A Songwriter’s Take on the RIAA

riaaIf we didn’t already have enough reasons to hate the RIAA, now it seems that priority-challenged organization is trying to get the FCC to impose copy-protection standards on digital radio. Could there be a more anti-consumer organization in the world? The most irritating thing is that this is an organization that claims to be protecting me.

As a songwriter with numerous songs on commercial records, I actually make a little money in performance royalties. Both I and Err Bear Music, my publishing company, are affiliated with BMI. BMI collects royalties (in this case royalties from radio stations, as opposed to royalties from record sales which are collected by a different agency) and distributes them to songwriters and publishing companies. Every quarter, BMI sends me a little money and a statement showing which of my songs are earning royalties. I’m all for royalties, I just don’t think pissing off the entire world is going to increase my royalties.

As people who make and sell music, we should be more consumer-friendly. Instead, the RIAA makes us look like greedy, paranoid luddites. People have been recording songs off the radio for decades. I did it when I was a kid. I didn’t turn into a song stealing music thief. What I did turn into is a music fan who has bought thousands of CDs, not to mention hundreds of LPs, 8-tracks and cassettes, many of which were bought again on CD.

Copy protection won’t stop a criminal from making copies of a CD any more than gun control will stop violence. It may be harder to copy songs with DRM restrictions, but it can, is and will be done. If someone wants to make and sell illegal copies of a CD, he or she is always going to be able to figure out how to do it- there will always be technology to defeat technology. Heck, I personally know of several album reissues that were done by “needle drop” (i.e., making a second generation master from an ordinary copy of an LP). The people who will be frustrated by these ridiculous limitations are the honest kids who would otherwise grow up to buy thousands of records, just like I did.

Fortunately the EFF is rising to the challenge of bashing the RIAA for this idiocy. The EFF’s comments make good and logical reading. Dwight Silverman reports that even Steve Jobs is calling the RIAA greedy. The more people that call out the RIAA on this sort of thing, the better chance reason has of prevailing.

The RIAA tries to act like it’s looking out for songwriters and performers, but the only group the RIAA is truly interested in is the record label cartel which thinks it can stuff the cat back in the bag and bring people back to the record stores to buy CDs for $15 that cost a dollar or less to produce. That, my friends, is the real agenda. It’s not about my rights or those of any other songwriter or performer.

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