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.
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.