The RIAA versus us: a file-sharing standoff

The RIAA versus us: a file-sharing standoff

Summary: After reading through hundreds of comments to last week's digital media ethics poll, I've come to the realization that my readers are much more rational and reasonable than the entertainment industry. Overall, I see plenty of common sense in those responses. When it comes to sharing digital music, for example, a large number of you think it's perfectly OK and even good for the industry. Not surprisingly, that stand is at odds with the RIAA.

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TOPICS: Legal
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After reading through hundreds of comments to last week's digital media ethics poll, I've come to the realization that my readers are much more rational and reasonable than the entertainment industry. Overall, I see plenty of common sense in those responses, including a clear respect for property rights and an insistence on a reasonable approach to personal use, one that's consistent with centuries of historical precedent.

Earlier this week, I looked at the enormous disconnect between what consumers see as their personal right to use purchased digital media and what the industry thinks those rights should be. To see another gaping chasm in attitudes, look at these answers from the same poll. More than 8,000 votes were cast on each of these two questions, which address the question of music sharing:

Is it OK to borrow a CD from a friend and rip it to your hard drive?

  • Yes: 34%
  • Sometimes/Depends: 13%
  • No: 53%

Is it proper to buy a CD and make a copy for a friend?

  • Yes: 27%
  • Sometimes/Depends: 8%
  • No: 65%

I find those results remarkable. At a bare minimum, 27% of you think that friends should feel free to copy commercial music CDs. The music industry says that's outright theft. No exceptions:

If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law, and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages. ... Criminal penalties can run up to 5 years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines, even if you didn't do it for monetary or financial or commercial gain.

So, are music consumers just greedy or ethically challenged? I don't think so. A lot of the confusion is over the expanding meaning of words like "personal" and "friend," which meant something different in the 1970s when the entertainment industry as we know it today rose into being. Sharing music or movies with friends in the 1970s meant sharing a physical space - a dorm room, a living room, a concert hall, a movie theater. Today, people who've never met manage to make casual acquaintances and build friendships; their shared presence includes online communities and more private spaces that are strikingly similar to their physical counterparts. The desire to share remains the same; the tools to share are easier and not limited by physical objects (records and CDs) or even physical spaces.

For music fans, then and now, sharing has been about the music. As one commenter perceptively noted, if no one hears, no one buys:

I think it's okay to share music among friends and family. I would only share out if I thought that the friend was unlikely to buy it but would enjoy the artist or should be introduced to the artist. I wouldn't rip a borrowed disk that I would have bought. I have bought quite a few disks because I was introduced by friends.

The comments on the poll also emphasized the importance of "mix" CDs among music fans. This commenter argues that reasonable sharing benefits everyone, including the artists and the industry:

Personally I feel it's fine to share media among friends and family because it's a form of discovery and promotion. I've had quite a few mix CDs made for me which is obviously "illegal" yet I've discovered some great bands that way, bands that I've in turn bought their next albums, gone to their concerts or in turn promoted them to other friends. I've also discovered that some much hyped bands were horrible and I would have wasted $10 on a CD I'd never listen to, which is what I'm sure the RIAA is counting on as well.

I struggled to reconcile the differences in the response to two questions covering apparently similar activities. Nearly half of the respondents (47%) think it's always or sometimes OK to borrow a friend's CD and rip it; a smaller group (35%) think it's always or sometimes OK to copy a CD for a friend.

So what's the distinction? The comments offer some clues:

In most of the music copying questions, "it depends" on whether or not I've already bought a previous copy (and subsequently lost or destroyed it).

This comment takes the same argument even farther:

I think you should be able to copy a CD from a friend if you've purchased a copy of that same material previously, such as a cassette tape, album, or even 8 track.

Is it OK to borrow a CD from a friend and rip it to your hard drive? While I would normally consider this unacceptable, I might make an exception for a CD which was out-of-print and unavailable used at a reasonable price, or for a CD which I own if my copy has been damaged or proven to be defective. For example, I have at least two or three CDs that played OK when I purchased them, but at least some tracks no longer play correctly and the discs have long been out of print. If I could borrow a CD to make copies of the tracks that no longer play, I would probably do it.

My issues with DRM and digital media ethics have to do with the record companies, not the artists. I have yet to see a convincing argument that the artificially high prices charged by record companies for CDs does anything for the music business in general or the average artist. I rarely buy new CDs, because of the price. I rarely download from torrents, etc., because of the file quality and legal issues. But when faced with the opportunity to purchase music of high quality at a reasonable price -- say $5 - $8 for a complete CD -- I will spend a good amount of money. In any given year, I will spend $300 to $500 on affordable music. That is money that the music companies will never see. I imagine that there are thousands of listeners out there like me.

Some of the arguments in those comments are pure rationalization, of course, a way to provide moral cover for the act of getting something for nothing. But that's the minority, in my opinion. Most casual sharing between friends is about the desire to share experiences, the same "Hey, you have to hear this" impulse that a previous generation felt in pre-digital days.

I'm highly skeptical that the mainstream entertainment industry will ever find a way to reach common ground with its customers on this issue. The RIAA, after all, is run by lobbyists and lawyers. For them, it's not about the music, it's about the product. They're highly motivated to create a rigid definition without exceptions, one that will stand up in court even if it's an abject failure in the court of public opinion. As their customers have already discovered, new technology makes it possible to share tunes in all sorts of ways. Ratcheting down the rhetoric and recognizing that some sharing and trading among music-loving friends is reasonable would be good for artists, labels, and consumers alike. Unfortunately, crafting such a policy would require that the industry trust its customers and be willing to accept a certain amount of abuse as inevitable.

The chances that that will happen are, sadly, about the same as the chances that the Beatles will reunite.

Up next: DRM and other stupid business models.

Topic: Legal

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197 comments
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  • Self eating watermellon

    While I agree wholeheartedly that making a copy of a friends CD or giving a friend a copy of a CD is, I hate to do it, as wrong as the RIAA says. The out of print argument, can't comment, but to give a copy to a friend because they can't afford it is still a rationalization. I have never heard of anyone being let off the hook in cable theft, etc with the defense "I can't afford it but still want it so I just took it defense". We are talking about $20 MAX here.

    On the mixed CD front, I discovered WallyWorld will mix any songs onto a CD for you (up to 20 songs) for about $1.09 all per song and you get the CD. This type of thing eliminates the need and frustration at buying a good song and 11 crap fillers on a CD.

    Back to the point of my post, the RIAA has itself created the problem. People (myself included) do not like to be [B]TOLD[/B] how to live and are given the impression (correctly imo) that their worth is nothing more than a revenue stream. It leads directly to the [B]stick it to the man[/B] mentality that has backfired.

    The RIAA is trying to get a tighter and tighter grip on a handful of sand, and the harder they squeeze, the less they keep. They have to get rid of DRM, attempt to at least impersonate a corporate entity that is in some way human and reasonable. Will they, no way, they will keep squeezing only to find they have no sand left. I call this a self eating watermellon, the need to squeeze harder is exacerbated by they continually shrinking pile of sand.

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
    • I think the New Amazon MP3 service . . .

      will help us determine how this will go. They are offering COMPLETE albums for way less than others. I found more than a few groups I like (Rush, for instance) that have albums in the $5-$6 range . . .

      I think price is the central issue. If I could replace my cassettes, LP's, and 8 tracks for a resaonable replacement cost, you wouldn't be having these problems.

      Most people don't like downloading illegally, and if the Labels would offer some kind of "upgrade" service, it would help. But with the Record companies are only interested in maximizing their profits, hence the general public attitude that obtaining what they want by P2P is ok.

      What I'd like to see is the Record companies do is set up some sort of downloading service that you could subscribe to for, say $5-$10 per month, that would let you download albums that you already own, provided you can prove that you physically have the album. This could be accomplished by scanning in the either the barcode, or letting you go to someplace that could see the album, and give you a code that would allow you to download THAT album, or maybe a kiosk that would burn the CD for you.
      JLHenry
      • I have already purchased over 80 tunes

        It works flawlessly with Linux, and the quality is sufficient (I would prefer Q8 ogg, their offering translates to Q6 ogg) for a snob like me. This and etunes offerings are pretty much the only online content I can recommend. Mixed CDs direct from WallyWorld are nice too.

        TripleII

        P.S. It is nice to finally have an option with Linux, especially with never, ever stealing content on a P2P network.
        TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
        • Etunes?

          What's that? If you mean eMusic, then the selection from eMusic and Amazon is pretty similar. Amazon has more, but there are still huge gaps in coverage. Of the last 20 artists I searched for, I think I only found three or four at Amazon MP3.

          And of course the files work with Linux. They're plain vanilla MP3s. They'll work with anything.
          Ed Bott
          • Yes, eMusic

            I haven't come across what I was looking for that wasn't covered by the two, but then again, the world of online music purchase has only just opened up, I am sure I will hit a snag. Even the DRM infected songs (which are trivial to disinfect for a geek) weren't high enough quality and on principle, I refused to purchase them.

            You made my point though, they play with/on anything, let freedom reign, and let Amazon take a huge dent out of the others to hasten the demise of DRM.

            Between Amazon, eMusic and W-Mart (if you want the physical cd with up to 20 of your chosen songs), there is no reason left to support DRM enforced marketplaces.

            TripleII
            TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • That was what MP3.com started out as

        "What I'd like to see is the Record companies do is set up some sort of downloading service that you could subscribe to for, say $5-$10 per month, that would let you download albums that you already own, provided you can prove that you physically have the album."

        That's basically what MP3.com started out as. You stuck your CD in the drive, it checked that it was the CD you said it was, then you downloaded the tracks on the CD. This was originally doe to poor support for CD ripping on the computers of the time, but also meant that if your CD was damaged you could still get the music. They lost the ensuing lawsuit, despite the fact that they were completely in sync with the intent of the law, because they were in violation of the letter of it.

        If the industry had worked with them they could have established a really influential position in the online music scene, instead of turning it into a battlefield.
        Resuna
        • Problem was . . .

          It was just for CD's. What I would like to see is for something like this to cover ALL recordings back to a certain date (obviously you couldn't take it back to Reel-to-Reel, and maybe the early LP's. Some of that stuff is starting to hit Public Domain anyway). You would give them whatever proof they wanted (The mechanism is unsure for this - five me time, I'll come up with something that works :) ), and they would either give you a code to download, or give you a CD of the music in question . . .
          JLHenry
        • That's not how MP3.com started..

          that is how MP3.com died. MP3.com started out as a haven for independent artists who were willing to let you download some of their music for free in the hopes of selling you their CDs.

          MP3.com decided to rip all of the CDs they could get their hands on to hard drives and then allow you to listen to any CDs - that you could prove you owned - from any PC connected to the internet. The RIAA sued because of they didn't approve of MP3.com ripping the CDs to their hard drives and pretty much drove MP3.com out of business.
          Beat a Dead Horse
      • MP3 sound quality is an oxymoron

        MP3 sound quality is awful. FLAC is so much better!
        1Cat2Many
    • My Opinion.

      This is just my opinion so in the big picture, it's not worth much.

      A friend of mine is a DJ, he's done "sets" and recorded them, he's even written his own music and included it into his mixes. I have even bought his CD's.

      I consider such discs as "original content", I KNOW it's wrong to think like that but I do. Also, because of such CD's, I have become a big fan of certain bands and have purchased many CD's from those bands.

      In fact, on many occasions, I have bought more than one of the same album. Why? Because of a falling out with friends, or because I moved... Who doesn't lose something when moving?

      Believe me, if I could have downloaded an album that I previously purchased & saved myself the time & money of going out and buying those albums again, for free, I would have done, Why? Because having purchased one copy, I feel that I am entitled to one copy and a backup.

      The policy holds true with microsoft software, just read the EULA, you are allowed to make ONE backup copy for your own personal use and in the event that ownership of that software is in some way not yours, be it sold, transfered, given away whatever, all backup's are destroyed.

      The system, as much as I hate to say it about Microsoft, works. Maybe if the music industry allowed reasonable personal use, like, at home, one in the car and a last copy on a personal device, people wouldn't get so upset since the fines would be more reasonable.

      The whole self-eating watermelon thing, I agree with. Wake up & smell the coffee RIAA.

      One more thought:-

      Are you telling me that in every home where an RIAA employee resides, there is not one single copied mp3 or WMA file ANYWHERE? they digitally purchased their entire CD collection (which of course would be for the home stereo) for the PC in their office? a second copy for their personal device and extra CD's for the car?

      I find that hard to believe. Especially with the ease of technology & teenagers of today.
      Pctechnik@...
  • So why does the RIAA persecute customers?

    It's easy to see the disadvantages of suing customers for making use of the product they purchase. It's reasonable to believe the studies and analysis that shows file-sharing increases sales for the RIAA companies.

    One could ascribe the result to stupidity and blind stubbornness. And that is partly true. The RIAA companies are paying a price.

    But they are also sensitive to income, and enough people have been fired that greater reasonability could be expected.

    Except that the blunder is paying off.

    The Congress of the US is appropriately responsive to industries which provide employment. And industries based on receiving money for access to IP are central to the exonomy, more so than manufacturing. So content company complaints will be heard.

    What the RIAA receives is not legal support for stupidity, but restrictions on use across devices. And the hardware companies - not the public; leave people out - are responsive to avoid even stricter government control.

    If the law requires, even suggests strongly hardware that restricts cross-device use, the RIAA companies will be able to sell more copies of the same material.

    I know, that's been observed previously. But any discussion of the companies' actions, as in this Comment, that leaves out this single most important factor in the current campaign is incomplete.
    Anton Philidor
    • Re: So why does the RIAA persecute customers?

      [i]The Congress of the US is appropriately responsive to industries which provide employment.[/i]

      I disagree with this. Congress only cares about who's paying for the next election campaign, even if they would reduce employment.

      This is supported by Congress' stance on copyright. Eldred sued because he was planning to capitalize on the notion that copyright expires. Eldred and many others could have created employment opportunities made possible by a well-fed commons.

      Congress extended the copyright term because it cares about employment. The term extension killed off a huge employment opportunity.


      [i]But any discussion of the companies' actions, as in this Comment, that leaves out this single most important factor in the current campaign is incomplete.[/i]

      I think you got this wrong, too. There is no law nor suggestion in the law that hardware play a role in restricting cross-device use.



      :)

      :)
      none none
      • Oh?

        Congress extended copyright at the request of companies like Disney, which expect to make money from the continued copyright on Steamboat Willie.

        Congress agreed, because legislators want Disney to continue making money on Steamboat Willie.

        The employment opportunities from a "well-fed commons" are more hypothetical than those in existence at a major corporation like Disney.

        Of course monetary and other contributions go to those more likely to accept the contributors' arguments. But that doesn't eliminate the facts of income from copyrighted materials and employees receiving income from those organizations.

        These legislators can be honestly trying to improve the economy. With counterproductive results, maybe, but acceptable motives. Sometimes people can be wrong for the right reasons.



        The RIAA companies have been trying to control what hardware can do for some time.

        The hardware companies know that customers can be made unhappy, but also know the RIAA companies' influence in Congress and willingness to damage themselves in the effort to maintain control.

        So they comply, not fully, but in substantial ways.

        Here's a recognition of the hardware companies efforts by the MPAA.
        (The people referenced are MPAA executive vice president Fritz Attaway and Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro.)

        Quoting:

        Attaway: ?The CEA has initiated this campaign against DRM which is against a lot of your own members, who are making great strides in DRM to provide consumers with choices. You?re the one that is trying to stifle innovative technology and we?re trying to use it. Gary is trying to enact laws that limit the use of technology to create new business models.?

        [End quote.]

        http://www.paidcontent.org/entry/midemnet-mpaa-riaa-cea-execs-clash-over-drm-hardware-controls/

        I think our speculations about the "new business models" would be similar. Also, I appreciate Mr. Attaway trying to appropriate the idea of "providing consumers with choices" on behalf of DRM.
        Anton Philidor
        • Also, I appreciate Mr. Attaway.....on behalf of DRM

          Face it, you are a member of an itty bitty
          teeny weeny minute very very small minority
          who appreciate bribes (lobbying) and
          payoffs.
          Ole Man
          • Appreciate means enjoy.

            Mr. Attaway has made a creditable attempt to add humor to my day.


            Also, dollars-for-votes bribery isn't necessary. A company in the lobbying business to stay has located candidates whose philosophy is agreeable to them, and provided consistent support through the years.

            What they want is consistent behavior favorable to their interests. A bribe shows contemptible lack of planning.
            Anton Philidor
          • I get it

            A bribe is not a bribe if the bribee agrees
            with the bribor before he receives the
            bribe.

            Very enlightening. Where did you obtain the
            dictionary that you use?
            Ole Man
          • Well-turned phrase.

            "A bribe is not a bribe if the bribee agrees with the bribor before he receives the bribe."

            But if a contribution to a sympathetic politician is bribery, then George Soros would lead a long line to being booked.
            Anton Philidor
          • I have to completely agree

            Allow me to draw an analogy if i may:

            When Fredo tells Michael that the lawyer Questad (on the Senate Committee trying M.C) belongs to Roth it just sinks Fredo even deeper into oblivion.

            The point of the matter is this Mr Philidor: you've just made a moot point this discussion when you state:

            "...Also, dollars-for-votes bribery isn't necessary. A company in the lobbying business to stay has located candidates whose philosophy is agreeable to them, and provided consistent support through the years.

            What they want is consistent behavior favorable to their interests."

            How? The fact that Questad *belonged* to Roth is actually more damning then being *bribed* - the fact was that Questad was in: hook, line and sinker with the deal and that he was acting not only on behalf of Roth but on personal motivation. Being *pwned/owned* as opposed to accepting a bribe only reinforces the arguments against your take on the matter.

            Any way you look at it, it doesn't help your position.

            In essence: if it looks like a dog; sounds like a dog; smells like a dog; then you can be *well nigh sure* ....
            thx-1138_
          • Re: Well-turned phrase.

            [i]But if a contribution to a sympathetic politician is bribery, then George Soros would lead a long line to being booked.[/i]

            At least George Soros is a person, presumably with a conscience and a sense of right and wrong beyond the scope of financial self-interest that governs his behavior, presumably in possession of inalienable rights conferred on him by his Creator and presumably not a certifiable sociopath.

            Can any corporation make the same claim to legitimacy? I think not. Psychologists have applied DSM-IV analyses to corporate behavior and it turns out if corporations were people they wouldn't be anyone you'd want to know.



            :)
            none none
    • Why do stores prosecute shop lifters?

      I mean someone goes into WalMart, buys two things, steals one. Guess what? Yeah, they get prosecuted when caught, even though they are "customers".
      No_Ax_to_Grind