Friday, October 5, 2007

The Internet helps RIAA squeeze profits

Internet technology has made it easier to track sharing of copyrighted content, and music labels and the powerful Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are making the most if it to clamp down, no drive to bankruptcy, individuals who are only following an age-old tradition of sharing.

Jammie Thomas, a Native American from Minnesota, has to pay whopping fine of US$220,000 to record companies for offering songs online through a Kazaa file-sharing network. The sum is equivalent to about five times her annual salary, and will surely drive her bankrupt, according to a report in The Times of London.

Jammie’s first mistake was that she thought that the world was still a place where people shared nice things, without monetary gain. Her other mistake was to take on RIAA and the powerful music labels, who get away with their usurious prices on music.

RIAA will certainly argue that you have to pay for the music whatever the rates, or compose your own music, because they have the copyright laws behind them. Besides, sharing is no longer fair use because RIAA and company can now track you down on the Internet, and make money from you.

If you buy a print magazine and pass it around to your office colleagues, and your neighbors, nobody can do anything about it. But once you go on the Internet and download a digital edition of the magazine, the company that manages the downloads, evidently in agreement with the publishers, allows you one download, and maybe even allows you to give a friend a free copy. But any distribution beyond the set limit attracts digital rights management (DRM) and the weight of copyright law.

By the same token, iTunes from Apple Inc. allows you to rip CDs and burn new ones, but digital music downloads from its online store attract a whole lot of restrictions, including what player you can use to play the music. Now that is double standards !

Technology has made it possible for music companies, publishing houses, and other content providers to put more restrictions on consumers, and make them enforceable.

If I buy a CD, I can rip it using iTunes or any other media player software, and burn scores of CDs from it. Ordinary people don’t usually do it. They may at the most pass the CD to a friend to listen or burn a copy to give to that friend. That is part of a culture of sharing and fair use.

Note that is not an argument against copyright. It is an argument to support a culture of sharing and fair use on copyright, that has been around for decades. We share recipes, we share an interesting poem, or a touching prayer as well. We sometimes record a nice song playing on the radio. Do you really want me to call up the radio station, and submit a lengthy form to take permission to record the song ?

Today if I download a file from audio books downloading site, the file that is downloaded has my name on it. My use of the downloaded audio book can be tracked, as also my alleged misuse.

As the terms for purchase of music, books, and content are far more liberal offline than online, maybe many of us will now go back to hassle-free consumption of offline content like CDs, print books and newspapers, and even DVDs. The controls on the Internet are just too many.

Or maybe I will buy at online stores that sell non-DRM content. They are offering non-DRM content because they see the writing on the wall, because they recognize that many like me are decent folks, because they recognize that sharing is social glue which the money-grabbing barbarians can never understand.

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