Why do Music Labels Want Useless Weapons?

The Torrent Freak blog reveals that, despite the RIAA’s public support of the ill-advised SOPA and PIPA bills last winter, the music industry trade group never actually believed that either piece of legislation would have put a dent in music piracy.

Torrent Freak got its hands on a leaked presentation (PDF) given by RIAA Deputy General Counsel Vicky Sheckler last April. Among the bullet points in Sheckler’s report is the notion that while SOPA and PIPA were “intended to defer [copyright] infringements [by] foreign sites by obligating/encouraging intermediaries to take action,” they were “not likely to have been an effective tool for music.”

The internal report shows that the US music industry has been taking it in the shorts for some time – shipments declined from $12.3 billion in 2005 to just $7 billion last year – but the boogieman isn’t who you think it is.

It turns out that while illegal music sharing is still quite popular among the kids, most of the swapping takes place offline, not on. As the following chart shows, only about one out of six music files is exchanged via a P2P network, while nearly half are traded via a physical hard drive or ripping music purchased by others. Cyberlockers like MegaUpload contribute just 4 percent to that total.

Oh, and there’s a third reason: All that crappy music. Every time my 13 year old turns on the car radio and switches to her favorite station, I am reminded that the only thing the recording industry seems to be good at is churning out the same old s* over and over and over. (My daughter, tired of hearing me rant about that, just turns the music up louder.)

Of course, the realization that Congress can’t help them isn’t stopping the RIAA’s efforts to enlist your ISP in the battle to wipe out all that illegal file swapping that is mostly not happening. They are moving forward with the “Six Strikes” strategy, offering users who swap music or other copyrighted material 5 or 6 warnings before their Internet connections get throttled or cut off.

This essentially turns your ISP into a spy, watching what you do and ratting you out. This is what I pay Time Warner Cable hundreds of dollars a month for? Torrent Freak notes that

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Slide courtesy of Torrent Freak by way of RIAA from the NPD research group.

Part of that can be attributed to the fact that some of the most popular P2P services have been shut down. Part can be attributed to the low cost and easy availability of USB thumb drives. (Seriously, does anyone really trade a hard drive?) I think none of it can be attributed to the RIAA’s spectacularly bungled attempt to intimidate file swappers by suing thousands of them, violating their privacy in the process.

So if you want to blame someone outside the music industry for its demise, you might as well blame mix tapes. (Memo to nerdy males who are reading this: Despite your wicked cool taste in tunes, giving a mix tape to the cheerleader of your dreams will not convince her to attend the prom with you instead of that hunky jock. Didn’t work then, still doesn’t work now. Sorry.)

There are two big reasons why the music industry has been in steady decline, in my humble opinion. One was its abject refusal to read the writing on the wall in the late 1990s and realize that the Internet just killed its distribution model. Had the record companies partnered with Napster in 1999 instead of trying to stamp it out of existence, they might be singing a different tune right now. The subscription model that Napster proposed back then is now standard fare in the industry.

The other reason, perversely, is iTunes. Once people realized they could shell out a buck for the songs they loved instead of $15 to $20 for a CD with the song they loved and a dozen other songs they didn’t love, that was largely game over for album sales.

“the measures that will be imposed by Internet providers are not that scary, there is a worrying backdoor built into the deal which allows the MPAA and RIAA to request personal details of repeat infringers for legal action.”

Next, the RIAA will hire people to stand outside your house and frisk you for thumb drives containing MP3s.

The tactics may change, but the reality remains the same: The RIAA still sucks.

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