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
    Tyshaun, 20 Jan 2007 @ 3:51pm

    Re: a silver lining

    Misanthropic,

    I usually agree and look forward to your posts, but I have a problem with something you said:

    Since the DJs have the greatest power, as brokers between the audience and the artists, the best outcome is that DJs become scared of using RIAA protected material. If they realise that they should only mix artists on Creative Commons licences that will close the final pipe that supplies oxygen to the system.

    I think the statement is a bit naive in that it doesn't address the true state of the music industry. Most of the music outlets in the US are clearly under the control of RIAA companies, who definately represent the true brokers between artists and audience. Companies like Clearchannel control the radio stations, RIAA companies take up a huge section of the recorded media market, and 99.9% of the "undebateably" legal download sites are laiden with RIAA company stuff. I'm not saying it's right, but let's not delude ourselves into the notion that some guy selling mix tapes out the trunk of his car has anywhere near the influence of any of the big music companies.

    As I read the comments I keep reminding myself (and perhaps techDirt folks need to as well) that we are a self selected group that probably isn't representative of the larger public that still uses MTV and their local Clearchannel station as their primary means of selecting what music to listen to. Again, I'm not sying it's a good system, but it's naive to assume a bunch of multi-billion dollar companies will quietly die off or that they will not use every trick in the arsenal. We aren't seeing the end of the RIAA conglomerate monopoly, just the start of the fight and I'm not sure they've even started using the really big artillery yet.


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