The Song Remains the Same

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.


The big end-of-the-year news report on the record business is the song remains the same. The RIAA, or Recording Industry of America, has finally agreed to abandon its strategy of suing fans that illegally download or share music. They have a Plan B. Plan B is getting the Internet Service Providers, or ISP's to enforce their rights.

After five years of meteoric declines in revenue, with thousands of employees affected in all areas of the record businesses, the industry's big shift in strategy is to go from filing lawsuits against downloaders, to filing objections with ISP's, who then are supposed to file grievances with the consumer. Sounds like the record industry has just created a new bureaucracy and the attorneys who run the RIAA bought themselves another five years of job security.

Are we really moving the ball forward here?

This strategy will never work because it fundamentally does not address the consumers' experience of using the web.

Consumers download and stream as much information as they can get their hands on, and they will continue to do that. There's no way to stop it as the Internet is built to explore. The only way to solve for illegal downloading and peer-to-peer sharing is to embrace the Internet's unique abilities and monetize accordingly.

The illegal downloading solution is actually painfully simple. Create a win-win platform for ISP's to deliver music seamlessly to consumers as part of their internet service. Give consumers the world's music library, free with their Internet. It's not an opt-in; everyone would get the library with their service. Add $3 a month to their Internet bill. That's it; $3 and they'll access every song they'd ever want. Do this and you've eliminated illegal downloading, piracy, sheriffs, bad guys; and everyone who should get paid, does.

The RIAA's new solution simply transfers the job of sheriff from the RIAA to the ISP. Just how long and how much time do you think ISP's will spend chasing their own customers?

We have to accept the fact that the Internet provides “seemingly free” media, and that sharing it is an important part of the web experience. The question should not be how to stop illegal downloading, but rather how to create an economic model that embraces the values of this wonderful medium.

America is entering an important time in history representing new visions and new explorations. It's time the record business woke up and faced the great opportunities lying at their feet.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.