YOU MAY RECALL I wrote earlier about how the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) is in a bit of a financial bind. The good news (for them) is that this fiscal short-fall looks set to be short-lived thanks to the suffering of a 28 year old kid, Joel Tenebaum who they’ve successfully sued for US$675,000 (that’s a staggering NZ$832,049). Good news for RIAA, pretty shitty news for Tenebaum.
The court ruling came at the end of a protracted legal battle court battle between Tenebaum and RIAA over 31 songs he distributed on Kazaa. The judge denied his latest appeal, and now he’s got to cough up US$675,000 – nearly US$22,000 per song. I don’t know about you, but if I’d be willing to wager that at the tender age of 28, having a debt of that size over me would be something I’d probably never financially recover from. In short RIAA isn’t just in denial about the digital age and enforcing an untenable copyright law, they’re actually ruining peoples lives.
The really crazy thing about this whole sad situation is that regardless of Tenebaum being on the right or wrong side of the law, and the fine being well publicised, music downloading is hardly going to stop (in fact, most research shows it growing by leaps and bounds on a year-on- year basis). So there you have it, one life trashed before it even got off the ground and an industry failing because some antiques are stuck in denial rather than actually expending some intellectual energy on how to turn the digital age into an opportunity.
And what an opportunity it could be. At the moment, the costs involved in shipping shiny round plastic things to CD stores is massive. While no-one has the exact numbers to hand, the costs of a bricks and mortar CD/DVD/Blu-ray distribution and retail network must be in the billions globally. These costs have to be covered by music sales, which are of course sagging (as is potentially borne out by RIAA’s abysmal finances).
Imagine if the recording industry pulled their heads out of the sand and got serious about embracing the digital age. Costly stores and hugely expensive warehouses could be closed. Shipping would be a quaint concept and the cost of music could become a little more realistic. Sadly crapulent boy bands and vacuous synth music would, however, continue to exist (there’s no accounting for taste in the digital age).
This is happening already, thanks to iTunes and various other online music services, but the problem still remains, copyright infringing downloading is continuing unabated and even growing at an accelerating rate.
So why are people like Tenebaum downloading rather than purchasing (and then downloading)? At a simplistic level it’s easy to argue that free will always have more appeal than RRP regardless of it being online or in a store, but that isn’t really the whole story either. Clearly something more is wrong, and it’s this that’s at the very heart of the rot that is setting into the music industry.
Don’t get me wrong, Tenebaum definitely broke the law. There was ample evidence that he knew what he was doing was wrong and did it anyway. But such a harsh deterrent seems to me to be like trying to crack a walnut using an ICBM – especially when you consider that the damages awarded of $22,500 per copyright infringement were at the low end of what he could have been forced to pay (unbelievably they were only 15 percent of the maximum that could have been awarded by the courts). It isn’t exactly rocket science that the music industry is held in mild contempt by a growing number of people
All I know is that there are more questions than answers, but none of these questions are unanswerable. Someone just has to do some thinking before another kid is put into poverty for the rest of their lives. PAT PILCHER