Home > Entertainment, RIAA & Piracy > There Are Revenues, and Then There’s Going Too Far

There Are Revenues, and Then There’s Going Too Far

September 18th, 2009

After years of consumers paying waaaay too much and most often being forced to buy more music than they wanted, prices have finally fallen to a much more reasonable level, the 99-cent price set by Apple’s iTunes Store. It’s the way it should be: most songs are available by themselves, producers can force album-only sales if they absolutely feel they need to, and now album extras harken back to the days of the LP and attract buyers to the album paradigm–if they want it.

In the meantime, the recording studios have been trying their hardest to suck whatever money can be had from the consumer. From using extortion to force $3000 “settlements” from accused downloaders, to lobbying for and getting governments to force CD-R makers to charge a premium so that the tax can be put directly into the music industry’s pockets, charging consumers for a crime that most of them have not committed–and still leaving them liable to be sued anyway. And the laws the RIAA lobbied for allow for up to a $150,000 fine per each $1 song, which of course is a reasonable fee, right? (Some states apply no more than a $50,000 penalty for grand theft.)

After all this, consumers need a break, not more people trying to shake them down. But that’s what’s happening–except this time it from the groups representing the performers. Now, I have sympathy for this group–they tend to get screwed over by the music labels themselves. The problem is, they’re like a kid bullied at school who then picks on the smaller kids who are already bullied half to death: these groups are not demanding more money from the labels, they’re demanding it from the other end, the wrong end of the distribution chain.

What’s more, they’re making the music labels actually look less absurd, by making even more absurd demands themselves.

You know when you visit the iTunes Store and you can preview a song for 30 seconds to check if it’s the one you want? That’s right–these groups want to charge for that.

They also want a piece (or, that is, a bigger piece) of TV shows and movies sold, as they contain music. But they’re not asking for money from the studios, who, after all, are the ones who already pay them and who really control the deal. No, they want retailers like Apple to pay them–a second time. In essence, they didn’t like the deal they got from their immediate employers, so they’re seeing if they can get complete strangers who buy an end product to pay them, directly. (Am I mistaken, or is this not done in any field?)

The representatives pushing for these new charges are making the case that they are paupers, citing paychecks they receive which are literally just a few pennies, or deals where they don’t get paid at all. One can be fairly certain that they are taking the minority of deals where they are screwed over most and leaving out the better-paying deals. But even if they’re not, they’re still doing this bass ackwards. They have no right going to the retailer and demanding money from them. The argument is that they aren’t paid for TV or movie music when those media are sold online. OK, fine–take it up with the studios. Trying to get laws passed that charge iTunes is simply stupid.

Let’s look at an analogy to see exactly how stupid this is. Let’s say that in one of the computer classes I conduct, I teach a student to make a web page. Later that student becomes a web designer. Just like the musicians, my work contributed to the final product. Then I decide that my salary is not high enough. So, is it reasonable for me to go to the place where my former students work and demand a cut of their revenue, or demand that they start charging for views of their web site to pay me? Hell, no. If I want to get paid more, I go to my boss and demand a raise. If I can’t, it’s not incumbent upon my students’ employers to make it up to me.

Let’ stop being stupid, shall we? If laws need to be passed, pass them so that artists get a bigger cut right from the start. I imagine, however, that the reason they’re not trying that is because they know that the RIAA will crush them in the lobbying game. And that’s a shame–but it doesn’t make it OK to then force someone else to pay.

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