Piracy by the RIAA: They’re Stealing our Music from Us
Now that the elections are over, whether or not you like who was elected, whether or not you voted, whether or not you care, one issue that we all will be affected by is the decisions our politicians make regarding peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing of music. The decision they make will impact the music we listen to, how we listen to it, and which bands are able to rise from obscurity and share their gift with the masses.
In the weeks leading up to November 3rd, I received many pre-recorded phone calls from politicians, celebrities, and yes, even musicians – notably, Puff Daddy and Vanessa Williams. I also received emails from organizations such as Rock the Vote and punkvoter.com, and read an article in Alternative Press magazine featuring conservativepunk.com. It seemed as though the music industry in general had gotten more involved in politics than it ever had – and why not? The decisions our politicians make regarding file sharing will have an immense impact on music.
Right now, Congress is considering laws which would crush p2p file-sharing entirely. One example, the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, seeks to squash p2p networks. Due to the lack of definitive wording, this act may also make mp3 players (as well as other recording devices) illegal because they support the use of digital music (see http://www.savetheipod.com). If this act passes and this loophole is used to make mp3 players and recording devices illegal, it will infringe upon your freedom to choose how to listen to your music. For example, even if downloaded music does become illegal, would Congress make it illegal for you to “rip” your store-bought CDs to your computer for non-file-sharing purposes? If that’s not illegal, shouldn’t you be allowed to take a mixture of these songs from your store-bought CDs and put them onto your mp3 player for your own listening enjoyment? After all, it is your hard-earned dollar, so shouldn’t you be able to choose how you listen to the music?
In seeking to make p2p networks illegal, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is missing one major point – downloading music is the best way to get free marketing. Musicians and record labels pay nothing for it, and people get to listen to music they normally wouldn’t, thus expanding their minds and encouraging them to buy CDs they normally wouldn’t. In saying the following, I’m assuming that most people have the same mindset that I do when it comes to downloading music: If I like a song, I’ll download it, but unless I really like the band, I’m not going to buy the CD anyway, so the music industry, the stores, and the musicians are not losing any money. On the other hand, if the band puts out more music that I like, I will buy the CD in the store regardless of whether or not I can download it for free – for three reasons. One is the sound quality, because it is very difficult to download an entire album and have every song be crystal clear the way it is on a purchased CD. Secondly, when you buy a disc in the store, you get the cover art, the lyrics, and quite often, extra features that you can use on your computer. In addition to the sound quality and the “extras”, if I like a band, I’m going to support them by going to shows and buying the CDs because I think they deserve it.
Most importantly, making p2p networks and digital music illegal will have a dramatic and negative impact on independent music. Before the implementation of websites where independent bands can post their music online, such as Purevolume and MySpace, it was hard for bands to promote their music outside of their local area. With this new way of “spreading the word”, I’ve been fortunate to hear independent music from outside of my home state of Florida. Without being able to download these songs and listen to new bands, I wouldn’t have been able to hear many of the bands whose CDs I now own – having bought them, legally, from independent record labels. I can’t be the only person who is doing this, either, and with more and more people being able to hear more and more independent music through Purevolume and MySpace, more bands have opportunities to gain a loyal following and rise from obscurity – thus impacting the overall music industry because loyal fans spend money on their favorite bands, and even when these bands become popular, their original following tends to stick with them. For me, this conjures up memories of when A New Found Glory (before they dropped the “A” from their name) was tearing up the local scene in Florida, playing in bars and clubs in front of 50 people…even if they are mainstream music now, the fact that I was a loyal fan “way back when” keeps me interested.
I may only be one person with one paycheck, one checking account, and the ability to buy the CDs that I like, but without being able to hear new music through p2p file-sharing, I wouldn’t know as many artists or buy as many CDs as I do. What the lawmakers and the RIAA forget is that all music starts out somewhere, and it’s not on major record labels with five star promoters. It starts out in tiny clubs, handing out free CD-Rs of their music, or sending out emails with copies mp3 files of songs recorded in basement studios across the nation. It starts with fans listening to those CD-Rs and mp3s and making copies to give to our friends. Eventually, what started with a CD-R or an mp3 ends with success, both in finances and in notoriety.