Saturday, March 17, 2007

RIAA Wants Your Kids (souls money)

In the soap-operatic saga that is the RIAA’s war on the internet, this past week brought a slew of lawsuits, royalty hikes, and the appropriate blogosphere reaction. In classic form, the RIAA mixed dubious legal specifics in a massive arena of illegal generalities with scare tactics, this time aimed at another 400 of the millions of college students who illegally download over a billion copyrighted songs a year between the hours spent updating MySpace profiles and working towards that level 70 in WoW (good job kids, here’s come candy). I hope they already have a Facebook group and I’m keeping an eye out for hipsters sporting “I got sued by the RIAA and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” paraphernalia. Charged with drug human file-trafficking, the RIAA has already offered the option of settlement for $3,000.

Following the filing of these lawsuits, Mitch Bainwol and Cary Sherman, and CEO and president of the RIAA respectively, wrote an op-ed for “Inside Higher Ed” addressing claims of bullying, chiding college administrators for lapsing as moral leaders, and encouraging universities to take advantage of this “teachable moment.” But you don’t have to take their written word for it! They have a DVD!

The DVD is part of the RIAA’s proactive outreach program designed to collaborate with university administrators. The campaign, creatively named Campus Downloading, has information on how illegally downloading music will land you in federal-pound-me-in-the-ass-prison, why RIAA owned music is important to defining you as a person, and how you can come to the light side and legally download your music.

The methods and avenues the RIAA pursues to combat the vile and anti-democratic problem of internet piracy are at best counter-productive and at worst hypocritical. The Campus Downloading campaign is yet another example of the RIAA throwing buckets of money, from a pool it claims is quickly drying up due to a draining “series of tubes,” at a problem they refuse to collaborate or budge on. The campaign continuously cites legal ways to download and listen to music, yet the op-ed in discussion was published days after the RIAA won the right to levee webcasting fees, potentially destroying webradio as it exists today.

However, a case could be made that the RIAA is indeed strapped for cash when looking at the production value of the Campus Downloading campaign. The video employs a thirty-five year old “actor” to play Joe-college’s conscience. Between every cut away he puts on his headphones so when the camera returns to him to tell you about the dangers of unprotected extra-marital sex illegal downloading he has to pause his legally obtained Metallica and ceremoniously pull the white ear buds out.

Campus Downloading’s tag line, found on every page of their website, seems more like a mixed metaphor than an anti-piracy mantra. “Protect yourself. Do it legally” This sounds more like a tourism campaign slogan for Amsterdam than an RIAA anti-piracy campaign. Our perhaps the RIAA just wants you to wear rubbers when downloading porn music.

Most despicable of the RIAA’s tactics is their attempt to take the moral high road, chastising university administrators for not (pro/per)secuting internet piracy with the same zeal they crackdown on plagiarism. Blogger Kim Christen puts it best commenting at BoingBoing.net: “The people who created sex, drugs and rock and roll, who glorified thug life and guns, are suddenly all concerned with the moral character of America's teens. That's about as credible as the idea that they're really worried about musicians' fortunes.”

This most recent episode in the RIAA war on technology is nothing new and does not really deviate from the RIAA’s earlier anti-piracy policies and strategies. As the issues of copyright and property play themselves out in the world of web 2.0 the RIAA might be an early, if drawn out, casualty of intellectual war.

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