Customer Service Through Litigation: The RIAA Institutionalizes Its Business Model

I admit to being a bit old-fashioned, but in my mind, good customer service rarely involves suing your customers. But, for the past several years, that’s just what the RIAA has done. Nothing creates a warm and fuzzy feeling about an industry faster than threats. Makes you feel wanted.

Illegal downloads are a problem. I maintain — because frankly, the RIAA has offered nothing in the way of hard evidence — that the amount of money being lost is quite a bit less than what the press releases suggest. I believe this simply because every download does not represent a lost sale. In many cases, the songs would have gone unsold, unheard, unnoticed.

The value of the songs is also overstated. One recent article put the value of songs at $7.87. Presumably, this amount includes damages and potential litigation costs. Regardless, it distorts the worth of the copyrighted property and makes it near-impossible to have reasonable discussions about the value of music. Let’s face it: the Spice Girls are way over and should be grateful that anyone wants to listen to their songs. They were a point-in-time band that I can’t imagine oldies radio remembering fondly.

To date, the RIAA has done very little to work with its customers to find positive ways to provide music to colleges students and others. This is the group that is trying, very hard, to kill Internet radio. While Congress recently introduced legislation to charge more reasonable fees to Internet broadcasters. You can imagine the teeth-gnashing and seething happening in the halls of the RIAA — I remain more convinced than ever that the music industry does not like music nor its customers.

We have had a serious, stable environment for downloading music for a good ten years now. A decade in real life is a century in Internet time. The technology has grown, matured, and changed multiple times. Yet the music industry remains stuck in the traditional business mode. They still see iTunes as an experiment. “Those iPod thingies? They’re just a fad. Kids will go back to listening to AM radio any day now!”

The industry continues to fight flexibility and reasonable pricing. My guess is that artists aren’t being fairly compensated for the cost savings digital media offers. Of course, all their potential proceeds are being eaten up by legal costs. How can the labels give the artists more money when lawyers are so expensive?

So the consumers aren’t winning, the artists aren’t winning, and if single sales via the Internet don’t start to fill the gap left by declining CD sales, then the labels aren’t winning. Given the lose-lose-lose situation happening in the music industry, one wonders just how much money the RIAA is pocketing to “fight” piracy — clearly it’s enough to stop the organization from looking for positive steps forward.

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