(UPDATED) In a recent interview, Joel Tenenbaum was asked what he had hoped to change when he stood up against the RIAA and refused to agree to a settlement. He fired back, “I’m not ‘hoping to change’ anything… Maybe the better question is: What [is the RIAA] hoping to change?” According to Cary Sherman, the President of the RIAA, they are hoping to change the culture of file-sharing itself; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that define an entire decade worth of music fans.
Since we’re all well aware that mass-behavior is immensely difficult to alter in any meaningful way; it’s probably better that we take a moment to reflect on the things that the RIAA and the record industry can’t change.
Here To Stay
Mainly, that file-sharing is here to stay. Even if the RIAA manages to achieve their goal of manipulating the Internet—which they won’t—they still have to deal with the fact that a majority of sharing doesn’t happen over the network.
All the music in the world, minus what hasn’t been released yet—and even in many instances that’s already out there too—is on someone’s computer somewhere. Now, the genius of file-sharing was that it interlinked the world’s computers and made everyone’s music available to everyone else. But, even in the absence of that, while the process may be slowed; it won’t be stopped.
If there is one leaderless organization that’s willing literally to burn the world down before they give up the ability to share music and their belief in keeping the Internet neutral, it’s file-sharers. And, as the storage capacity of hard-drives expand and cloud-storage proliferates, the next battle ground will be forged.
Today, the RIAA is collecting it’s $65,000 from Joel for sharing 7 songs.
The time is coming when they have to figure out how to prosecute the twelve-year-old who has downloaded 700,000 songs—in a day, maybe even in an hour—let alone, when these songs start bouncing from one cloud-storage site to another like ping pong balls at a frat house. All it takes is a couple of mildly pissed off tech-evangelist billionaires to start burying servers in a desert somewhere and all bets are off. If there’s a legitimate co-manager on all the accounts—this won’t happen. Yet, it’s only a matter of time until it does.
Moving on, all the RIAA’s horses and all the record industy’s men can’t put the broken music consumption system back together again. The emergence of the social web and the proliferation of digital technologies—the biases of these mediums; they promote different ranges of behavior in audiences. Most of which, happen to be incompatible with the barriers to music consumption that the record industry is trying it’s damnedest to reinforce and failing miserably at.
This list of things that neither of these social institutions can change also includes The Death of the CD-Release Complex. At one side of the equation, you have the problem of the failed symbiotic relationship between fans and the mediums through which they discover music.
In the traditional music consumption system, fans found new music through the same channels that major promoted new music—that’s changed. Not only has the media landscape fractured into a thousand or so pieces, meaning that there are no specific delivery mechanisms—like radio, retail, and MTV—but the places that they find out about artists through are different too.
Second, the power of the CD-Release Complex lied in its ability to harness an audiences true nature as a collective, rather than focusing on the behaviors of individuals. To influence the behavior of an individual you have to do so by attempting to change the mass-behavior of the collective. Only then could you actually influence a person’s behavior through a combination of emotions and impulses that had been rejected from awareness of the individual.
This is not to over-complexify the selling of sounds or give music marketers far more credit than they deserve either. It is, through the lens of psychoanalysis, how pseudo-events, like CD-releases, work. The record industry can no longer stage them as effectively now as they could in the past.
The Copyright Wars
As legal scholar William Patry argues in Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, “The Copyright Wars are an effort to deny the type of experience consumers want on the Internet; they are an effort to deny the very nature of the present by changing it back into the past.” Thus far, litigation has proved to be failed method of changing mass-behavior and a costly strategy with questionable results.
The trouble is, that whatever the RIAA and the record industry is hoping to change—whether that’s the structure of the Internet or the widespread evolution of social behavior in music fans—they might want to consider amending the broken state of the music consumption system and admitting that their marketing model is dead first. Otherwise, it's likely that no meaningful behavioral shifts will occur.
The RIAA and the record industry can't mandate cultural change. Especially if neither social institution is willing to evolve themselves. The only chance they have at gaining back an entire decade worth of music fans is to innovate in a way that updates the current music consumption system to reflect the behaviors of those whom they want to use it—until then, they will simply choose not to.