Beast of the Month - June 2000
Hilary Rosen, CEO, Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA)
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Lars Ulrich, showing his appreciation to his fans.
In what may be one of the worst business decisions in the history of music, the rock band Metallica has waged a self-destructive battle against its own fans while fighting an ultimately unproductive war against Napster, the company behind Internet file-sharing software which drastically eases MP3 file transfer. Whining that they are victims of horrible fans who unappreciatively want to listen to their music, Lars Ulrich and his cohorts claim that the listeners of their korporate rock are ruining their ability to earn a living. During an online chat with rapidly dwindling fans, Lars urged Congress to stop Napster "before this whole Internet thing runs amok." Frankly, considering they haven't put out anything worthwhile over the last eight years, they should be grateful that anyone still listens to their crap.
Still, though Lars and co. have proven themselves to be the washed up, overrated dinosaur rockers that they are, focusing too much on Metallica loses sight of the bigger picture, that Metallica Inc. is merely a pathetic cog in a truly diabolical machine. That machine is the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), a $14-billion monolith headed by Hilary Rosen, The Konformist Beast of the Month.
The RIAA, a trade company representing Seagram's Universal Music, Bertelsmann AG's BMG, Sony Music, Time Warner's Warner Music, and EMI, is a huge, multi-billion dollar combine with vast political influence. The RIAA has been on a sue-happy frenzy, going after both Napster and MP3.com for supposed violations of their copyright laws, claiming that they are losing millions (if not billions) of dollars. Never mind that in the past two years, mindless pap spewed out by 'N Sync, The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears have had first week sales exceeding one million copies apiece. Indeed, there is pretty strong evidence to suggest that Napster and MP3, like MTV and radio before it, are actually a boon to the music industry in general, by giving music free publicity and hype. That appears to be what is behind the huge sales of Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, which was the top Napster download before its smashing debut.
Almost lost in their complaints of being victimized by MP3 and Napster is a truth which the recording industry doesn't want to let out about itself: that its entire reason for existence is over exploiting both musicians and music fans alike. It's actually cheaper to make a CD than it is to record a tape: why are prices for CDs so inflated then? As for the musicians themselves, while a select few limousine rebels like Lars and his pals rake in big bucks, they only get a fraction of their actual labor from all their recording efforts. The RIAA oligopoly is a huge pyramid that sucks up the entertainment dollars from those who have earned it: the artists themselves. No surprise, then, that in The Covert War Against Rock, underground writer Alex Constantine's just recently published opus for Feral House, one of the main theme's of the book is the connection between those involved in the recording industry and criminal syndicates.
For all their discussion of the predatory nature of Napster and MP3, the recording industry can't hide one obvious fact: for the most part, they are a huge deadweight enterprise, even more bloated than Metallica's ego has become swollen over the years. That is what scares the RIAA about Napster and MP3.com: that artists will decide they don't need the RIAA cartel to get their music out there. Using the Internet, musicians could bypass the system altogether, and use the hype to sell their albums or, perhaps even more important, as promotion for concert tours, which have long been the real meal ticket for rock stars.
Sadly, such MP3-fueled anarcho-utopian economic fantasies popular among the digital libertarians seem a little far fetched: sure, artists can promote themselves via the net, but nobody will know about the music if it isn't promoted well. Word of mouth helps, but ultimately, money talks, which the RIAA combine certainly has. While they traditionally have profited off of manufacturing records, tapes and CDs, as a marketing firm in an information economy, the RIAA giants should be pretty hard to beat. The Internet hasn't killed Time Magazine or CNN, so the idea that the RIAA should face a demise over new technologies seems dubious at best.
Of course, even if it doesn't destroy the RIAA, the Internet revolution certainly changes the dynamics of record producing. Further, by lowering the costs of distributing mass amounts of information, the Internet will allow competitors a better chance against the RIAA club. For a fattened industry like the recording industry, changing tactics to fight off the frightening prospect of new competition is not a pleasant prospect.
Unsurprisingly, the Democratic Leadership Council and its Progressive Policy Institute have released a manifesto urging for the protection of the poor oppressed music industry from Napster and other dangerous threats to mankind. In their manifesto, "The Need to Revisit The Digital Millennium Copyright Act," the PPI urges stricter copyright laws to defend the helpless music industry. Oddly, these are the same folks who cheer on globalization, and term complaints of its effects on the Third World and the First World working class short-sighted criticisms from people who will have to adjust to the new economic realities. Also coincidentally, the RIAA is a big donor to the Democratic Party.
Which leads us to Hilary Rosen, a longtime Democratic Party figure and lobbyist. She was a founding board member for Rock the Vote, a group which encouraged youth to become more involved in the political process, while encouraging a political agenda that matched perfectly with the Democratic Party. The connection between Rosen, the Democratic Party, Rock the Vote, and the RIAA certainly isn't illegal, but it isn't a coincidence.
No, it isn't a coincidence, and neither is the battle involving the usage of MP3s and the Internet. This is the first big economic battle of the Digital Age, and it is clear that Rosen, the RIAA, and those has-beens in Metallica are on the wrong side.
In any case, we salute Hilary Rosen as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Hilary!!!
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