Don't Fight the Future

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The Recording Industry Association of America is getting exceedingly good at what it does best: making enemies. Last week, the RIAA issued at least
30 subpoenas to Carnegie Mellon University, asking for the names of students who hold registration rights to IP addresses that the RIAA found to be sharing music and violating copyrights. These subpoenas are just the latest episode in the ongoing dispute of the industry versus the world.
The RIAA and its Hollywood counterpart, the Motion Picture Association of America, have been bullying internet denizens for nearly two years, issuing hundreds of lawsuits. These lawsuits have gained notoriety for being brutal and misdirected. The case of Brianna LeHara, the 12-year-old girl living in a housing project, who was sued for thousands of dollars ? a sum that the family could not possibly pay ? is a prime example of just how the RIAA is turning public opinion against them.
Enter what Wynn Quon, an analyst from Legado Associates, calls the ?Jackboot Paradox.? When a figure of power cracks down on the people working against it, more and more people will join the rebellion. The recording industry is creating more bad press with each lawsuit it files, and that bad press goes straight to the market that business executives value most ? the 18-to-25-year-old demographic. From the moment the RIAA sued Napster out of existence in 2001, the industry has been trying to quash innovation as quickly as new peer-to-peer file sharing programs pop up. A glimmer of hope came in 2003, as several companies launched online music stores, allowing users to legally download individual songs, paying for them directly by credit card. These music stores have met with limited success with the exception of Apple?s iTunes Music Store, which has sold over 300 million songs in two years.
The RIAA is going about their fight the wrong way. Despite their claims that music piracy is hurting sales, there is not nearly enough evidence to back those claims up. In fact, there are many pieces of evidence that would seem to indicate exactly the opposite. For example, Radiohead?s album Kid A debuted at number one, and stayed there for several weeks. The interesting part is that Kid A was leaked in its entirety months before the album?s release date, lending credit to the growing belief that music sharing could significantly increase album sales.
People don?t see a reason to buy CDs anymore, and the way to make them want to pay for music is not to threaten to destroy their lives through lawsuits and exorbitant settlements. Apple has shown that people will pay for music if the price is right ? and the peer-to-peer world is still teeming despite every attempt to curtail it. If the RIAA wants to salvage any good will left in consumers, it needs to stop treating everyone like a criminal. The industry continues to push for draconian restrictions on purchased music, either through CDs that cannot be played in a computer or on ridiculous limitations from online music stores. People want music ? they just don?t want to get screwed in the process. The RIAA needs to listen to its consumers and they need to do it quickly, before the iron fist gets rusty.