Mixtape Conundrum Exposes How The RIAA Is Protecting Bad Business Decisions, Not Artists

from the figuring-this-one-out dept

Following yesterday's story about the RIAA using a local SWAT team to shut down and arrest a well known DJ for his mixtapes, it seems that it's kicked off an interesting debate in the major media. As many people have been pointing out for years, there are ways to embrace unauthorized copying, by recognizing that the content has promotional value. That's not surprising to many folks around here, of course, but you almost never hear that admitted by the media, who seem to have bought the RIAA's line that any unauthorized copies are "piracy" or "theft" (when, in truth, it's neither). However, following that arrest, we're starting to see stories pointing out how these mixtapes have played a huge role in promoting various hiphop stars, and many of those whose content is used this way are absolutely thrilled about it. The only ones who aren't happy about it, apparently, are the RIAA, whose quote for the article was: "A sound recording is either copyrighted or it's not," which actually totally misses the point. First of all, a sound recording is automatically copyrighted, so he's not even correct in what he's saying. However, the real point is that whether or not it's copyrighted doesn't matter here. The discussion is about whether or not the use of mixtapes is actually helping or harming the music business.

What this is really about is the fact that the record labels that make up the RIAA wrote bad contracts. They wrote contracts based only on making money on selling CDs, not on selling music or the musical experience. Yet, the musicians themselves have recognized that there are plenty of ways to make money if your music is popular enough -- so they're thrilled to get any publicity that they can then turn into money (without most of it going to the RIAA). That is, via concerts, merchandise, sponsorships and plenty of other opportunities, and since none of that money is shared with the record labels, the musicians make out great. The real issue isn't about "protecting the artist" or "protecting the music," it's about the RIAA's bad business decision making. Of course, when other businesses make bad business decisions, they don't get to use the SWAT team to help them remedy the situation.
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  1. identicon
    Hans gruber, 19 Jan 2007 @ 8:20pm

    Beat me to the punch

    Damn, Misanthrope, good post. You're proof that there are good, insightful comments out there.

    I agree with you completely. I'm a (very amateur) musician myself, and record songs on my computer with very inexpensive hardware and software. I occasionally submit songs to songfight.org which is a fun community of players that compete with songs based on a different title each week. Submission range from drunken and rough-hewn to glossy and professional. It's always a hoot - but it's also made me realize just how outmoded the recording industry is. (To call it 'the recording industry' is kind of inaccurate - it's more like the 'hype industry').

    If a half-talented twit like myself can build websites and record my own music, what's stopping bands from doing the same? Why do they choose to sign away their profit and creative license?

    It's because of the glamor of the entertainment industry. They're in the very big business of packaging, marketing, creating an amazing illusion, which influences all aspects of our culture: economy, politics, and religion. For most people (myself included at one time) Music and Movies are the high Art forms of our age, and effect us on a personal level.

    Everyone wants to strike it rich on a beautiful vision and a guitar, gain artistic credibility, and be famous. You don't have to wear a suit (unless you're Robert Palmer) and the chicks are free.

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