RIAA refuses to evolve and has become obsolete

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Mr. Sherman, have you ever heard the story of Frankenstein’s monster? It’s pretty famous. You see, this scientist creates a living being out of dead tissue. He creates it to further the scientific cause, but he also creates it to satisfy his own hubris. Wanting to be in control of something, he created a monster to call his own.

But things didn’t go as he had planned. The monster got free and started wreaking havoc all over the village. Townspeople tried to kill him to end the madness, but he was too powerful. Eventually the monster decided to leave the village and go where he couldn’t hurt anyone anymore.

It must feel good to create something, Mr. Sherman. You and your cohorts at the Recording Industry Association of America have created your own monster after years of mistreating your customer base. The only problem is, you aren’t learning a lesson from the good doctor. Your monster has gotten out of control and hasn’t decided to leave. Because your monster still has a score to settle.

When you envisioned the world of digital audio, you saw the stunning clarity that CDs offered over cassette tapes. You saw the wonders of infinite storage space and infinite data lifetimes. No longer would a dirty magnetic strip or the cracked casing of a cassette tape ruin your customers’ experiences. No longer would we have to fast-forward through songs we don’t like and use guesswork to figure out where that killer riff is. But best of all? No more mix tapes. Radio rips would be a thing of the past, and your perfect circle of digital protection would keep the royalties rolling.

You underestimated us. Computers grew in power and capability. Disc burners became affordable, then commonplace. Enterprising software writers cracked the code on your discs and learned to compress the data into handy, compact MP3 files. And then Shawn Fanning figured out the easiest way to distribute them. He called it Napster.

Napster revolutionized everything. Virtually any song anyone wanted was about three clicks away. The peer-to-peer paradigm matured and spread over the next few years. The programs got more advanced, the networks exploded in size, and filesharing became the easiest way to get what everyone wanted. You tried to stop it. Repeatedly. But the programmers were always a step ahead. When you shut down one program, three more would take its place. But this is all old hat, the same story we’ve all heard for years.

So what have you been up to, Mr. Sherman? What has your wonderful organization spent its time doing? Have you been hiring the people who created the networks you loathed, trying to find a way for us all to get along? Have you been asking your customers what they feel the next step should be? Have you taken a good long look at the direction technology and society are heading and figured out some way to peacefully co-exist with a consumer base that is growing increasingly hostile?

No. You’ve been fighting the future and the monster you created. You’ve resorted to everyday thuggery to get what you want. Scare tactics. Bullying. Extortion. Greed. These are the tenets the recording industry lives by now. You are issuing subpoenas and requests for discovery like there’s no tomorrow, as if every college student you put up against financial ruin will put the rest of us back in line. Am I supposed to buy your CDs because you forced my friend to pay you thousands of dollars? You’re no better than the kid in fourth grade who threatened to punch my brother in the stomach if I didn’t give up my lunch money.

You can’t keep this up. You know you can’t win these lawsuits if anyone actually tries to fight them. You know you can’t keep litigating every network out of existence. We’re resourceful. If people want them, they will find new sources. And if they can’t find them, they’ll create them. Last month, pioneer filesharing program i2Hub killed its network, which had gained notoriety on college campuses nationwide as the place to go to find the files we wanted. They went dark because the founder was afraid he would get in trouble with your lawyers, Mr. Sherman.

Americans should not have to live in fear. We are a country founded on the idea that we don’t have to be afraid of anyone. Our forefathers fought many wars to make sure of this. In a few short years, though, fear has become a national pastime. Our President keeps us living in fear of terrorists, living in fear that there’s sarin in the air, anthrax in the water, and dirty bombs on the ground. And here you are, with your crew of lawyers making a living stealing the money of people who are already financially strapped. Why should we be afraid to use the Internet and lose our life’s savings?

The damage has already been done. Individuals have gotten used to hopping online and finding the song they want in minutes, and there’s no turning back. You can’t erase that memory from millions of minds. We know it’s possible now, and we don’t see a reason not to do it. Legal or not, this free information culture is here to stay; teenagers of today have never bought music en masse, and as they grow older, that’s not going to change. Yes, Apple’s success with the iTunes Music Store has stymied the wave to some degree, but only with a small subset of the population. The vast majority of young people are still downloading their music, because zero cents is cheaper than 99 cents.

It’s not like you’re making new friends, either. Your buddies at Sony brought a world of shame down on them — and your organization, Mr. Sherman, by association — by unleashing their horrendously invasive XCP copy-protected CDs on the market. Within days of word getting out that the copy protection compromised the security and stability of any computer that accessed its CD, Sony recalled more than four million albums. Not only was it a huge blow to the public relations of the company — and the whole industry — but it was also a wake-up call. Sony BMG executives are on record saying that consumers didn’t care that their CDs were locked down with draconian copy protection; now preliminary research is showing that the Sony XCP debacle may actually be hurting sales, indicating that Sony’s executives are dead wrong.

It’s time to stop treating your customers like criminals, Mr. Sherman. It goes against every established business practice for keeping your company afloat. Each new misstep is another shovel digging into the dirt of your own shallow grave. The Internet has changed everything — you can’t pretend it hasn’t, not any more. Adapt or die, or the world will have a fantastic new poster child for corporate Darwinism.

Sic semper tyrannis — “Thus always to tyrants.” Enjoy your fall while you can, Mr. Sherman. We’ll be waiting for you at the bottom.