Yes, People Dislike The RIAA Because Of Its Actions, Not Because Everyone Hates Music Business People
from the that's-a-new-one dept
We mentioned the debate going on between copyright lawyers Ben Sheffner (supporting the entertainment industry’s sue ’em all strategy) and William Patry (explaining why they’re abusing copyright law, rather than focusing on business solutions), and Sheffner’s response struck me as being wrong on a large number of points. In it, he argues that people’s general hatred for the RIAA has little to do with its legal strategy, but that people just hate the music business:
I think a lot of this negative opinion was due not to specific alleged misdeeds, but to the very nature of the business and its product. Music is about fun, escapism, pleasure. The fact that music is also a business, populated with accountants, lawyers, enforcers, and other not-so-fun people, is quite jarring. It’s natural that people react negatively when confronted with the harsh reality that it’s about more than “the music” — it’s about making a buck.
I find this incredibly unpersuasive. It’s not the fact that the music industry “makes a buck” that pisses people off, but the manner in which it does so. Sure, people have hated the industry since before Napster came around (though, I’d argue that Sheffner’s not paying much attention if he doesn’t realize how much greater it’s become — we’re talking an order of magnitude). But, the reason was actually a precursor to what’s happening today: which is that the industry was run by people who looked to screw over everyone. The history of the music business is not pretty. Sure, some people may not like “the business side,” but the issue most people have is not that it’s a business, but the way the business has been run. It was always designed to rip off both the artists and consumers at every turn. The folks who have run the music business for years have always looked at things as a zero sum game, rather than a market that can be expanded. So they squeezed everyone. It’s just that the internet made it that much more blatant.
Sheffner then tries to back up this argument with another claim that is entirely unpersuasive:
The contrast with the public’s attitude toward the software industry is instructive. The Business Software Alliance, the industry’s equivalent of the RIAA, is very aggressive in its enforcement efforts, famously offering bounties for ratting out software pirates…. But my sense (admittedly anecdotal) is that most people have little problem with the BSA acting to enforce its members’ copyrights; it’s certainly a far less unpopular organization than the RIAA. (Can you imagine the outcry if the RIAA offered rewards for turning in your friends who “share” music without paying for it?) Why the difference? My hypothesis is that people have no trouble accepting that software is a serious business, and that owners of software copyrights, who spend millions developing their programs, have every right to stop people from copying them for free.
First, perhaps it’s because Sheffner hasn’t spent much time around the software industry, but the hatred of the BSA runs incredibly deep as well. And, yes, people find their marketing schemes to be totally ridiculous as publicity stunts. The BSA is also regularly mocked (not just by us, but by the mainstream press) for its annual rollout of BS stats on piracy, that falsely count every copy as a lost sale, and then double, triple and quadruple count “ripple effects” on the economy, but never account for how the savings from not buying overpriced software also “ripple” through the economy.
Furthermore, the rather obvious reason why it’s a smaller group of people up in arms about the BSA’s tactics is that the average person rarely buys software. Most people buy a computer pre-loaded with software, and then maybe download a few applications. But actually going out and getting new software occurs a lot less often than the average person gets new music.
The RIAA’s tactics have received more attention because it’s a larger community that interfaces with them on a regular basis. It’s got nothing to do with some mystical feeling that floats around music.