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What Is The RIAA Hoping To Change?

image from In a recent interviewJoel 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.

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  1. I am sorry but I can’t get my head around RIAA.
    They’re a bunch of old dogs refusing to learn any new tricks. Scare mongering and punishment seems they’re only weapon of choice!
    Instead of trying to file law suits against everyone and everything, why don’t they go a different route. Use ISPs to enact the 3 strike rule.
    Instead of shutting down Shawn Fenning and Napster, but working with his creativity to build a music benefiting iTunes.
    A bit of court action does work but only temporarily. 6 months later illegal filesharing will be back at peak numbers.
    I say get the ISPs involved.
    It’s obvious ISPs profit from broadband due to illegal filesharing. Would love to to see a ratio of legal vs illegal downloading/streaming.

  2. I believe someone has to stand for the protection of copyright and intellectual capital for writers. While some musicians do not mind giving their music for free, others do have an issue with not being compensated for their craft. You can not blame those who choose not to give their work for free.
    That said, the RIAA is certainly one of the few organizations that need to keep their stronghold on piracy. There needs to be pressure exerted against piracy and if the RIAA does not do it, who will? I firmly believe that they are certainly doing their job in the area of exerting pressure against piracy.
    However, one area of concern are companies that have piggybacked on the music industry. Companies such as Google, Apple and the ISPs. They are stretching technological innovation but unfortunately, since they are publicly traded companies, it is all about the bottom line and shareholder wealth. Apple’s bread and butter is hardware. Google’s is search. The ISPs is charging for faster speeds. Can some agreement be made? The unfortunate answer is that the bargaining power has shifted to these companies. Steve Jobs for example is quite cunning and has made Apple into a powerhouse. How can Apple control operating systems, music devices, phone devices, computers as well as manage content through iTunes? Talk about controlling distribution and hardware. It is Apple’s world.
    Changing cultures on file-sharing will be tough for the RIAA. iTunes only sells to 23 countries. What about the other countries, where piracy is more prevalent because they do not have legal alternatives? I think there is a lot of work to do to turn to tide in a positive direction. For example, in Germany, YouTube is still not paying songwriters. Again, it is Google with the bargaining power. As long as technology companies enjoy the bargaining power, piracy will still roam strong.
    In regards to ISPs, how would you divide the monies? Music, movies, TV, software, games, ebooks and so forth. Measurement and tracking is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to distribute any “entertainment tax” from ISPs. The RIAA in my opinion would love the 3-strike rule. Easier said than done though. Let us hope for the better.
    Constantine Roussos

  3. Check out England’s Digital Economy Act. ISPs can take responsibility in two ways.
    Either take a percentage of their revenue and pay the intellectual property dependent industries such as Music, Film/TV, Books.
    Or acknowledge when illegal downloading is taking place: letter of warning – last warning – shut down or limit the bandwith.
    needs to be pressure exerted on piracy. what do you think should happen?
    It has been proven time and time again that
    The RIAA just doesn’t get it. You say there filing law suits is a temporary measure that only makes music listeners more cynical in the long-term. They went on a law-suit massacre about 2 years ago and nothing changed.
    Illegal file-sharing is not about a lack of legal alternatives. It’s about social consumption and trends.

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