Corporate Copyright Scofflaws 0006 – The RIAA Member Companies

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The largest copyright pirates are the large corporations, particularly in the content distribution business. Yes, those companies who scream the loudest that their customers are ‘pirating’ movies, songs, books, etc. In this series, we are going to look at cases where these companies have engaged in large scale copyright infringement, or in other ways have been ripping off artists.

In all cases I will be working with published information. It is possible that this information may not be up to date, or may not accurately reflect the current status of the situation. If I am supplied documentary evidence which shows a different status, I will publish an update. In cases where a lawsuit ensued, and the settlement was sealed, I will not update the published information, unless I am provided with:

1) A copy of the settlement
2) Permission to publish the settlement

While I realize this may cause problems for one or more of the parties involved, I believe in only publishing things I can reference, so that those who read this have an evidence trail to follow.

Note that the above text will appear in every article, if you’ve read it once, feel free to skip down to the divider.


Why would I pick on the RIAA? Simple. I believe Janis Ian. I believe her because I’ve heard the same story from other Major Label artists. Going back to Janis’s article The Internet Debacle: An Alternative View she says:

Costing me money? I don’t pretend to be an expert on intellectual property law, but I do know one thing. If a music industry executive claims I should agree with their agenda because it will make me more money, I put my hand on my wallet…and check it after they leave, just to make sure nothing’s missing.

Does this sound like someone who’s happy with her treatment by the Major Labels? And a further comment later in the article:

Again, from my personal experience: in 37 years as a recording artist, I’ve created 20+ albums for major labels, and I’ve never once received a royalty check that didn’t show I owed them money.

Another common complaint I’ve heard from a wide variety of artists.

In simple terms, the RIAA member companies (Major Labels) are ripping off the artists who are their suppliers. Is it any wonder that acts like Nine Inch Nails have abandoned the labels to do their own promotions, and offer free downloads of their music directly from their website (and also from The Pirate Bay) under a creative commons attribution non-commercial share alike license?

So why do the RIAA member companies expect the artists to support them? Oh, they have received some support. Mostly from artists who are older than I am, and possibly don’t understand the new ways of making money. Old folks like Don Henley (63 years old), Randy Bachman (66 years old),  John Mellencamp (58 years old), Bono (at 50, the young turk) don’t get it. Even though they’ve never made money from the record companies anyway – only from touring and selling merchandise, they don’t understand that they are being ripped off. It is somewhat reminiscent of the stories you hear about battered wives going back to their abusers.

Take a look at a statement that Warner Music sent to Tim Quirk of To Much Joy, and read Tim’s comments. His final comment:

***** Of course, these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive – it is also possible that labels are evil and avaricious AND dumb and lazy, at the same time.

got me laughing so hard I nearly fell off the couch. I also suggest reading Mike Masnick’s article about Tim’s statement.

You’re probably shaking your head. This guy has got to be nuts. There’s no way something like this would be allowed. If you are thinking that you should read Steve Albini’s article The Problem With Music. And ask yourself this – why would so many artists, be complaining if the RIAA member companies weren’t ripping them off?

The problem with ripping people off, is that word does get out. And the younger generation of artists doesn’t want to get taken the same way. To quote Mike Masnick:

Today, however, the opportunities for the young, fledgling songwriter to build a following, build a business model and make a living have grown tremendously. Ask Jonathan Coulton. Or Corey Smith. Or Matthew Ebel. Or Moto Boy. Or any one of thousands of other songwriters who didn’t go the major label route, but have figured out ways to make a living (or better) that simply would not have been possible just a few years ago.

This doesn’t help the older artists, who were forced to hand over their copyrights to the labels as part of getting signed. Remember earlier when I said the older artists possibly don’t understand the new way of doing business? Maybe that isn’t the case. I’ve recently begun to wonder if some of recent string of complaints about the internet weren’t paid for by the labels. After all, if you’ve been a star for years, but not making any money, you have to have something to retire on. Not everyone can continue doing music into their seventies or eighties like the Rolling Stones.


Wayne Borean

Monday August 30, 2010


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