Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

I don't know if this will make all of the illegal file sharers out there lose a little sleep at night, but the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) just successfully sued 25 year-old Joel Tenenbaum for copyright infringement for 30 songs he had "shared" through Kazaa back in 2003. Tenenbaum is being fined $675,000 (that's $22,500 per song!).

According to the Guardian (UK), he is the second person in the US to be found guilty of illegal file sharing of music: Jammie Thomas-Rasset had "shared" 24 songs via Kazaa, was found guilty of copyright infringement, and was ordered to pay a total of $1.92 million! (Yo! She could have bought a whole mess of CDs with that amount of cash! At the major label price of $19 per CD, that's about 101,053 albums!)

Obviously none of this is going to repair the apparent sucker-punch death blow that illegal file sharing, piracy, stealing, whatever you want to call it, has delivered to the music industry as we've known it over the past few decades. Having said that, it is a significant victory for copyright owners, whether they are your favorite ska band, a beloved indie label, one of the last megastar rock acts left standing, or a sleazy major. (I'm not going to be popular in certain circles for saying this, but I hope that these court cases emboldens other copyright owners to go after more file sharers and the sites that enable all of this to happen.) Whenever a successful new model for selling and distributing recorded music emerges--one that allows musicians to be reasonably paid for their work (and we're certainly not there yet--iTunes is not the ultimate answer)--it is vital that copyright owners' rights are respected and enforced (I've written somewhat extensively on why illegal file sharing is wrong and how it is killing recorded music, etc. here, here and here).

Like it or not, bands and labels need to be paid for their product in order for them to continue being bands and labels (all the ska musicians I've talked to about file sharing are really pissed about it). So if music fans want to continue to be able to acquire their favorite band's song or album to listen to on their iPods or stereos whenever they want, they're going to have to pony up some cash up front--because (and I'm sorry to go somewhat Old Testament on you here) a day of reckoning is on the horizon and we're all going to have to suffer for the file sharers' sins.


Dan said...

On this point, I'll respect any "pissed off ska musician" who's never ever even done a mix tape in his life...

On the other hand, being a musician myself, the two or three indie labels I have dealt with have fucked me alright, and not precisely because they were filesharing... I have a little trouble seeing them as victims of anything.

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Dan. The music business, whether on the indie or major label level, is pretty sleazy, I'll give you that. I've seen all sorts of rip-offs, betrayals, and dirty-dealing on the part of labels, bands, distributors, club owners, you name it.

Having said that, there are bands and labels that are trying to do the right thing (they are few and far-between, but they do exist).

The best defense is a good offense--everyone should make sure to secure the services of a good lawyer to go over any agreements/contracts and be crystal clear about each party's obligations and expectations up front, so there are no misunderstandings and surprises later on.