Tell me more about the RIAA...
April 10, 2008 12:45 PM   Subscribe

How'd the RIAA become so powerful, yet so villified? Does anyone (I may have heard of) have anything *good* to say about the RIAA?

MeFi and the Googles have provided a piles of info and opinions. But so far, no one addresses those specific issues. I'd really love relatively recent sources that are ummmm research-paper worthy. A Historical Perspective - perhaps a Timeline of important RIAA-centric events would be exceedingly cool, too.
posted by derekb to Law & Government (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No offense, but, if you're doing a research paper, you might want to extend your search a little bit further than Metafilter and Google.

Here's a start: a page 'for students doing reports' on the RIAA site.
posted by box at 12:49 PM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: No offense taken. Just trying to leave no stone unturned.
posted by derekb at 12:56 PM on April 10, 2008

Your question suggests that being both powerful and vilified is some kind of contradiction. I would argue it's the natural order of things.

The RIAA is a trade association, funded by (largely) record companies with deep pockets. Presumably those companies, and those allied with their interests, think quite highly of the RIAA. As for powerful, that depends on your definition of power. If you're being sued by the RIAA, they're powerful because they can afford lots of litigation and their targets cannot. If you're referring to their influence in Congress, they're powerful because they can afford lots of lobbyists and campaign contributions, and you cannot. In short, money=power.

I hope this is not astounding to you.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:07 PM on April 10, 2008

The RIAA is so vilified because it's perfectly positioned to be identified as "The Man": It represents record companies that market a product -- mainstream music -- to consumers, so it emphasizes Profits and the Law.

But a lot of mainstream music is rock and roll, which is supposed to be about rebellion. So there's a huge disconnect between the forces they represent and the worldview those forces tend to convey to their audience. It basically gets the same kind of shit that any of us would get if we organized an Oligarchical Council to head up the Local Anarchist Collective.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:25 PM on April 10, 2008

Honestly the RIAA is generally a relatively benign organization. Virtually every industry has something similar, in my industry its the National Cable Television Alliance and the National Association of Broadcasters.

The only real difference is that the RIAA has become the tool the recording industry has used to enforce copyright infringement.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:38 PM on April 10, 2008

Oh and the RIAA isn't really that powerful. Frankly the power they really wield is they copyrights held by their member organizations - and quite frankly as much as we like to hate the RIAA they have a very legitimate concern.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

The RIAA has been around since 1952, but most people had never heard of it (let alone hated it) until they started cracking down on music copyright infringement on the internet.

If you look at pre-1997 news articles that mention the RIAA, the majority of them are about record sales, because the RIAA also publishes sales figures (they are the organization that gives out "Gold" and "Platinum" sales awards). The RIAA was still in charge of copyright infringement issues and piracy back then, but they were largely ignored because for the most part they just covered bootleg tapes sold by street vendors, which nobody cared about. For example, see this news article from 1990.

Notable quote about cassette tape bootlegs:

The problem threatens the music business to the tune of "hundreds of millions of dollars a year," says Steven D'Onofrio, senior vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America and director of its anti-piracy unit.


It affects the industry at every level. Fred Munao, president of New York rap label Select Records, says counterfeiting costs him "upwards of 20 percent" of his business, which makes him "very angry. My feelings on this are unprintable."

Also, the RIAA never went after individual consumers back then, just actual piracy rings that sold bootlegs for profit. For example, check out this news article from 1996:

However, the RIAA emphasizes that it's not after fans. It's after manufacturers and distributors. Consumers are never prosecuted -- they're rarely even detected. Being in it for the music isn't going to get you in trouble; being in it for profit is.

``Having bootlegs in your possession for private use is not going to make the best criminal case,'' Creighton said. ``Importers of large shipments is what we're after.''

While the RIAA also monitors tape trading on the Internet, it generally has no problem with it -- even if it is technically bootlegging. America Online recently pulled down its tape-trading section for fear of breaking the law. But again, the participants are by and large fans whose only gain is getting music they want to hear.

What a difference a year makes, though. By mid-1997 MP3s were relatively mainstream (it was still before Napster), and the RIAA started sending cease and desist letters to people. Example news article:

So far, RIAA's response has been to juice up its antipiracy division and, in June, went to court to shut down three of the more "egregious" illegal music archive sites--with promises of more to follow. "If the Internet goes unchecked," Hilary Rosen, RIAA president, told Forbes Digital Tool, "the very medium that's supposed to bring creative outlets to music will end up killing it."


Which is why Jim Griffin, Geffen Record's technology director, is on a mission to make the Internet a pirate-free zone; usually, he says, all it takes to convince most pirates to cease and desist is a warning letter. "The reason we go after pirates is to clean up the Internet for commerce, otherwise, anarchy reigns. They're not hard to find: We just plug 'MP3' into a search engine and go after the first site we come to. Every pirate we've gone after, we've caught."

Ever since then, the RIAA has stepped up their enforcement. They went from only suing people make a profit from copyright infringement, to only people providing MP3s (websites and Napster), to pressuring Universities to punish students who trade MP3s, and finally to suing random grandmothers who have never heard of MP3s.

So, to make a long story short, nobody really cared about or hated the RIAA before around July of 1997, because they mostly only reported sales numbers and sued criminals who were trying to make money from producing and selling black market bootlegs. From then onward, the RIAA started to shut down internet filesharing sites that millions of people used, and starting suing normal people as part of a scare campaign, which caused them to develop a negative public image.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:30 PM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Any research regarding the RIAA would be incomplete without mention of Ray Beckerman's blog, Recording Industry vs. the People.
posted by whatisish at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2008

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