RIAA Living in the Past

The RIAA's harsh tactics are alienating customers.

Cocaine possession, murder, prostitution, grand larceny, conspiracy to commit murder, assault and battery—all of those things are despicable; yet, on any given day, thousands of people across the country are arrested for such crimes. Against this backdrop, the Recording Industry Association of Americas contention that music downloaders are criminals is patently absurd.

The Internet and software such as Kazaa and Grokster have ripped through the music industry like an iceberg did the Titanic. Digital media, cheap CD-ROMs and inexpensive broadband connectivity together threaten to capsize it.

Rather than getting the lifeboats ready and figuring out a way to deal with the situation, the RIAA has attempted to get police and lawyers involved. While this may create a lot of job opportunities for copyright lawyers and a lot of overtime for law enforcement officers, it does absolutely nothing to attack the problem. In fact, it only delays and makes much more difficult its ultimate resolution.

Each day the RIAA tries to litigate and arrest harmless citizens is another day wasted. The times have changed since the original copyright laws were written. At that time, every copy of physical media reduced its quality. With digital media, the billionth copy has the same quality as the first.

In the days of old, the police would seize illegal music copies from warehouses and shut down individual operations. Today, every computer and wireless device is a virtual warehouse and every person a potential lawbreaker. In "Casablanca," police Capt. Renault tells his officers to round up the usual suspects. In 2004, the usual suspects are just about everyone with an Internet connection.

Rather than building jails to hold 100 million more people, the RIAA must face reality. The RIAA is like Norma Desmond in the film "Sunset Boulevard." She was a star in silent movies but failed in the talkies. She became an aging star desperate for a comeback.

If the RIAA plays its cards right, it can reinvent the music industry and ensure that artists are duly compensated. What should it do? The RIAA shouldnt fight the Internet; it must adapt to the Net—a perfect mechanism for music sales and distribution. The RIAA should stop blaming file sharing for the decline in sales. The industry can make money through Internet downloads, just as Apples iTunes Music Store has. The cell phone industry is making billions from downloaded ring tones. Theres no reason that the music industry cant make 100 times that amount.

The music industry is alienating the buyers it desperately needs; the harsh tactics it is naively using must stop.

Ben Rothke is a New York-based security consultant with ThruPoint Inc. McGraw-Hill has just published his book, "Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know." He can be reached at brothke@thrupoint.net. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. Send your submissions to free_spectrum@ziffdavis.com.