A friend just forwarded me an email "from" the CEO of Universal Music (really from an email marketing campaign system if you look at the headers) that encourages him to push for new laws in the US to kick people offline for file sharing. To date, the RIAA and others in the recording industry have known better than to seriously push for a three strikes-type legislation in the US, knowing that it is a battle that they very well might lose. They had hoped, quite strongly, that various ISPs would come to simply agree
to implement a three strikes plan to kick people offline after three accusations (not convictions) of copyright infringement. But it's been nearly a year and a half since the RIAA believed those deals were close, and there's still nothing to show
for it. Nothing.
So, it looks like the industry is going to plan B: which is going back to trying to ram through legislation that will require ISPs to take the draconian step of protecting one industry's broken business model. And to get this going, it looks like the industry has set up a neat little set of astroturfing groups and "consumer" campaigns that try to hide the specifics, but clearly are designed to get similar three strikes legislation (similar to the Digital Economy Act in the UK) put in place in the US.
The letter starts out by making it sound like a populist sort of deal:
I've received hundreds of e-mails enthusiastically reacting to my "call to action" at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers convention last month. The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior. Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address this crisis. My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged. We cannot win this fight alone.
Note the choice of language. "Hundreds of emails" is his way of suggesting that there's a groundswell of public support. But, for what kind of "call to action"? Ah, the one where we ask the government to protect Universal Music's business model. Amusingly enough, at last year's
NARM, I gave a presentation on all sorts of ways that the industry could thrive
through adopting new business models. I was told that two RIAA members specifically asked the conference not to let me speak, and while I do not believe anyone from Universal Music attended my speech, they did have incredibly scantily clad models standing outside the door inviting people to go to a party. Perhaps instead of partying and lobbying the government, you could have looked at what's actually working, instead of complaining that nothing will work.
Governments outside the U.S. are legislating, regulating and playing a prominent role in discussions with ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Sales have dramatically improved in these countries. How is it that the U.S. - with the most successful music community in the world - is not keeping up with places like South Korea, France, the UK and New Zealand?
And here we go. Note that the four countries named all put in place forms of "three strikes" legislation recently to kick file sharers off the internet based on accusations, not convictions. By naming those four countries, the letter is implicitly calling for support for three strikes legislation requiring ISPs to try to prop up Universal's failing business model.
As I said in my speech, I hope that the industry can negotiate a voluntary deal with the ISPs. We need our government representatives to encourage this. But whether or not we reach a deal with the ISPs, our government needs to know that we've got a piracy problem and we need real solutions. To accomplish this, our government needs to hear from all of us, so they know that their constituents are out here. Join me in calling on our elected officials to fight piracy. Please help by forwarding this email to your colleagues, friends- everyone who loves music. And consider enlisting your entire company to help in this fight. Then by clicking on the link below a message will be sent to your representatives in Washington. Help us launch a viral campaign to cut off access to the online sites that are used to steal our music, our property and our jobs. In only takes a second but it can make a tremendous impact.
And here we go. The call to make this into a "viral" campaign. Well, let's look at the details. While Universal uses some nasty "spy on your clickthrough" HTML attempts to hide the actual sites it's sending you to, it's not difficult to figure out more details on this campaign. The first place they want you to go is to a website for MusicRightsNow.org
, which automatically forwards you to a Facebook page. Facebook page? Why that looks all grassrootsy and made by "the people" right? Not a recording industry front at all! It even includes a neat little inclusive manifesto claiming to represent everyone:
"Music rights now" is a community of individuals who believe music has value and is worthy of protection from online theft. We are songwriters, artists, musicians, recording studio engineers, managers, retailers, record company employees, publishers, performing rights organization employees, music producers, truck drivers, lawyers, stylists, music video directors, laborers, photographers, graphic designers, DJs, radio employees, music fans -- and countless others' who have joined together to fight for the survival of artistry and the music industry.
Except, of course, infringement is not "theft" and a grassroots group of folks getting together to "fight for the survival of artistry and the music industry" don't get the CEO of Universal Music to announce their coming out party. As for the "survival of artistry and the music industry," as we were just pointing out, both are doing fantastic
. More music is being created and consumed than ever before. More money is being spent and made on the music industry than ever before. In fact, it really seems like the only people who are suffering happen to work at a few companies that have refused to adapt with the times... like the major record labels. So, can we cancel this campaign? It looks like the actual music industry
is doing great.
But, let's explore further.
So who's actually behind "Music Rights Now"? Well, the Facebook breadcrumbs lead to Music United
-- a long term recording industry front group that was mocked mercilessly
nearly a decade ago, for its incredibly lame attempts to "speak the language of kids today" to teach them that file sharing is bad. It doesn't look like things have improved much. The front page points to a widely debunked study (which it refers to as "credible") claiming that file sharing has cost $12.5 billion
dollars to the US economy and has killed 70,000 jobs. Then there's this fun bit of misleading propaganda:
The unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted music is JUST AS ILLEGAL AS SHOPLIFTING A CD. Sharing music on peer-to-peer networks like Ares, BitTorrent, Gnutella, Limewire, and Morpheus is against the law. The rules are very simple. Unless you own the copyright, it's not yours to distribute.
A bit out of date there on the list of file sharing networks, of course. Also, "just as illegal" is a bit misleading. Both are, in fact, illegal, but under very, very different laws. But the key point is that they're wrong. Making a blanket statement that "sharing music on peer-to-peer networks... is against the law," is flat out wrong. It would be news to all of the musicians we know who encourage their work be shared online. The web page also claims that "Digital theft is killing the music business." Again, the evidence we just pointed to yesterday shows that music is doing better than ever.
Of course, in the fine print, we get the list of who's behind this. It includes all the usual suspects: the RIAA, the NMPA, ASCAP, SESAC, SoundExchange, the SGA, A2IM, BMI, AFTRA and a variety of other smaller organizations that represent labels and publishers. Consumer groups? Nope. Of course not. This is not, after all, a consumer driven effort. It's just designed to look like one.
Either way, it seems clear that the industry is realizing that ISPs aren't going to agree to kick people offline based on accusations, so it's kicking off a well-coordinated campaign to get the government to help, and pressure it to put in place the same sort of overly draconian protectionist measures that don't actually help musicians or the music industry -- but clearly try to prop up the failed and dying business model of a few middlemen. Not surprisingly, this seems well-timed to go with the expected release this week of the report from the White House's IP Enforcement Coordinator (IP Czar), Victoria Espinel.... How much do people want to bet her report also fits in with propping up those businesses?