What RIAA Won’t Tell You: There Is A Better Way To Protect Artists

Cary H. Sherman, CEO of RIAA, in an op-ed in the NYT, What Wikipedia Won’t Tell You, whines and grouses about the non-passage of SOPA and PIPA. He blames the Internet, in essence, for making it possible to apply political pressure that his organization cannot control, to see to it that he cannot achieve his ends, which not everyone agrees have merit. Boo-hoo, Mr. Sherman. Cry me a river… or is that phrase copyrighted by a member of your organization?

Sherman says society has a “constitutional” responsibility to support the goals of his organization, which as far as I can tell are to squeeze the public hard and the artists harder in an effort to gather all the money into the recording industry itself. The Constitution has no such damned thing in it: the copyright provision, Article I Section 8 Clause 8, pursues “securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Constitution never mentions an industry trade association, only “Authors and Inventors”. When you contemplate how RIAA has inserted itself into the middle of recording contracts, you’ll understand why they call it the Recording Industry Association of America and not the Recording Artists Association of America. Believe me, apart from choosing who becomes famous and who doesn’t, RIAA doesn’t do one damned thing for artists.

In any case, Mr. Sherman’s diatribe was not the starting point of this post: Dean Baker of CEPR comes to a conclusion similar to my own. But Mr. Baker goes a step further: he proposes that we effectively end copyright altogether (apparently without removing the provision from the Constitution), and gives some details of a system that would better protect the ability of artists and authors to make a living without destroying free speech on the Internet or benefiting the middle‑men who so greedily insert themselves into the compensation chain of said artists and authors. It would be particularly sweet to see legislation adopted that implemented such a system (please read Baker’s article for particulars), because it could well leave RIAA holding a large bag of copyrights, but as artists would be otherwise protected in their livelihoods, render copyright itself valueless to the holder.

It would certainly beat hitting 14- 12-year-old kids with fines approaching, in some cases, a million dollars, wouldn’t it? (Apologies for no Fox link; the 2003 story is at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,96797,00.html)

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