RIAA Still Doesn't Get It: Hopes SOPA Opposition Was A 'One-Time Experience'

from the you-don't-know-what-you're-up-against dept

In a previous post, I looked at the first part of Andrew Keen’s interview with RIAA CEO Cary Sherman. In the second half of the interview, Sherman fields some audience questions collected on Twitter, and his answers further expose the serious problems with his understanding of what’s happening in music, what happened with SOPA, and what’s happening to his industry.

The first question directly challenges Sherman over his NYTimes op-ed in which he claimed the massive opposition to SOPA/PIPA was somehow undemocratic, asking him if he really thinks an informed populace is a bad thing. But Sherman is still convinced that it was all a misinformation campaign by Google (though he avoids using the name):

I obviously think that an informed electorate is a great thing. The question is whether they were really informed or whether they were being misinformed. That was the point of the op-ed: that there was a lot of misinformation about the bill that was being circulated, and that was accepted by readers online in terms of “if it comes from these sources it must be true.” I know that a lot of members of Congress who had worked very hard on the legislation were very frustrated that they couldn’t get out their side of the story, that this legislation was not what it was represented to be. So my op-ed was not intended to really raise questions about whether the legislation was good or bad, but that everybody has a responsibility to be accurate and really factual about what the legislation provides. Otherwise those platforms can be used in ways that aren’t engaging the electorate in a good way, but rather in an anti-democratic way.

Sorry, but Cary Sherman is not allowed to accuse others of misinformation—not unless he’s going into comedy. In the first half of the interview, and in his op-ed, Sherman attempts constant deception. He talks about the dangers of counterfeit products to play up the unrelated issue of copyright infringement; he presents laughably incomplete data; he insists there was “No Duty To Monitor” in SOPA/PIPA, ignoring the fact that where there was no “duty” there was extreme liability incentive; he claims that Anonymous’ DDOS attacks are the “real” censorship in a blatant misuse of the term—the list goes on and on. And can we just pause for a moment to marvel at the sheer insanity of the claim that Congress “couldn’t get their side of the story” heard? Congress? The folks who keep multiple 24-hour cable channels fed with stories at every second of every week of every month? They couldn’t “get their side of the story” out? Now that’s misinformation. Sherman is a misinformation artist, and he’d even be a good one if he wasn’t also so naïve, as the rest of his response demonstrates:

Hopefully that was a one time experience that came from a lot of different things coming together, where a lot of different people came to the conclusion that this was a terrible piece of legislation. I think Congress got that message loud and clear. But in the future, think of how that could be abused for bad purposes. I think all of us have an interest in making sure that we hold ourselves on the internet to the same high standards that we’ve tried to hold ourselves in the offline world, whether it’s newspapers or broadcast journalism or whatever. There ought to be clarity and integrity with respect to the facts.

That’s right: he hopes millions of people actively participating in the democratic process with the help of online tools was a one-time experience. Putting aside the fact that it makes you question his values, this statement demonstrates that he’s a fool. His industry has pushed and pushed for decades, eroding freedoms and locking up culture through deals negotiated in back rooms, and they finally reached the breaking point. The world woke up, and Sherman thinks he can just wait for them to fall asleep again.

He also still can’t get it through his head that the internet is not separate, and that media is just people communicating. Newspapers and broadcast news are no more or less perfect than online news, and only the most oblivious commentators truly believe they are paragons of journalistic ideals that can serve as an example to newcomers. Besides, plenty of traditional sources were opposed to SOPA/PIPA as well.

On the topic of newspapers, the next question asks Sherman for his thoughts on their approach online. He notes that many have yet to find the advertising dollars they hoped for, and says it’s “interesting” (wink wink) that so many are moving towards paywalls. I won’t respond to that, because Mike said it all last week: let ’em.

Another reader asks what he thinks of online services that let artists go directly to fans:

You know, I have nothing with cutting out the middleman. I think that if an artist wants to go it alone, go it without a middleman, that is the artist’s choice. And for some artists it can work very well. It hasn’t happened that way: most artists who have been more majorly successful have had the help of a label, it could be an indie label or a major label. What they provide is the marketing and promotion that is so clearly necessary to distinguish yourself in this day and age. In 2010 you had 75,000 new albums released. 70,000 of them, that’s 94%, sold less than 1000 copies. That isn’t much to make a commercial career out of. It’s hard to see how you could make a career as a musician when you’re selling less than 1000 copies of your recording, unless all you’re really doing is live gigs and you’re making a few extra bucks by selling some recordings.

It’s a muddled response, because the numbers he presents are from SoundScan and do not include the very direct-to-fan services he’s supposed to be talking about. More importantly, it shows how limited his thinking is: other than live shows, he ignores every single artist revenue stream, even the traditional ones like licensing. Mere number of albums sold is not enough information to decide if an artist can build a career, and it never has been. Sherman continues, rightly recognizing that there are still very important roles for middlemen services today, but failing to realize that his industry is not the only player:

The point is that for some artists who want to go it alone, that’s great, many of the artists that we see are great at making music, they’re great at performing, but business is not what they want to do, promotion is not what they want to do. There are some obvious exceptions to that, but that’s what record companies do, that’s what managers do. They’re all intermediaries in a way, but they are intermediaries that grow the audience, that improve the demand for that artist’s creative work.

What he ignores is that the traditional record label model is not the only way to offer these services. Increasingly, it’s the worst way: even in the first part of the interview he admitted that labels are no longer benefiting artists the way they used to. Artists who eschew labels may have to do some of the legwork of promotions and business, but the tools are all there for them. They can use Bandcamp. They can use TuneCore. They can use Topspin. They can use Bandzoogle. They don’t need label help to find a distributor and build a website and launch a merch store—they can do it all in a few clicks. Good middlemen are enablers, while record labels still want to be all-powerful gatekeepers, as Sherman makes disgustingly clear:

There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a continuing role for record companies. That role may change over time, but the more you’ve got online capability for anyone with a guitar and a little bit of recording equipment to get online and try to become a musician, the more you need specialists to designate and separate the wheat from the chaff, who is worth listening to, who is worth promoting and marketing. That’s what record companies have traditionally done. They have been the talent scouts and then they have put their financial and human resources into actually marketing and promoting that talent and helping to shape it. How many artist pages are there on MySpace right now? Who can figure out who to listen to? So having a curation function that record companies perform is becoming more important, not less.

I hope Sherman has fun separating the wheat from the chaff on MySpace (sigh) while the rest of the world leaves him in its dust. The astonishing arrogance of his statements just underline the problem: the recording industry sees itself as the arbiter of culture, and isn’t willing to give up even a shred of control. The internet has enabled countless new curation models, from the ease of setting up a music blog to the algorithmic possibilities of recommendation engines to the ongoing social curation of Facebook and Twitter—we don’t need executives to “designate” who is worth listening to based on ROI projections. Promotion takes only a fraction of the “financial and human resources” that it once did, and artists are increasingly unwilling to sign over their entire careers for something they can do themselves.

The next question is about ways to enforce intellectual property rights without damaging innovation and creativity, and Sherman calls for balance (as long as that balance is completely in his favor):

It’s finding that sweet spot between protecting content and creators and creativity, and ensuring that you’re not losing the benefits of innovation in technology, that is a difficult thing to do. There are ways that it can be done that aren’t now being taken advantage of. YouTube for example, anything goes up there, but once it’s taken down they have a mechanism, a filter to make sure that it doesn’t go back up. Why aren’t other websites doing that? Why, when other websites are being told that particular content is illegally being posted, don’t they take more aggressive measures to prevent it from being put up there, or being put back up there? There are now technologies available that make it really easy to identify copyrighted content in a way where it can be protected but all the other benefits of the technology would be available. So there are ways for the technology to be used to actually improve the situation for creators and maintain technological innovation, we just need more of a will to see it done.

If it’s “really easy” to identify infringing material, why did Viacom sue YouTube over 100 videos they themselves uploaded? How did Rumblefish accidentally claim ownership of birdsong? Why have the feds been seizing domains over label-authorized material? Why did Universal Music declare 50 Cent’s own website to be a rogue site? It’s only “easy” if you don’t care about legitimate material getting caught in the crossfire—and indeed, even Sherman’s own wording notes that it’s only easy to identify “copyrighted” content, not infringing content.

There is some more discussion, covering Sherman’s shock that the streaming services his industry has fought at every turn are not suddenly making him rich—but it’s all pretty routine. Sherman closes out the interview with a statement that would have sounded optimistic and forward-thinking ten years ago, but today sounds like an obsolete industry playing catch-up, pretending to embrace something they have fought for years, and fantasizing that they can exert control over something that is happening without and despite them:

I think that one of the things we’ve learned is that it’s not likely to be one big thing, it’s likely to be a lot of little things, it could be thousands of little things. There are so many niches in the music market in the way that people want music and the way that people use music and in the type of people who use it, that we think that there are going to have to be a lot of different models to try and monetize many different ways in which content is delivered to consumers. And we’re actually optimistic that over time we’re going to be finding a lot of those models and they’re going to add up to a viable revenue stream for the industry.

“Over time”? Sorry, guy-who-just-noticed-MySpace: time’s up.

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Comments on “RIAA Still Doesn't Get It: Hopes SOPA Opposition Was A 'One-Time Experience'”

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60 Comments
Chris Brand says:

Interesting marketing...

“the more you need specialists to designate and separate the wheat from the chaff, who is worth listening to, who is worth promoting and marketing. That’s what record companies have traditionally done.”

If I’m an up-and-coming musician, this would have me running into the arms of a record company, so they can decide whether I’m worth marketing or not.

I guess I *could* make that decision myself, but better to leave it to the experts. They should use it for a slogan or something – “Sign up to a record label. We can decide whether you’re worth listening to !”

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Sounds like...

Sounds like they’re pissed.

They’ve gelded the newspapers & television news–who’re well trained to only tell the vetted and approved lies–and they want to gentle the internet in the same manner; but the internet’s not a horse, it’s goddamn monster!

Poor poor stupid poor pathetic poor pooor old guard…
May the rest in peace.. and hurry up and die.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I equate him with a politician. They’re really good at sounding sincere, but the level of hypocrisy they spew sometimes… well, frankly, spitting your gum out at that one line isn’t that rare a thing. Soda/water is another often spit out thing. That or a “I can’t freaking believe this person has the nerve to stand up there/sit there and say this to the rest of us.”

Anonymous Coward says:

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that this whole thing has long since ceased being just about sharing music and movies; it’s about fighting the rampant corruption that endangers the rights and freedom of so many. In a way the music industry is just unlucky that they are seen as a representative of this corruption — although not unjustly. They took it one step too far, pushed a little too hard, and now the people are pushing back and they’ll have to take the blame.

By the way, ‘misinformation’ and ‘anti-democratic’ are their new buzzwords; I’ve heard the same speech all over Europe with regard to the demonstrations against ACTA.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve said this before, but what I’d really like to see is political candidates’ campaign contributions dragged into the spotlight.
I’d like for everyone who’s going to vote to see how much money each candidate got from the MPAA/RIAA.
I would love, more than anything else, for collaborating with Big Media to become political poison. We made those chumps back down on SOPA; I want them to STAY backed down. I want the MPAA and RIAA to lose all of their political power. I want to see the expressions on their faces while they whine about the future slipping through their fingers.
I want to laugh when their ruined empire finally crumbles.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

????

You just have to shrug off anything that Cary Sherman says. It’s obvious the guy is 1. paid to have a certain opinion from which he cannot deviate and 2. a bit clueless about the internet and how and why it works the way it does.

Guys like him will not debate with anyone who has data to back up their words. He did an op-ed in the NYT in response to the online SOPA/PIPA protest. Think about that. He used an analog response to a digital threat. That is all he knows how to do and that is probably a good thing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Interesting marketing...

It can be misleading to rely on the label to declare you worthwhile. Big labels aren’t looking for just any worthwhile musician. They’re looking for musicians they believe they can make millions on.

An up-and-coming musician can be excellent, but not mass-market material. Labels will pass on these, but a person who doesn’t have the overhead of a major label doesn’t need to sell as much to bring home the same amount of personal profit. You as an individual could do equally well without a huge audience. Particularly since the audience you do get will be much more invested in your art.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/02/liars_and_outli_7.html

Those groups have always existed, always will, and they’ll always operate on the fringes of society. Societal pressures have done a good job of keeping them that way. It’s much more dangerous when those in power use that power to subvert trust. Specifically, I am thinking of governments and corporations.

Let me give you a few examples.

The global financial crisis was not a result of criminals, it was perpetrated by legitimate financial institutions pursuing their own self-interest. The major threats against our privacy are not from criminals, they’re from corporations trying to more accurately target advertising. The most significant threat to the freedom of the Internet is from large entertainment companies, in their misguided attempt to stop piracy. And the cyberwar rhetoric is likely to cause more damage to the Internet than criminals could ever dream of.

What scares me the most is that today, in our hyper-connected, hyper-computed, high-tech world, we will get societal pressures wrong to catastrophic effect.

Greg (profile) says:

Why can't I stop laughing?

“I think all of us have an interest in making sure that we hold ourselves on the internet to the same high standards that we’ve tried to hold ourselves in the offline world…”

heh…

heh heh…

hahahaha…

ROFL!…

No wait, I’m sorry I’ll stop laughing in just a few weeks then we can continue this conversation…

Has this guy ever used the internet, for anything, ever?

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m confused… In this one:

The question is whether they were really informed or whether they were being misinformed. That was the point of the op-ed: that there was a lot of misinformation about the bill that was being circulated, and that was accepted by readers online in terms of “if it comes from these sources it must be true.”

He seems to be saying that the protesting about SOPA/PIPA were driven by misinformation, suggesting that there wasn’t really anything bad in the bills and people were wrong to be against them. Yet in this bit:

where a lot of different people came to the conclusion that this was a terrible piece of legislation.

He seems to be admitting that the bills were just as bad as people were saying they were, and were therefor justified in being protested.

So which is it going to be Mr. Spin Doctor?

Anonymous Coward says:

Otherwise those platforms can be used in ways that aren’t engaging the electorate in a good way, but rather in an anti-democratic way.

It’s a little too late to claim “anti-democratic way” after shutting out all involved parties that would have represented the public interests during the formulation stages. What Sherman doesn’t get is that the public is not going to buy into a bill that had no input for issues that would have given the public some rights. Putting this bill down as law to shove down the throats of the public isn’t a medicine that will go down well; and it hasn’t.

Sorry, but Cary Sherman is not allowed to accuse others of misinformation?not unless he’s going into comedy.

Coming from a misinformation spin doctor as this, I am reminded of an old poster that showed Nixon, missing a tooth, with the caption of “Would you trust this man to sell you a used car?”. Counterfeiting goods doesn’t relate to copyright.

Hopefully that was a one time experience that came from a lot of different things coming together

The public has learned that pushing bad copyright laws down the throat of the market isn’t a one time experience but rather one that happens on the average of once every two years. When is enough that the copyright groups finally have enough? So far their appetite for ever more draconian laws doesn’t seem to have an end to it. If the people don’t say they’ve had enough of it, when does the message arrive?

But in the future, think of how that could be abused for bad purposes.

It’s not the future that this idea has come of age. It is now that people have realized just how abused for bad purposes these proposed laws have become. Sherman has blinders on and can not see beyond his narrow scope into the real world.

business is not what they want to do, promotion is not what they want to do.

Taking all of an artists livelihood for these services through out their performing life is not what they want either. The music business has become a vampire to deal with. Doesn’t matter where on the ladder you are. They will attempt to suck the business lifeblood from it in order to take all there is, leaving a pittance for anyone else to survive on.

There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a continuing role for record companies.

As artists wake up to what that means in terms of the wallet, there is less and less of a role for record companies to do or even wanted to do for those same artists. Sherman is very carefully stepping around realities. This sounds akin to Steve Job’s reality distortion field. The RIAA is in such bad reputation that they are needing Cary to step forward and attempt to paint a new picture. It’s not working well at all.

You can not but see how far out of touch with the real world this has become.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I have one tiny little problem with your position. It’s based on the assumption that those in charge of these corporations are not themselves criminals. When they direct their corporations to explicitly engage in bribing public officials to enact unconstitutional laws, are these not criminal acts? Just because they may have a different look than the stereotypical common criminal and may often times will not face any form of indictment or prosecution, they are still criminals none the less.

Harrisburg (profile) says:

Internet War

The Government isn’t going to give up the fight for control over the Internet because the Internet is probably the best tool for combating Government control over the people. It spreads ideas and keeps people informed and helps educate. Senator Orrin Hatch proposed over a decade ago that the Government throw out due process and start remotely blowing up computers that engage in online piracy. They threw out due process with the NDAA- don’t you think they’d do it against the Internet as well? http://www.dethronehatch.com/orrin-hatch-is-no-friend-of-the-internet/

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

In his defense of the RIAA as being a gatekeeper and judge of talent I keep remembering that it was a RIAA member in England (BFI is the British Equivalent?) who said the Beatles had no future because the day of guitar groups was over. (EMI if I remember correctly.)

So forgive me if I wonder, for a moment, how many other artists RIAA member companies have missed, how many we have missed before the Web trotted itself out.

And, OMG, Sherman the progressive face of the RIAA? If that’s progressive then the RIAA is in worse trouble than I thought.

I’ll close with the observation the Keen couldn’t have sucked up to Sherman any harder and not crawled onto Sherman’s lap with his tail wagging.

artp (profile) says:

This day in history 50 years ago!

Cary Sherman says:

That role may change over time, but the more you’ve got online capability for anyone with a guitar and a little bit of recording equipment to get online and try to become a musician, the more you need specialists to designate and separate the wheat from the chaff, who is worth listening to, who is worth promoting and marketing. That’s what record companies have traditionally done. They have been the talent scouts and then they have put their financial and human resources into actually marketing and promoting that talent and helping to shape it.

About 50 years ago, radio was the Great Satan, and the media’s response was immortalized in an Animals song [stolen from Bo Diddley, in homage, of course] called “The Story of Bo Diddley”.

One day, one night, came a Cadillac, four head lights
Came a man with a big, long, fat, cigar said,
“C’mere son, I’m gonna make you a star”
Bo Diddley said, “Uh..whats in it for me?”
Man said, “Shut your mouth son,
play your guitar and you just wait and see”
Well, that boy made it, he made it real big
And so did the rest of the rock n roll scene along with him
And a white guy named Johnny Otis took Bo Diddleys rhythm
He changed it into hand-jive and it went like this
In a little old country town one day
A little old country band began to play

Then in the U.S. music scene there was big changes made
Due to circumstances beyond our control such as payola
The rock n roll scene died after two years of solid rock

Some things never change. ๐Ÿ™

Chargone (profile) says:

????

oddly, there are situations where that’s the best move, even against modern guns.

but they’re very specific and have to be planned out ahead of time, take reality into account very seriously, and a sword is still better than a knife. (in an urban environment, say, from memory, if a swordsman can get within 3 meters of a guy with a gun without entering the gunman’s line of sight/fire, and ideally without being detected, the swordsman got well over 50/50 odds of winning. )

so, it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight, and then trying to fight as though the other guy’s gun is a knife.

but that’s a slightly more clunkey way of putting it, i guess.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

…there was a lot of misinformation about the bill that was being circulated, and that was accepted by readers online in terms of “if it comes from these sources it must be true.” I know that a lot of members of Congress who had worked very hard on the legislation were very frustrated that they couldn’t get out their side of the story, that this legislation was not what it was represented to be.

Easily becomes:

there was a lot of misinformation about the bill that was being circulated, and that was accepted by readers of print news and watchers of TV news in terms of “if it comes from Congress it must be true.” I know that a lot of members of Congress who had worked very hard on the legislation were very frustrated that they couldn’t get out their side of the story : [please note the change from comma to colon]
that this legislation was not what it was represented to be [by Congress].

Anonymous Coward says:

Too many points of interest to comment on. I’ll just say this Sherman sounds less inteligent everytime he speaks. Atleast he is there to tell everyone what music to listen to. Since we are all to ignorant to pick good music for ourselves. What a selfimportant jackass Cary Sherman, he gets more clueless everytime he opens his moputh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rly?

You think that the pawns in D.C. just don’t get it? They get it just fine, they get their corporate masters wish to exert their control on the internet. And they will. A bill exactly like SOPA/PIPA or worse will be passed, it is only a matter of time. You think you have control? You think anything you say or do matters? We are all slaves to the upperclass, this is their country, wake up. You have the freedom to be a complacent worker, that is all.

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing I find interesting about this whole debate is the obfuscation on both sides of the true issues. Cary Sherman represents an industry which has a vested interest in minimizing piracy. The changes in delivery in general and the recording industry’s inability to recognize and adapt to changes is a different topic all together. Regardless of how stupid they may be, they still have a right to pursue sources of copyright infringement. They are not necessarily “bad” for doing so, but how they go about doing it is the true issue. Let’s talk about why the legislation proposed is bad and what its affects could be rather than vilifying one guy or an industry. Because there are equally vile industries on the other side who make their money off the Internet’s “freedom”.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re:

You are completely right on this point, but you can’t look at just one issue.

The legislation failed, and what do we get? Attorney generals having a conference with the MPAA asking them what went wrong. They blame Google and others for piracy, but never sit down at the table with others to discuss the issue. Schurtleff ends the Q&A saying they have to make the ISPs responsible. Well maybe the ISPs will have something to say about that? Maybe the MPAA isn’t the place to go for the answers.

Maybe the best way to deal with piracy is to change the law so that something everyday citizens do on a daily basis and is extremely difficult to enforce isn’t illegal. Perhaps we could let content enter the public domain once again so there’s a steady stream of new content for creators to legally build upon. Perhaps if copyright law were much narrower in focus, it would be much easier to enforce, and easier for people to respect.

You can’t deal with one part of the equation without considering the other parts. You can’t just focus on fighting piracy without acknowledging that the law that makes piracy illegal is distorted, grotesque, and damaging to culture.

The attorney generals are just going to do what the law tells them to do. The only option they have to do their job is to just clamp down harder. If the law said selling alcohol was illegal, they would be meeting to figure out how to stop it. I don’t really blame them. The change needs to happen elsewhere.

But this video give you a wide-eyed view of what the government thinks on this issue. They aren’t reading TechDirt and they aren’t interested in copyright reform.

Well until they start thinking about copyright reform, others are not going to start thinking about ending piracy.

more accuracy needed says:

"Inside Job" is content worth paying for...

“The global financial crisis was not a result of criminals, it was perpetrated by legitimate financial institutions pursuing their own self-interest. “
That’s not accurate. It was the result of the activities of financial institutions top-heavy with criminal employees.

It’s not legal to charge prostitutes to the company expense account and falsify the invoice, or to snort copious amounts of cocaine. Those activities are criminal, even if for some technical reason the deceptive activities they deliberately indulged in for financial gain do not happen to be captured by any criminal code.

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