Monday, October 08, 2007

The spectrum of an idea, from the RIAA to Radiohead and Lawrence Lessig

In recent days, two things have happened simultaneously, and they represent two important, but ambiguous, developments in a struggle that has been on the radar for quite a while. This is the battle for music distribution, fought between an enterprising public and a defensive, conservative media industry.

First of all, the first RIAA lawsuit to come to trial has been decided, in a far-reaching event that proves that our legal system has no scruples about deciding against individuals in favor of megacorporations. The defendant in question was fined $9,250 per song, for each of 24 songs she made available online that the record companies focused on. For those whose Windows calculators aren't handy, that's $222,000 she has to pay for allowing other people to download things from her computer.

The absurd verdict isn't actually justified by any real-world logic, and all that's left to explain it is the RIAA's emphasis on her as an example. I can't imagine a court that would allow this to happen, nor a legal precedent that would accommodate it. It's the newest in a series of verdicts symptomatic of a neurotic, punitive society, so scared of crime and disorder that it imposes sanctions far exceeding what's called for by the situation in question. Another recent example resulted in a national controversy that's still striking some racial nerves in the CNS of this country.

The other thing I was talking about... the converging happenstance that complicates a simple statement on corporate stupidity... is Radiohead's startling, progressive decision to publish their own new album, coming on September 10, and to offer it for whatever price the buyer wants to pay. This is a powerful statement in opposition to the music industry, showing the world that the corporate machine is no longer the only way to distribute music.

Here we have an obstacle, and we have an answer. When the RIAA and the constipated corporate assholes of America try to strangle the emergent technology that offers a new promise to their medium, they will be met: they will find themselves faced with artists and individuals with an active conscience, a critical consciousness, and the power to wiggle out of a crushing grip.

In my opinion, Radiohead is taking the first step in a journey we all have to undergo. My personal and philosophical arguments with the RIAA have compounded so much that I'm not interested in any form of compliance any longer, whether it's financial, legal, or journalistic. It's time for listeners to strangle those old channels and flood the new ones. When they demand $222,000 from Jammie Thomas, who makes $36,000 a year, to make an example out of a rather trivial offense, the record companies show themselves incapable of reason, and they lose all rights to compromise.

I'm never buying music from an RIAA-based label again. If I want to listen to new music from somebody worth listening to, and they happen to have RIAA distribution, I'll find a friend who has the CD and I'll borrow it. Meanwhile, I'll make a point of purchasing any good music that's being offered independently, or through an alternative label, or via nontraditional distribution scheme.

If anybody else wants to do the same, here are some sites to inspire you and get you moving.

For fighting the powers that be:
Boycott RIAA makes the case against the RIAA
RIAA Watch will tell you if your new CD is sponsoring intellectual terrorism

For getting non-RIAA music:
Radiohead is offering the new album, independent of the system.
Magnatune has some good bands, all licensed for easy distribution

For understanding creative freedom:
Lawrence Lessig is one of the masterminds of the Creative Commons

Free, legal raw material for use in your own work:
The Film Archive has free movie clips whose copyright terms have expired
StockXchange has hundreds of free stock photographs
Flickr supports Creative Commons and reasonable rights for use of images

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