The time has come to drag the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) kicking and screaming into the 21st century because it clearly has a lot to learn about marketing on the internet. The RIAA had a good news/bad news announcement on Friday.

The good news was that it would stop persecuting, er I mean prosecuting, individual file sharers, a strategy that to me was just foolish in the first place. The bad news is it has hooked up with ISPs to form a corporate file sharing police force, which could potentially deny internet access without due process to users it labels as illegal file sharers. That's not power I want to put in the hands of ISPs and the RIAA, and it doesn't deal with the real problem, that the RIAA still doesn't understand how to use the internet to conduct business.

It's Coming Around Again

This is not a new problem. When radio came along in the 1920s, the recording industry worried that people would never buy records again when they could hear the music for free on the radio. As it turned out, the radio worked to drive sales, not diminish them. The recording industry formed ASCAP and BMI to help protect artist copyrights and it all worked out for the next 70 years or so until the internet came along and we had another problem.

Instead of looking at the internet as an opportunity, the recording industry immediately saw it as a threat. If people could download music for free, why would they buy it. Sounds familiar doesn't it? But unlike the 1920s where the parties eventually forged a compromise, we are more than 10 years down the road from Napster and the RIAA is still crying about copyright violations. Instead of embracing the internet, they continue to cling to their 20th century notions and fight it tooth and nail.

Want Proof?

EMI just announced last week it was launching a Beta web site to showcase its artists and eventually sell merchandise and music through the site. This is something they should have done long ago, but to its credit, at least EMI is getting into the game.

David Meerman Scott, who has written extensively about viral marketing on the internet, cites another stunning example in his Open Letter to Warner Music Group in a February, 2008 EContent Magazine column. Scott objected to the fact that WMG lawyers issued a take-down notice for grainy cell phone videos of the December, 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion concert. Instead of letting the low quality videos drive interest in the band, and quite possibly increase sales, the lawyers cried copyright foul and had the videos taken down.

Courts or Corporations?

Now we have the latest RIAA internet strategy, and the new approach is more troubling to me than the individual prosecutions strategy. Instead of having judges (even judges who have little understanding of the internet), make decisions about copyright right and wrong, we are giving large corporations the power to decide, and in the process, control internet access, take it away if they don't like the way you use it (according their ill-defined rules) and then black list you so that you have trouble getting another provider.

I'm not an attorney, but it doesn't take one to figure out that without legal backing, this strategy is vulnerable to abuse and mistakes, and once the powers that be decide you're an illegal file sharer, what avenue will you have to fight this or get your connection back outside of a costly legal battle?

The RIAA needs to stop looking at the internet as an enemy to be stopped and understand that the days of total control over your market and your product are over, that if you give up a little power and let your artists' fans drive interest (as only rabid fans can in the internet age), the sales will follow. It may never be like the hey day of the 1970s and 80s again, but there are opportunities aplenty, if the RIAA would just give up this fight and turn its resources to proven internet marketing techniques.

Your statement, "The recording industry formed ASCAP and BMI to help protect artist copyrights..." is not true ... the recording industry did not form ASCAP or BMI. ASCAP and BMI have nothing to do with the welfare of recording artists. The members of ASCAP and BMI are songwriters and music publishers ... most of whom are NOT recording artists...

This lack of understanding as to how anything works in the music industry permeates your article. You appear to be basing your comments on faulty information passed around the blogis-'fear' for years. You're simply out of touch.

In fact, the recording industry - as well those of us on the songwriting side of copyright - have been working diligently, tirelessly - and at great expense - to provide consumer and creator friendly ways music can be delivered to fans in the way fans can enjoy it and creators can get paid. We're not there yet but are very close.

What won't be - and can't be - tolerated is people taking our music from public services that have not sought and have not been granted the right to distribute our music to the public.

There are now many legal ways to obtain music for free or at very reasonable prices... and more options are coming on line every day.

You really need a crash course in the music business, but, more importantly, in reality ... Embrace change yourself and stop amplifying ignorance!

Thanks for your comment. It's good to get some push back. To answer your critique: First of all, I don't condone music stealing, but I think there are many better ways to handle this than the RIAA has done over the years. By taking steps such as ordering cell phone videos of a concert off of YouTube shows a distinct lack of understanding of how the internet marketing business works. Those videos don't have an impact on the artist's (and any other interest parties) bottom line any more than when I hear Whole Lotta Love on the Radio. I may hear it and think I want to buy that song. It acts as a stimulus to business, not a deterrent.

As for ASCAP and BMI, I understand they pay songwriters and publishers, but that's often the artists themselves. This isn't 1960 where you have Tin Pan Alley song writers selling their wares to singers. Today many artists (and bands) write their own material, so while I might have generalized I'm not ignorant of the process.

Finally, the industry may be working at this, but it still doesn't get it, and when its very visible association continues to pull stunts like these, it only makes the industry look old and slow of foot.

While I understand your frustration, don't shoot the messenger. You need to take a long look at your industry and see why sales continue to plummet. Song stealing is a small part of it, and what the RIAA suggested on Friday, could cast a wide net over legitimate P2P traffic and cause a lot of headaches for a lot of people.

It's time to take bold moves, to understand how viral marketing and word of mouth works on the internet. I'll be happy when I hear the RIAA is encouraging memberst to to sell songs and merchandise in today's world, not last century's, and when they do, I will happy to write about that too.

Let's start with a quick clarification regarding copyright...

One provision of the copyright law covers the recording of a song ... another covers the song itself. The owners of the recording and the owners of the songs are entitled to separate payments. Each owner could sue those who illegally distribute recordings and each could receive separate amounts in damages. That could amount to a max payment of $150,000 per infringement per rights owner or a total of $300,000. per infringement.

While the owners of recordings have sued consumers, the owners of songs have not.

While it is true that from the 60's on, many artists were signed to labels because the could write great songs as well as sing, that doesn't belie the fact that they are entitled to be paid separately as artists and as songwriters.

Regarding the Internet, your artist/writer example really is old school thinking ... because of the so called Long Tail and the fact that practically everything from the dawn of the age of recording is available, a majority of the songs used on the recordings that are illegally downloaded are not written by the performer. The songwriters, who are on the lowest wrung of the royalty ladder, deserve to be paid.

As for phone videos of concerts used on YouTube, the owners of songs are entitled to a fee for each play ... just as they are for plays on radio and television. YouTube is drawing customers by using our songs. Google, YouTubes owner's is making millions from ad sales around the use of our songs .. They aren't paying us ... we're suing them

As for the RIAA's "Stunts" you have to keep a few of things in mind ... 1. When you follow the rule of law, the wheels of justice grind much more slowly than if you say, "Damn the law and full speed ahead." That's, of course, what Napster and their offspring did when they set their users up as the illegal distributors of copyrighted works. 2. Most early users of P2P had never heard of copyright, let alone copyright infringement ... There had to be a way to let them know they were breaking the law. Suits ensued. Now they now know. 3. One by one, as the wheels of justice slowly turn, many of the illegal P2P's have been shut down with great fanfare ... so, it is exceedingly clear that those who continue to download from illegal sources know they are breaking the law and are hardcore infringers... 4. ISPs understand that the existence of legal sources of music - where the creators get paid - will encourage the continued creation of new music that will continue to draw customers the their services ... As with radio, without the continuing influx of music that excites a mass audience their services, which depend a great deal on quality music, will stagnate. ISPs therefore, now understand that they have a great incentive (including financial participation) to make hardcore infringers uncomfortable.

As you can see, things are evolving. As with every major upheaval lawful progress takes time. It's only been 10 years since Napster ... The entertainment industry ... and consumers have made great progress as each struggles to understand the other's needs.

As for understanding viral marketing ... the industry gets it ... why do you think so many of the new artists that are stepping out on the Net are associated in one way or the other with what many call ‘traditional' entertainment companies ... That's because viral marking on the Internet, which the ‘trads' have become very good at, is only a piece of a marking strategy ... and, not the most important piece.

Most ‘traditional' entertainment companies have large departments dealing with the Net and have the money to tie everything together to provide a greater chance for the artists they represent.

Instead of continuing to believe that ‘traditional' entertainment companies have had their heads up their asses since Napster .. you really need to spend the time to research the deals that are being made ... the technologies that are being encouraged and/or supported and the amazing amount of progress we've seen in the last few years given how long it takes to build a legal framework that must be mindful of the millions of contracts that exist as well as allowing for the fact that music is no longer trapped within hard goods.

That being said, there are all sorts of new players in this business ... I've never seen anything like it... Somebody could open up tomorrow, blow iTunes away and set the standard for our digital future ... or, more likely, we could continue to evolve as we are today ...

The main thing to remember is those who create the music must not be put out of business by those who refuse to allow them to make a living by willfully refusing to pay them for what they create.

I'll defer to you on copyright law when it comes to who owns what, but when it comes to those videos on YouTube, this is exactly the kind of backward thinking I'm talking about.

Sure, those videos technically are a violation of copyright law, but if you look it at that way, you completely miss the entire concept of viral marketing. No you aren't getting paid, but you will make your money indirectly and that's the key to understanding how YouTube can drive sales. If all you do is look at strict adherence to copyright law, you aren't going to get anywhere. Sure, you are technically in the right, but there are lots of people who get that this type of promotion primes the sales pump.

I also get that people are using MySpace and other venues to sell themselves as musicians and recording companies are finding new artists there. As usual, it's the musicians who lead the way and the record companies found them there and have begun copying their successful techniques.

But just as you have done that with this type of marketing, you have to understand the value of those types of YouTube videos. It's not about being paid for these things, it's about driving interest and interest drives sales.

What is happening and is what will continue to happen unless you fast forward to 2009 is that record companies will become increasingly irrelevant. Musicians don't need you to sell their music anymore because they actually get this stuff that you continue to run and hide from.

You can continue to thrash at P2P (much of which has become legitimate traffic over the last couple of years) and bitch and moan about lost unit sales, but so long as you continue to sue potential customers (or worse cut off their internet access), you have no one to blame but yourselves because you really completely fail to grasp the new business paradigm.

One other quick point, Google has actually only experimented with using ads on YouTube to this point. So while Google has invested more than a billion dollars buying YouTube, they are not making big bucks displaying ads along side the video.

See this post for more info:

You say the music industry doesn't grasp the 'new business paradigm' and that "it's time to take bold moves" ... you sound a little stuck in 2005 P2P rhetoric ...

The industry is experimenting with all sorts of new business models and have made many bold moves ... They are embracing new technologies as they come along and are licensing their rights to many of them who request licenses.

They've even licensed their rights to certain P2P services who understand that rights owners need to be paid and are willing to create tracking and royalty paying technologies to make that happen.

But, maybe you have some better ideas. Why not let us all know what they are so consumers will be better served.

All I ask is that rather than speaking in tired generalities, that you shape your thoughts around sound business practices taking into consideration all of the music that exists and all of the music that will come in the future ... and remembering that songwriter's issues differ from artist issues and that consumers and creators have to be satisfied with the plan to insure that there will be an abundance of desirable music going forward.

You say the music industry doesn't grasp the 'new business paradigm' and that "it's time to take bold moves" ... you sound a little stuck in 2005 P2P rhetoric ...

The industry is experimenting with all sorts of new business models and have made many bold moves ... They are embracing new technologies as they come along and are licensing their rights to many of them who request licenses.

They've even licensed their rights to certain P2P services who understand that rights owners need to be paid and are willing to create tracking and royalty paying technologies to make that happen.

But, maybe you have some better ideas. Why not let us all know what they are so consumers will be better served.

All I ask is that rather than speaking in tired generalities, that you shape your thoughts around sound business practices taking into consideration all of the music that exists and all of the music that will come in the future ... and remembering that songwriter's issues differ from artist issues and that consumers and creators have to be satisfied with the plan to insure that there will be an abundance of desirable music going forward.

First of all this has nothing to do with P2P. P2P is a delivery mechanism and nothing more. It works well for delivering large files over the internet less expensively than using Content Delivery Network (CDNs). P2P has been used by illegal file sharers, but it's also a legitimate business tool used by many media companies today to deliver their content to paying customers.

What I'm talking about is changing your attitude about the internet, to see it as outlet to market your artists for far less money and far more successfully than you have been (and to change ideas like YouTube is your enemy and see it as marketing and sales tool you can use to your advantage).

If you want to learn more I suggest you visit these web sites and check out the books, download the free eBooks and learn all you can:

David Meerman Scott's Blog:

Then go to Seth Godin's Blog:

Finally go to Chris Brogan's Blog:

Listen to what these three guys are saying, talk to them, learn from them. They can take you where I'm talking about and they can explain it better than I ever could. If you're serious, I suggest you do it. These guys can help you. And as I said, if you do that, I will be the first one in line writing about it, applauding your new direction.

When I think of the RIAA, I think of goose-stepping, over-lawyered, over-funded morons who blame their lack of understanding of technology and the lack of talented artists on 15-year old kids and whose purpose is to abuse the law to harrass and intimidate the ordinary average guy. These are not the people who should decide whether Americans, or anyone else, should or should not have Internet access because, in my opinion, they will use such access for their own money-grubbing purposes.

We don't buy as much music as we used to because music today is mostly formulaic rubbish and it doesn't help that there never was--perhaps until the MP3--a good replacement for the 45. I didn't want cassette singles or CD singles or to buy the whole album. I wanted one-and-a-half good songs for a decent price. But, the RIAA's approach to MP3s, as it was with CDs, has been to attack the technology.

You know, I like to listen to good music at home, in my car, on my phone, and on my computer. In the old days, I'd make copies of my records and 45s onto cassettes for use in my car, at school, and so forth. I might even make a couple of copies, one for each car. I still want to do that. And, yes, in 2008 the RIAA is finally loosening up a little to MP3s--what did the RIAA stooge complain about, a "2005 p2p attitude"? Well, consider how long MP3s have been around without the RIAA using the technology for benefit? And, I remember the RIAA/Sony (they're all the same, aren't they) taking down Beatallica's parodies, or suing the guys who figured out that black magic marker applied to the edge of a CD disabled the copy protection. And when has the RIAA come to our aid? Well, certainly not when record industry companies were ILLEGALLY installing rootkits and unwanted software onto our PCs from audio CDs.

Given the track record of the RIAA, there's little to nothing they can do to change my perception of them and I don't want them coercing ISPs to drop customers or in any way interfering with Web access. The RIAA has been abusively doing things wrong for so long now, that I see no way back from the furthest reaches of Hell for these guys. Mentally, I group the RIAA in the same lot as sex criminals.

BTW, I'm not RENTING your music, I'm BUYING it. Also, the music my daugher buys--Brittany Aguilera, whatev--seems DEFECTIVE. I want my cash back!

So, that's an opinion, feel free to disagree or to agree less passionately. Off to listen to "The Last DJ" (r)(tm)(c)(sm)(pqrst)(owned by somebody else) ....

The proof is in the pudding (to use an old cliche) - a majority of the artists at the top of every internet chart that measures popularity are those involved in one way of the other with the organized entertainment industry ... They get the concepts the bloggers you suggest are talking about ... more importantly, they get the concepts your blogger AREN'T talking about. They get the WHOLE picture - they understand the multiple marketing outlets and financial support needed to attract meaningful numbers of fans ...

The internet is not the be all end al - it's now just one additional element to include in a complete marketing strategy.

Ron, they get it!

Thanks for the great post, Seawrx. You point out a lot of the other issues, beyond the lack of understanding of the internet, that the average consumer has with RIAA techniques. Thanks again for your post.

seawrx - Just so you know, I am not an RIAA stooge ... I'm a songwriter ... Songwriters are not associated with the RIAA. The RIAA is a trade association that represents record companies. Record companies release recordings of the songs we write ... Occasionally we have differences with the record companies mostly to do with what and how they pay us. Those differences are always worked out in a legally based, business like way.

All we ask is that the digital distributors deal with us in the same manner.

By the way, we have never sued a consumer ...

As to the quality of today's music ... That determination is so uniquely personal that anyone making a statement such as "today's music is ‘rubbish'" is only talking to himself ... therefore, the comment is irrelevant to any conversation relating to how music is promoted, distributed and more importantly paid for.

Well, thank you for responding.

Firstly, regarding RIAA suits ... try Google. I appreciate that paper research material might better suit the RIAA approach, but I don't have such a library handy.

For example, search using "riaa suit" gave me the following first hit.

Secondly, about your dismissal of my comment about the quality of today's music: yes, it's personal. It's perception. What you need to understand is that this is my point. RIAA bemoans the fact that sales are not what they once were, and blames piracy. However, there is likely another culprit: rubbish music. In any event, if you read my post, my intention was to talk about perception.

And, when it comes to perception, I disagree with you and assert that perception--including perception of music quality--is an important ingredient in discussing "how music is promoted, distributed and more importantly paid for."

I do respect your personal right to think today's music is the best thing since sliced cheese, and indeed, "cheese" is a word that features in my opinion, as well.

"There was no use in pretending
No magic left to hear
All the music gave me
Was a craving for lite beer" (Petty)

Never made a comment about my taste in music ... It would be as irrelevant as yours.

Market forces (ie kids) usually dictate what is currently popular. Throughout history those of us who aren't kids usually don't like what's popular ... Kids enjoy outraging us regarding their choice of music - it's their first taste of freedom.

That's interesting. You see, my taste in music determines what and how much I buy and to a lesser degree what my kids and my wife buy, so it is "relevant." Agreed about the generational thing--today's Green Day is not the "Dookie" Green Day I enjoyed, and I see less of the dramatic and colorful punk influence that my parents had to cope with, though Goth seems to be a morphed headbanger-type scene (where's my bovva boots?). Nevertheless, this thread is about RIAA, right? I've offered my perceptions on the RIAA to counter your defense of them. Take these as designed for what they are worth.

Musical taste aside, no matter who it is, a classic rock act like Led Zeppelin or today's Top 40 phenom or an unknown kid trying to establish herself, it all comes down to using the internet to your advantage.

Suing and prosecuting potential customers instead of finding a way to turn them into customers just alienates everyone. Whether you are an RIAA spokesperson or just someone who spends his days defending them, this is the key point of my discussion. The internet is not your enemy. Embrace it and watch your career take off.

Never defended the RIAA. I only defended the creator's rights to get paid.

I don't think anything I've written suggests I don't support a song writer's right to be paid. On the contrary, I think you should be paid whatever your talent supports, but the RIAA's tactics are not helping you if that's what you think.

Techwriter10: "The internet is not your enemy. Embrace it and watch your career take off."

Define "take off." Examples, please ... Don't include artists previously branded by the entertainment industry (Radiohead Grateful Dead) or new artists who have sold out to the entertainment industry

We're going around in circles here, but just scroll down and check out the web sites I recommended earlier. It applies to musicians and anyone else. Do some research. I believe in these techniques.

It's been fun, Ron ... see you around.

Thanks, I enjoyed the debate too. One last thing: If you can, listen to Lawrence Lessig discussing his new book Remix on Fresh Air. He discusses and articulates a lot of things I've been talking about from a copyright, rather than a marketing perspective, which I suspect will interest you.

One point he makes is that there are more musicians now making money than there were at the dawn of the web in 1995. That's certainly something to think about in this discussion.

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