RIAA’s File-Sharing Witch-Hunt Backfires

This is awesome – Tony Long, Copy Chief at Wired News has perhaps unwittingly penned the first version of RIAA’s future obituary:

If I were a big-shot L.A. music mogul, Jammie Thomas would not be my ideal poster child as the face of illegal file sharing.

Thomas, you’ll recall, was convicted last week in a Duluth, Minnesota, court for violating copyright law by making a couple of dozen songs available to the multitudes. For this she was ordered to pay the recording industry $222,000 in damages, and she could lose even more to court costs and appeals.

All because she was among the 26,000 people sued by those Brioni suits known collectively as the Recording Industry Association of America, and hers was the first case to actually reach trial. The RIAA, faced with plummeting CD sales and increasingly restive artists, wanted to “send a message” to all the lowlifes out there who download music for free and undercut their profit margins.

The message, apparently, is this: “We’re idiots.”

The RIAA, after all, is the guardian of an industry so antiquated and oppressive that having sympathy for these guys is a little like feeling sorry for a Georgia slaveholder after watching Sherman’s troops fire his mansion and scatter his livestock.

So when their first victim, Thomas, turns out to be a single American Indian mother of two making a measly $36,000 a year — latte money for the RIAA boys — you have a hard time picturing these guys nailed to a cross. But that’s the image the RIAA has tried hard to foster since some pimply-faced intern first explained to them what file sharing was. All of a sudden it was, oh, boo-hoo. Poor us.

Cry me a river.

Here’s an industry so bloated with executives and middlemen, all of them greedily slurping up profit like bluepoint oysters, that the people who actually write the songs and play the music — the “talent” — are getting royally screwed in the royalty department. It’s been like that for years. The Dylans and the Stones of the world might be able to rise above it and name their price, but for the rank and file it’s “Dance to our tune, or go back and rot in that crummy little club.”

The usurious nature of the business is the main reason that the average CD, which at most costs a couple of bucks to produce, routinely sells for upwards of $20. Sometimes the songwriter makes out all right (forget about the singer or the musicians), but licensing and contracts have been sufficiently rigged by the boys in legal to ensure that the lion’s share of the carcass goes to people who have absolutely nothing to do with the actual music.

If there’s an industry where the Marxist exhortation for the workers to control the means of production makes sense, this is it.

Some artists are beginning to wise up to this. Thanks to technology (and when have you ever heard the Luddite say that?) bands are discovering that they can, in effect, become their own publishers, cut out the middleman and go directly to their audiences.

Radiohead is the latest band to offer an album’s worth of music online, for free. Fans are being asked to pay what they feel is fair, and my guess is that most people will kick in something. Given the chance to be reasonable, we usually will.

The record companies are greedy, not reasonable, which is why it’s hard to get worked up at the thought of people sharing “their” music for free. Thieves stealing from thieves? So what?

It’s this new artist-to-audience business model, though, that poses the real threat to the long-term survival of the traditional music companies. If you’re among those who consider corporations and conglomerates to be evil incarnate, you’ll be rooting hard for this new model to take hold. Not just for the sake of the little guy in the music world, but for the sake of little guys everywhere.

Meanwhile, I think Jammie Thomas is going to turn out to be a public-relations nightmare for the RIAA. Crucifying someone who falls into about five demographically challenged categories to “send a message” hardly represents sound battle tactics for an entity already perceived as arrogant and overweening.

Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.

Yes!!!!!!

Don’t mind me, I can’t contain my glee – he made my day.

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