It is amusing to me that the recording industry has celebrated its first “victory” when it comes to prosecuting piracy. Last week, Jammie Thomas was ordered to pay $222,000 for illegal downloading of music. This amount is approximately ten times the median income for her community. I’m guessing the industry won’t see a dime — and I’m guessing the verdict won’t change the facts on the ground.
It’s a pretty safe bet that one of the biggest contributors to piracy is the industry itself. If you live in certain cities, you know that promo copies of CDs show up in used record stores long before the release date. All those freebies are pretty much turned over for better product or cash. And disks get passed hand to hand in hopes that “buzz” will be built for an upcoming release.
Mostly this doesn’t happen because most music that gets released on major record labels isn’t buzz-worthy. That’s another problem for another day.
BitTorrent (in the generic sense of peer-to-peer services, not specifically) watchers know that songs can be found in advance of official release. I think it’s safe to assume that much of this free stuff comes from the collections of music industry professionals. Maybe it’s just a modern version of the stealth (stealthy like an elephant, I mean) marketing I noted in the paragraph above. More likely it’s part of the culture.
Basically, I’m thinking that before the RIAA goes after consumers who won’t make enough money in the next decade to pay fines for really crappy music, it should clean its own house. You know what they say: piracy begins at home.
And Congress needs to stop pandering and start thinking. According to the Los Angeles Times, Thomas claims to own the songs she downloaded on CD. While this could and should be verified, it also raises a question we ponder frequently around here. Should it really be illegal to download an MP3 version of a song (or album) you’ve already legally purchased? Doesn’t legal precedent offer consumers a right to make a copy for personal use? Why is that we have turned the rights of consumers upside-down just because the music industry played its collective fiddles while the labels were burning?
And let us not forget that the industry has been downright multiple personality about how to get music to consumers. They pay lip service to the value of the content, but every day sees a new initiative. Pay for it, give it away free, ad-supported, non-ad-supported, use BitTorrent as a delivery mechanism, BitTorrent is evil. Consumers are understandably confused. The industry has sent more than a few mixed messages. Why should consumers be held responsible for knowing the rules when the music industry can’t maintain a consistent approach (“piracy is bad” is not a consistent approach)?
I have long believed that (most) people will pay for music that is easily accessible, in a usable format, and available at a reasonable price. I think the success of paid models like iTunes supports my theory. The hassle of going the piracy route is far outweighed by ease-of-use. At every possible turn, the music industry has made consuming music legally the most difficult of all choices — and that says something very sad about the state of music today.