Saturday, January 24, 2004

HOWEVER YOU LOOK AT IT, THIS MAKES THE RIAA LOOK STUPID. ER.: It won't bother the RIAA, of course, because they seem not to have noticed that virtually the whole world holds them in a kind of shocked contempt already, but Pepsi's signing-up of some of the teenagers who have been sued by the American music industry for their superbowl ads promoting the iTunes freebie tie-up is another, high profile, chip away at the organisation's dignity and makes the RIAA seem even more petty than it did before. Of course, Pepsi make the nosies about how it's all in good fun, but it's clear they've decided the outlaws are the cooler side to be allying themselves with on this debate. And the fees they're paying will help wipe out the grotesque cash demands laid at the kid's doors by the RIAA - which means the message is: downloading music and taking on the Man? It makes you a bit of a hero, and you won't even end up out of pocket.

But just because a policy is unpopular and doesn't work doesn't mean that you should stop using it; indeed, it just makes it all the more likely that things will be ratcheted up. So it is, the general counsel of the IFPI [Interpol to the RIAA's FBI] is trotting round saying the lawsuits will be flying worldwide this year. Curiously for a man who works in the music industry, he seems not to have read many reports about the lawsuits, claiming "We are not talking about people who are downloading two files over their computer. All the people that were sued in the US are people that have opened their computer and are offering to millions of their closest friends substantial numbers of music files for distribution." Oh yes? Brianna LaHara had a "substantial number of music files", did she? Wasn't it about six? And the grandmother who didn't even have a filesharing network on her computer - how does she actually fit this reassuring profile?

Oh, and the description of the RIAA isn't total whimsy, of course - even leaving aside the claims that their grunts have been tricking themselves up like they were law enforcement officers rather than goons hired by a body with no more legal basis than the Little Rissington Traders Association, there's growing evidence that the Music Industry wants to be seen less as a cultural institution, more as one of the emergency services. They've now got the go-ahead to slap the FBI logo on the backs of CDs - and perhaps to even make it appear on-screen when a CD is slipped into a computer. Yeah, that'll work - after all, nobody's double-banked VCRs and copied movies since they started putting the FBI warning at the front of the tapes, have they? If the RIAA treated their customers with any more contempt, they'd have to have a bloke asking "why do you want that?" at Wal-Mart tills to stop people from buying CDs.

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