RIAA wants to rewrite the DMCA: No!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/44/Image_removed_DMCA.pngWhen Congress passed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, it was an unmitigated hand-out to the recording industry. Now the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) wants to revisit the debate to litigate the “tech industry” this time. Ironically, the tech industry was in its infancy at the passage of the DMCA: Google was founded in 1998, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud were not even imagined at the time.

In a recent tweet, the RIAA announced:

Well it is absolutely time to “fix” the DMCA, if by fix they mean eliminate. When the DMCA passed into law, only copyright stakeholders were included at the copyright negotiating table. Stakeholders, by definition, had to be around in order to be at the table. None of the tech companies they currently attack were around when they negotiated the DMCA in the mid 90s.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f0/DRM_Is_Killing_Music.svg/190px-DRM_Is_Killing_Music.svg.pngThe DMCA gives record companies the ability to include Digital Rights Management (DRM) in digital music files. DRM are files that track where a file has been.While the DMCA does not mandate DRM, it does make it illegal to circumvent DRM. And DRM does all kinds of messed up things to users’ privacy: from knowing where a file circulates to acquiring information about the users.

Furthermore, the idea that the RIAA has the interest of “music creators” is entirely disingenuous. Record labels exploit musicians. When an artist signs a record contract, they receive an advance on future revenue. They have to pay back the advance from their portion of the royalties. Record labels begin to profit long before artists see any money, and most signed artists see no money.

The RIAA is a lobbying group that works for major record labels. By characterizing themselves as representatives of music creators, they do more than just rhetorical harm. The problem is that the public, and Congress, wants to believe that the RIAA has their favorite artists interests in mind. However, as I’ve argued, this gives them the leverage to strengthen their position in the music economy, and further exploit those same artists.

In the early 2000s, teenagers downloading music were the RIAA’s bad guys. Today they want you to believe that the “tech industry” companies are the bad guys. This is what I call the “Piracy Panic Narrative.” We can’t be fooled into allowing Congress to make wholesale changes to copyright law again to advance the interests of a corporate oligopoly.

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Much ado about Spotify’s 87 Million Subscribers

Spotify began November 2018 with an announcement that they reached 87 million subscribers. News outlets from the Wall Street Journal to The Verge, and Variety to The Hollywood Reporter covered this news as a competition with Apple Music, and the overall shifting of the music industry. However, little was said about the real impact on music consumption as social activity or the excess profits this generates for everyone in the recording industry.

In my essay “Digital Subscriptions: The Unending Consumption of Music in the Digital Era,” I explore the way the recording industry changed our consumption habits and increased profits exponentially. What we can’t lose is that the average consumer used to buy about $40 worth of recorded music per year, but with subscriptions, they are paying $120 per year. Think about $870,000,000/month in music consumption on Spotify alone (another $530,000,000 on Apple Music). In the essay, I analyze this further.

Here is the abstract:

When Apple purchased Beats Music in 2014, it signified a major moment in the transformation of the recorded music commodity. This is the second time in the digital era that Apple has catalyzed a transformation of the recorded commodity after first disrupting the recording industry by creating the iTunes store. Now, the recording industry is changing from a business model dependent on the sale of commodities to a model based on subscriptions and streaming. I call this model unending consumption because it traps music listeners in a cycle where they must continually subscribe to have access to music. By giving subscribers unlimited access to music in exchange for $10 per month, the recording industry aims to increase the amount that the average consumer spends per year on music by 200%.

Please contact me if you need access to the full article behind the paywall.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/26/Spotify_logo_with_text.svg/2000px-Spotify_logo_with_text.svg.png

MusicDetour Launch

MDLogoI am happy to announce the launch of my newest project MusicDetour: The DFW Local Music Archive! This website is both a local music archive and a music community. UTA faculty members Dan Cavanagh, Micah Hayes, and Chyng-Yang Jang work with me on the project, along with the UTA Library and UTA Radio. Continue reading

How record companies induce panic about music piracy to increase their profits and exploit artists

vp-bogeymanFrom UTA Inquiry, Fall 2015:

On May 2, 2000, Lars Ulrich, drummer for the band Metallica, announced that his group was suing Napster, a free file-sharing service that let fans download music online. During the press conference outside Napster’s headquarters, Ulrich presented the company with a giant stack of papers listing the names of 300,000 Napster users. His assertion: Napster was enabling these people to steal music. Continue reading

Grammy Alliance: Another Round of Piracy Panic Narrative

video blockedAfter 3 hours of music and a much needed public service announcement on domestic violence, the Recording Academy decided to end the show with a selfish lobbying effort to create tougher copyright laws. By starting the Creators’ Alliance (dubbed #GrammyAlliance for Twitter), the Recording Academy placed itself strongly on the side of major record labels against the recording artists who constitute the bulk of the Recording Academy members. Continue reading

Grammys: Not about the Music

While the term Grammy is derived from “gramophone,” the first device to record and playback music, this year’s Grammy Award Show will be largely about profit, not music. Heralded in the past as a moment when recording artists come together and vote for the best music of the year, the choices they are given is highly structured by the Grammy Nominating Committee and major record labels. And while voting members still have ultimate say in nomination and voting, the system propels the biggest pop names to the top the same way that our political process favors big name politicos (read “serious candidates”). Because there are so many voters, with over 20,000 members, the Recording Academy‘s Voting Members, eligible only to musicians who have “commercially” released music, favors widely popular major label music over obscure indie music. Continue reading

Copyright Rewrite: In the name of Musicians, in the pocket of Big Business

As the US Copyright Office pushes forward with plans for the largest overhaul of copyright in decades, it is important not to fall back to the same patterns that have eviscerated musicians and other creative producers. These copyright rewrites always end-up making powerful copyright interests more powerful. Continue reading

Major Record Labels See Growth . . . But still say sales are in decline

As more data is released from 2014, we can see that major record labels celebrated a year of indisputable growth. Yet, they continue to include language that makes it sound as if the industry shrank.

“While the U.S. music industry suffered through its worst sales year since the advent of SoundScan (now Nielsen Music) in 1991, streaming was so strong last year that the industry nevertheless saw growth — yes, growth — in 2014, when new metrics to measure music revenue are taken into consideration.” Continue reading

Billboard Admits There’s more to Industry than Album Sales

In a moment of clarity, Billboard admits that album sales don’t tell the whole story of record label revenues. According to Billboard, “there’s more to the story. Recorded music looks better when streaming gains are taken into account.” As I’ve been arguing for a while, record labels earn revenue from a number of sources well beyond album sales. So the recent decline of albums and tracks is rather irrelevant when considering industry profits.

Continue reading