The RIAA, music and you

By Chase Straight, Red Pulse Contributor

Pirates are everywhere. They lurk in the dorms, basements and coffee shops. They look just like you and me, and they are making the music world a better place to be. Illegally downloading music is changing the way the music industry and musicians work, giving consumers better choices and giving lesser-known artists a chance to spread their art, as well as help established artists gain a larger fan base. Despite the desperate attempts of the Recording Industry Association of America to snuff out the practice, music pirating is an institution that is not going to go away.

The RIAA mainly targets universities and their students in its efforts to prosecute pirates. The RIAA files complaints daily with the U in regard to students downloading copyrighted material. The complaints are so frequent that, in order to protect itself, the U has taken on the cause of the music industry, threatening to sue, expel or at least revoke the Internet privileges of any student with a complaint filed against them.

The music industry operates like a hyena, going after the sick and wounded for an easy kill. In 2003, a 12-year-old girl living in a housing project in the Bronx was forced to pay $2000 after an RIAA suit was filed against her. Last year, a Minnesota mother of two was forced to pay $220,000 for copyright infringement after downloading 24 songs. These represent only a small handful of the roughly 20,000 lawsuits filed in the last four years. The RIAA is doing everything it can to take down these malicious music pirates, and it’s only a matter of time before they start taking serious action against our very own students.

The state of music today almost requires any musically-inclined student or serious audiophile to download their music through peer-to-peer network sharing or via torrents. The amount of music available today dwarfs the output of yesteryear. It used to be the case that only bands picked up by major record labels could see any kind of radio circulation or developing fan base. In the age of the Internet however, anyone can throw together a tune on Garageband and slang their music online.

Even the genres of music have expanded. What once was limited to generic types like rock or pop, is now an ever-expanding base of musical niches that range from Ghettotech to Happy Hardcore. It’s impossible to truly explore the plethora of music available to our generation without downloading them for free. A couple of tracks available on MySpace do not truly represent an artist’s repertoire, and 30-second previews on iTunes just don’t cut it.

Music piracy is a direct artistic assault on the record companies. They are finding it harder to pass off heaping piles of dung as substitutes for real music because consumers found themselves with the keys to a whole bank vault of musical tastes. Artists make roughly 2 to 10 cents per album sold, with the record company taking home the majority of the profit. An artist is much more likely to pick up a fan who doesn’t have to shell out twenty bucks for their album, and in turn, that fan will go to their concerts and pay for their merchandise8212;money of which artists usually get a full or at least majority cut.

A number of notable artists including Madonna and Radiohead have left their record labels to release their music themselves. Radiohead even gave away their newest album In Rainbows for free, with the option of donating whatever seemed to be a fair price. According to comScore, an online survey group, approximately 2 out of 5 of those who downloaded paid for the album, and the band earned roughly $2.26 per album8212;loads more than they would have made signed to a label.

Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame, has also been a vocal opponent of the record label’s dirty business. In a recent YouTube video from a concert in Sydney, Australia, he is seen lambasting record labels and telling fans to steal their music.

“Has anyone seen the price come down? OK, well, you know what that means8212;steal it. Steal away. Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin’. Because one way or another these mother****ers will get it through their head that they’re ripping people off and that’s not right,” Reznor said.

As music piracy becomes a broad-based institution, we find ourselves at war not with the musicians, but the fat-bellied greedheads who are trying make a profit off of someone else’s talent. In an age where our musical options are almost limitless, students owe it to themselves and to artists to experience as much music as possible. The only way to do this is through illegal downloads, because no one can afford a $20 per CD music collection. Use applications like Limewire or bit torrents to find new music. But hold up your end of the bargain; go to the concerts and buy the T-shirt. It’s the only way for fans to truly support artists and create a real music community.

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