still go, don't they?

No production company cares one bit about actors, stage hands or anybody else. Directors hate actors because actors often don't take direction. When all movies are made with computer generated sets, effects and characters, they'll be happy. Look at movies like "Shrek." All they needed actors for was to do voices, and soon that need will go away. Just my opinion, of course.
Comment Sunday, September 26th 2004 by linda & mon
hi greg! we love you.
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