Random Thoughts

The RIAA seems obsessed with suing anyone and everyone who has ever had anything to do with downloading music from peer-to-peer services. Sometimes, they even sue people who haven’t done anything, because that’s just the way they are.
Music + Ears = Money

If the RIAA were to stop and actually look at what they’re doing, though, they’d have little choice but to come to the realization that they’re looking to the wrong side of the law when it comes to their ultimate goal; selling music.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that recording industry associations haven’t been able to figure out that exposure to music equals sales. In the early days of radio, record producers were opposed to their albums being played on the radio, because they couldn’t understand why people would pay for something they could get for free.

It wasn’t until music finally started getting played on radio stations, and listeners could hear the music, that record sales really started to take off.

The RIAA has made several mistakes thus far in their battle against Internet downloads of music, but none has cost them as much as their intial battle against the grand-daddy of illegal music file sharing, Napster.Napster - sheep in wolf’s clothing?

Napster was the first popular peer-to-peer music file sharing application, and was really the Genesis of large scale music piracy on the Internet. Napster TERRIFIED the RIAA, and their over-reaction to Napster continues to this day.

Napster ran on a model that required all the users to sign into a central server. Once signed in, their computer would then share their music with everyone else on the network, and the users had access to all those other users’ music libraries. It was the perfect distribution model in that the bulk of the costs (the bandwidth required to transfer the music files and the file servers themselves) were paid for by the users.

That central server turned out to be Napster’s Achilles heel. As long as the central server was storing the information about who had what files, Napster was complicit in the piracy of music the RIAA had sworn itself to protect.

The RIAA went after Napster with guns blazing, with the hard and fast goal of shutting it down. And they did. Napster survives today in name only; the original service is dead and buried. The RIAA achieved their goal. Or did they?

As it became more obvious that Napster was on its way out, competing services began to pop up. Those services, like LimeWire, eMule and BitTorrent use distributed server models that don’t require the service provider to know what’s on their network. Instead, each client on the network also acts as a server, telling the other client/servers what files they have available. It’s the “word of mouth” distribution model, with each computer telling the others what they have available.

Of course, had the RIAA just spent a little time doing research on drug dealers, Napster would probably still exist today, and the RIAA would be complicit in raking in a lot more money for the record labels.

When little Timmy first gets hooked on Crack, he doesn’t find a drug dealer, pay the dealer, buy the Crack and take it home and smoke it. Instead, the Crack dealer shows up at parties where Timmy happens to be hanging out, and offers him a “taste” for free. Timmy tries the Crack, because really, there’s no risk to him (at least financially), and, if all goes well for the dealer, Timmy likes it. The next time Timmy wants some Crack, he goes back to the dealer to get it, only the Crack isn’t free anymore, and it’s time for Timmy to start stealing from his mom’s purse. The dealer gets paid, and Timmy gets his Crack. The only loser in this scenario is mom.

At its peak, Napster accounted for more than 90% of the music being transferred on the Internet. It was also being used by the very people who in the past had been typical music buyers; college students.

The RIAA’s attack strategy was very simple. Shut down Napster, and college students won’t be able to pirate music anymore, so they’ll go back to buying CDs. This was also their only plan.

The approach the RIAA should have taken was to use the central server model of Napster to I like free music!their advantage (consider it financial Judo). Had they partnered with Napster, they could have been in control of what music on the Internet was “free” (i.e. the samples of Crack) and what music was “paid”. They could have even gone so far as to allow Timmy to download whatever music he wanted…for a limited time.

Once Timmy was hooked, the RIAA would be able to start charging, and before he knew what was happening, he’d be buying digital albums. And the best part? All those expensive bandwidth and server costs are being paid by Timmy (or, likely, Timmy’s mom).

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that Napster could have started advertising on their site and forced eyeballs to see those ads. They could have even forced users to download (and distribute) 30 second radio-style commercials which could be used to offset the “losses” of Timmy and his friends taking free samples of music. I suspect this model may have been successful enough to allow Timmy to download all the music he wanted, for free, with the ads supporting the lost revenue.

But, the RIAA, like all organizations comprised mostly of lawyers, lacks vision. So, we now live in a time when music labels are complicit in suing the very customers who they want to convince to purchase their music. Then they wonder why CD sales are falling.

It’s late, but it’s not too late. The RIAA (or some other forward thinking organization) could still get Timmy hooked on the Crack. They just have to figure out where the party is (hint: it’s not iTunes).

Oh, and movie studios, take note. It’s definitely not too late for you.

One Response to “What The RIAA Could Learn From Drug Dealers”

  1. Wild Willy

    Go tell it on the mountain brother!

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