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Still Way Too Much

July 26th, 2010

A person enters a store and shoplifts 3 music CDs worth about $10 each.

The person is caught. As a result, that person is forced to pay $67,500 in damages.

Doesn’t exactly sound right, does it? And yet, the RIAA thinks that’s not even close to enough–they want 10 times that amount, or $675,000, over two-thirds of a million dollars.

Why the excess? Because it was file sharing, not just simple theft. Therefore, any one person guilty of sharing files is also responsible for–apparently–some 22,500 other people also downloading each of the files.

So let’s try another analogy. I come up with a great recipe for gazpacho, and put the recipe in a book. Someone copies that recipe and sends it to thousands of people for free, ruining my book sales. I can sue them for all the lost revenue, right? Sure–but that’s not the analogy here. The RIAA is not trying to sue the person who originally made the copy and released it, but one of the people in the chain that passed it along. Seeing as how this person was one of thousands to receive and share the recipe, can I truly sue them for the lion’s share of the damages? That’s far more questionable–especially when removing that one person from the chain would have made absolutely no difference whatsoever in how far the copyright violation was spread.

One cannot say that downloading a song without paying for it is a legal or even ethically excusable act. However, there is a law–I think it’s actually a constitutional amendment–about “excessive fines.” And $22,500 for being a small link in a big chain of sharing a $1 commodity is about as excessive as one can imagine.

The courts agree, and so far more than one judge has cut that penalty down to $2,250 per song–which is still far too excessive. The legal minimum is $750 per song, which is also still too excessive–but then we have to realize that it was the industry that wrote that legislation, paying some paltry bribes to politicians to make it the law of the land.

Which is the greater crime here. But nobody’s getting sued for that, unfortunately.

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  1. Tim Kane
    July 26th, 2010 at 11:25 | #1

    What if the person got the media from the public library?

    Should the library be liable?

    The fact is, the change in technology has made the old business models obsolete.

    Music industry isn’t the only one affected by this. If you owned stock in a Newspaper company, it might now be worthless. Media companies all struggle with ways of capturing revenue on the internet. Google, was a big early winner in this struggle. The point is the business models have to change.

    I think for the artist this is simple. Their big revenue will have to come from live performances. I think a smart songwriter/musician ought to team up with a good story telling script writer and try to merge their work into musicals. Musicals can lead to lots of paid performances where their is a revenue stream that can be tapped into. The song writer can then make some money on the official media (broadcasts), some money from the musical performances, and some money doing their own performance concerts.

    This of course leaves the publishers of media still searching for a new business model. They can still get money from broadcasts, as they do now, but there’s no way they can get the kind of money they used to get. The value added that they provided, putting performances on a distributable media, has plummeted. There’s still value there. But like the old gray mare, it ain’t what it used to be. Dems is da facts.

  2. Troy
    July 26th, 2010 at 12:10 | #2

    I think for the artist this is simple. Their big revenue will have to come from live performances.

    That’s easy for you to say.

    Some of my favorite J-Pop artists — Kaori Okui from Princess Princess, Miwa Yoshida from Dreams Come True, and Kaori Mochida from ELT — basically blew out their voices by touring too much.

    Your way works great for flash-in-the-pan groups groups that rotate out their members every 3 years.

    What about authors? Are they supposed to go on reading tours to make a living? Murakami just released a new ebook for the iPad, is his new work fair game now too?

    Borrowing media from friends or a library and copying it is different because the effects on the industry is different.

    Peer-to-peer has 1000X the speed and also has the instant network effect where one uploader can feed 100 downloaders, compared to physical copying. In one hour one person can copy one CD from the library, but in just 10 minutes 1 seed can expand to a billion downloads.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no angel in this area, I’ve got GBs of Japanese music DLed from the internet. But RIAA’s aggressive actions have kept me on the straight & narrow WRT DLs of their protected content.

    The point of these damages are to prevent people from even thinking of mass-sharing popular music since it is just too easy to do so.

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