Wednesday, July 11, 2007

If You're Reading This Article Out Loud, You May Owe The RIAA Some Money

The digital age has presented consumers with more entertainment options than anyone could have imagined twenty years ago. Video on demand, MP3s, and the internet mean that you can watch or listen to almost anything you want, anytime you want. For the consumer, this is fantastic. But for content owners like the RIAA (headed by old Mitch up there) and the MPAA, this is hell on earth.

In the analog days, there was little that could be done about people recording songs off the radio or copying a cassette. And as we transitioned to the computer age, that process only got easier. However, that digital transition also made it possible for content owners to begin flexing their muscles and restricting what the consumer could do with the content that he or she legally purchased. (For those disputing the historical accuracy of this, I concede that Macrovision was around long before digital downloads. But I'm making a point here, so pipe down.) More and more severe DRM has meant that songs purchased from internet music services, videos purchased from places like iTunes or the Xbox Marketplace, and even computer games and software, are now crippled, and can only be used in the limited scope that the content owner deems fit.

For some time now, satellite radio has found itself in the RIAA's crosshairs. This has become even more true since the XM/Sirius merger was announced, with the RIAA accusing the companies of selling equipment that infringes on the copyrights of their artists. That equipment? Digital recorders that allow you to save songs played on the air. Something you have been able to do legally with terrestrial radio for years. Of course, in the old days, when you did this using a blank cassette or music CD (different from the blank CDs for your PC), a portion of the purchase price of that blank went to the RIAA, to "offset" the loss from the sale of an official recording. So, even if you bought a blank cassette to just record some funny answering machine messages, the RIAA still got a piece of it. Sound fair? I didn't think so.

Right now, the RIAA is lobbying Congress to force the satellite radio companies to pay higher royalty rates on the songs that they play, to again "offset" this loss of a sale. Personally, I think this is nothing but extortion, as the RIAA can't prove that the song I save on my satellite radio would have translated into a sale, had I not had a satellite radio recorder. It's the same argument the movie and music industries have been using for years with regard to online piracy. When they speak about the billions of dollars lost to piracy, they're assuming that had the content not been available online, you would have bought it anyway. That's just plain ridiculous.

Not surprisingly, the RIAA already has the support of some members on Capitol Hill. In case you haven't heard, laws are generally for sale to the highest bidder. Thankfully, nothing has really been made of this yet, but it's only a matter of time before these devices are crippled further and/or taken off the market.

I know I've said it before, but if we don't do something about it, we're going to lose what little fair use rights we have left. Take a stand - contact your congressman, the FCC, and the EFF (they're the good guys in this), and let them know what you think. Together, we can make a difference. Okay, that was a little too "public service announcement" for my taste, but you get the point.

And the most ironic part about this story? I'm posting it on Fair Use Day. Don't be surprised that you've never heard of it - this isn't one of the man's favorite holidays. I had hoped to have a little celebration for it, Atomic style, but anything fun that I do here could end up getting the website shut down. So, you'll just have to celebrate on your own. Make it a good one!

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