By Jeff Price
It’s difficult for me to write a response to the CEO of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) Mr. Sherman’s NY Times Op-Ed piece “What Wikipedia Won’t Tell You” that is not emotional. What should be a black and white conversation about respecting copyright is mired in the fact that the RIAA’s credibility has eroded as quickly as its control of the music industry.
Or said another way, the RIAA has become part of the problem of protecting copyright due to its occasional less than honest approach to things. You just can’t take what the RIAA says at face value as their agenda is not clear—is it to protect copyright or is it to protect the interests of its label members at any cost?
After all, this is the same organization that had the RIAA employee Mitch Glazer attempt to sneak language into a bill on Capitol Hill changing the definition of “work for hire,” depriving artists of their rights (there’s a great article about this in the Austin Chronicle).
Now add to this that as the RIAA demands that its label members’ copyrights be respected and properly compensated, its members have knowingly taken hundreds of millions of dollars of other peoples’ songwriter royalties over the past few years. Knowingly taking money generated from the copyrights of others—aka “Black Box Money”—sounds eerily like stealing.
The RIAA used to be the singular voice of the music industry but no longer. The majority of music being distributed, bought, sold, shared and streamed is coming from outside the traditional industry. Case in point, TuneCore distributes more music into digital music stores in one month than all the major labels do combined in 100 years. TuneCore artists have sold over 500,000,000 units of music in the last few years and generated over a quarter billion dollars. Now add in other music services like TuneCore from around the globe and the numbers get even higher. Over 70% of all new music being bought is from artists not tied into the old industry.
The RIAA and its members are the voice of what the industry was, and an ever-shrinking part of what is. Stop fighting it and find a way to work with it before you are the odd man out.
As the Deputy Director of Future Of Music Coalition Casey Rae Hunter said more eloquently than I ever could:
“Artists have every right to be wary when powerful entertainment conglomerates push for policies that could undermine free expression, all the while claiming to speak for creators.”
There is no argument that the person or entity that control the copyright (be it an artist or a label), and only the person or entity that controls it, should have the right to do with it what they want.
However, if the original SOPA and PIPA bills were passed years ago, TuneCore most likely would not have existed, and power would still be concentrated with the old regime; they would have found a way to slow the market shift away from them. In the guise of “protecting copyright” the original SOPA bill would have provided the RIAA unilateral and almost unchecked power to kill the new emerging industry.
All the RIAA would have had to do is claim that music distributed by TuneCore was infringing on its label members’ copyrights. With limited to no due process, TuneCore could have been shut down just like Dajaz1.
And I can assure you, from time to time TuneCore gets illegitimate and wrongful claims of infringement by the RIAA (and some of its label members).
(On a side note, we have also had run-ins with the RIAA in regards to matters unrelated to copyright. These have been less than pleasant as they used a variety of techniques to try to get TuneCore to do some things they wanted).
I would love for there to be a “voice” that we could all get behind to protect and represent all those who control copyright. Unfortunately, the institution that could have played this role is the one that destroyed its own credibility with rather questionable moral moves (side note, if you have to resort to slight of hand and half truths to maintain power, its too late).
So could you please at least own up to your agenda—maintaining the pre-existing power structure. Although we may disagree, we can at least have an honest conversation.
And with that said, I will now wait for the phone call from the RIAA threatening to sue TuneCore for posting this blog article.
Related to this article: The 4-Letter Acronym That Could Kill The New Music Industry