Yesterday, in response to why I don’t hate the RIAA, based on an email from one James Carson which suggested the RIAA is some kind of benevolent organisation, “working in the interests of the Music Industry and most professional musicians,” associate editor Fred Wilhelms (right) observed in a comment post: ”
Carson said, “Say what you will about the RIAA, but at least it’s working in the interests of the Music Industry and most professional musicians. I’m damn sure, however, that you won’t be givin [sic] your own stuff away — if indeed you have ever actually produced, anytyhing[sic]”
Mr. Carson, I think you’ve jumped to some rather precarious conclusions, and I think it might be worthwhile for you and I (and everyone else) to examine them to see if they can hold up or not.
You say: “at least it’s working in the interests of the Music Industry” I don’t think that even the RIAA, on its most expansive day, would claim to be working in the interests of “the Music Industry.” RIAA members make recordings. The “Music Industry” is far more than recordings. It is performing. It is broadcasting. It is publishing. The RIAA has nothing valid to say about these things, and no claim of authority to do so.
“And, as far as recordings is concerned, it isn’t the only voice. When you get down to brass tacks, the RIAA essentially represents the interests of the four major labels. If you take a look at the RIAA Board of Directors, you’ll see that almost all of them come from that quartet of labels. What of the rest of the “recording industry” that doesn’t hold RIAA membership? Do you really think the organization represents their interests?
There is no “one size fits all” answer to how to make a living from music, although the RIAA claims to be it. If that were so, what do you make of the existence of the American Association Of Independent Music, an organization purportedly looking out for 270 independent labels? And what do you make of the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of artists who eschew labels entirely and release their own music. Does the RIAA represent their “interests?”
As tenuous as your claim about the RIAA representing the ‘Music Industry,’ there is even less reason to accept your premise that it works for the interests of ‘most professional musicians.’ They SAY they do, but actions speak louder than words. It was the RIAA that, by way of a midnight amendment, slipped language into a telecommunications bill that would have deprived ALL artists of any right to recover the copyrights in their recordings, even the ones that the copyright holding labels wouldn’t release themselves. Was that in the interest of “most professional musicians?” It was the RIAA that pressed for a performance royalty for satellite and Internet music broadcasts, and used musicians as poster children for the lobbying campaign, but then, when the bill was introduced, made damned sure that all the royalty revenue flowed to the labels first. It took a couple congress members who promised to defeat the bill unless the artists were paid half the money independently before the RIAA backed off. Was that in the interest of “most professional musicians?”
“The RIAA’s real primary interest is in keeping afloat the 20th century business model that made their main members rich. That business model is based on having a stranglehold on distribution of recorded music, and copyright is the way they need to maintain that stranglehold. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them having that as a goal. I am sure that if the livery stables and buggy whip makers had the lobbying budget the RIAA has, there might be special lanes for horses on the Interstate system today. The main problem with that goal is that it is beyond the reach of the RIAA members themselves, thanks to technology, which has made control of distribution of recorded music into a moot point, because it can no longer be controlled by the old means.
“Copyright remains, to this day, a powerful weapon in their arsenal. That’s because law, like business models, always lags behind technology. The RIAA spends millions of dollars a year to convince 535 people in Washington DC that the concept of copyright as the basis for business remains viable, despite the mounting evidence, and cratering labels, strongly suggests it no longer fulfills that function very well.
“So the RIAA asks for more protection, for longer protection, for greater penalties for violation of copyright. And Congress generally gives it to them. That’s good for the four main members of the RIAA. Is it good for the larger ‘Music Industry?’ I tend to doubt it, for the simple reason that as long as they can prop up the old system, new systems have less light and air needed for their own growth. And, as long as they can repeat the canard that they are looking out for the interests of artists, there will be people who will believe their ears, and not their eyes. The only ones qualified to look out for artists are the artists themselves. Some may legitimately align themselves with the RIAA, but that hardly makes them “most” of any community of music creators.
Note: As Dave Marsh wrote a while back on his blog CounterPunch , “Fred Wilhelms… would be the [music] industry’s ethicist-in-chief if the industry had ethics. “
Wilhelms is an entertainment attorney based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can contact him at fred.wilhelms @ gmail.com.]
Below are a few of his p2pnet posts:
- Soundexchange ‘green shoot of a dialogue’, December 28, 2009
- SoundExchange and the ‘unpaid pool’, December 23, 2009
- Fred Wilhelms to Dick Huey - November 18, 2009
- Dick Huey to Fred Wilhelms - November 17, 2009
- Wilhelms, Huey, SoundExchange exchange - October 19, 2009
- Dear Dick Huey - October 8, 2009
- Has SE’s Dick Huey gone missing? – July 12, 2007
- SoundExchange’s Huey to Wilhelms – July 5, 2007
- SoundExchange’s Huey v Fred Wilhelms – July 3, 2007
- SoundExchange: making up numbers – June 28, 2007
He agreed to take on the task on associate editor a lthough he’s seriously ill from pancreatic cancer.