Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Piracy poll

Jammie Thomas-Rassett is back in the news.

Who is Jammie Thomas-Rassett, you ask? She's a woman whom the RIAA has accused of illegally downloading 30 songs. Various verdicts have demanded that she pay $222 thousand, $1.92 million, and most recently, $54 thousand. The RIAA offered to settle for $25 thou. Thomas-Rassett's response: nuh uh.
"It is a shame that Ms. Thomas-Rasset continues to deny any responsibility for her actions rather than accept a reasonable settlement offer and put this case behind her," [RIAA spokeswoman Cara] Duckworth said. "Given this, we will begin preparing for a new trial."
Full story on PC World.

What think you:
  1. Is it ALWAYS wrong to download music without paying for it?

  2. At what point should the RIAA go after offenders? (After one illegal download? After the person downloads a certain number of songs? After the person distributes it? After the person resells it?)

  3. What's a reasonable punishment for someone who downloads 30 songs, then makes them available for other people to download?
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but they're kind of long and vague and rambling. I'll share them when I have more time and wakefulness at my disposal.


wyvernfree said...

I'm admittedly kind of ignorant about this issue, but to a layperson like me, it seems ludicrous. $1.92 MILLION dollars for stealing 30 songs? Stealing 30 songs sounds like shoplifting to me. That's the equivalent of stealing 3 CD's. It seems to me like she should be given something in the ballpark of a $500 fine and have a misdemeanor theft put onto her record.

Pris said...

I think the verdict is idiotic, too. Look on youtube. You'll find tons of videos with songs by popular artists posted there and an addon to firefox allows anyone to download a youtube to his/her own computer. I've not heard of fines for music use on youtube. Back in around 2004 when I was blithely unaware that using a popular song with a vidoe wasn't kosher or illegal possibly, I did a mixed video of friends with an Eagles Song. Just last year I found the sound had been stripped. That was fine with me. I'm glad they told me instead of putting me into debt for the remainder of my life.

Anonymous said...

Just an excuse for lawyers to try to justify their fees. Feh feh and feh.

kylben said...

1. Not always
2. Never. And the RIAA is a criminal organization
3. Social opprobrium up to ostracism

Anonymous said...

Within the music industry, a mechanical license gives the holder permission to create copies of a recorded song which they did not write and/or do not have copyright over. It is an agreement with the composition copyright holder, the publisher, or the songwriter that allows the holder to reproduce the composition. Royalties are based on a "statutory rate" set by the U.S. Congress. Currently, the statutory rate is $.08 for songs five minutes or less in length. I want to pay 8 cents to the songwriter. If I make it available for free on my website I should be sued by the copyright holder for damages. Or a large pizza. Whichever is more.

Three Chord Monty said...

I'm not going to answer the multiple-choice, but only because I see this as a complex situation with many questions and few answers. Or solutions, and though I wish I had one, I must confess that I do not. What I do want to do is raise a few issues that are too rarely aired, probably because they sympathize neither with the 'downloading is stealing' nor the 'music should be free' arguments.

At the time of the Jammie Thomas trial, I know I saw testimony from a Sony attorney that stated unequivocally that creating any digital copy, i.e. ripping from CD to iPod, amounted to illegal copyright infringement. I believe I saw testimony suggesting that Thomas' insistence that she was not guilty could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt since technology exists to spoof IP addresses. But it seemed to me that this testimony was not specific enough. From my view it seemed more than plausible that she was guilty, especially given what she did with her hard drive; however, if an IP address can be spoofed, then the IP captured by the firm hired by the RIAA could have been anyone (which I believe they were forced to admit in an affadavit).

I read some about this on Ray Beckerman's blog, but it seemed to me that this point was not explained carefully enough to the jury, and was only presented in a way that is probably too technical for the average layperson. Of course, this was over two years ago, and this portion I'm not sure I'm remembering correctly. I had no great desire to see Thomas win her case, but I was left with the impression that the very real possibility of IP spoofing had not been dealt with properly within the context of the case.

For a long time I think it's indisputable that the music industry has suffered greatly from illegal copyright infringement. However, that's not the whole story, even though it's most often blamed. The idea that a large contingent of the music-buying public reduced their consumption once they had completed replacing their LPs with the CD format never seemed to make it into any of the RIAA's rhetoric. And though it is an entirely separate issue that does not lend itself to rationalization on this one, the issue of record labels not properly compensating artists wasn't heard much either...except as a rationalization from people who didn't really seem to know much about the actual issue, but only used this to flog the 'music should be free' cliche. Putting the ripping off of blues artists aside, Steve Albini's brilliant deconstruction of how the financial/accounting arm of the music industry works, from recoupable advances to label-guided, ill-advised career advice, was now being used to justify stealing.

Except it's not stealing. It's copyright infringement, and there's a difference. It's not piracy, either. And downloading isn't even illegal; uploading is. But who cares about such finicky details? Everyone knows Jammie Thomas was on trial for downloading, which is either stealing, piracy (bootlegging and counterfeiting of physical product? What's that?), or both.

Three Chord Monty said...

Meanwhile, as we've been told--accurately--there is now an entire generation of young people who have grown up in a world where it is understood that music is something that nobody has to actually pay for. And we can spend time blaming the industry for its lack of forthright thinking, its attempts to ban mp3 players, the mess they never would've imagined that resulted after technology moved past Napster, leaving them with a pyrrhic victory that scored another clusterf*ck for the law of unintended consequences.

I know what to say to an RIAA witness who claims that making even one copy is illegal, what to say to a Sony BMG exec who argues that placing rootkits on CDs is okay because people don't even know what they are. I think I know what to say to a kid who sees nothing wrong with downloading, but I'm really not sure how to actually say it. I know that the strategy of going after IP addresses was flawed, even though nobody could really come up with anything better. And I know that Thomas' legal team should have raised the issue of the RIAA going after a New England granny for having gangsta rap on her Mac...except Sarah Seabury Ward did not, and at the time I remember reading that only PCs were compatible with file-sharing software back then.

Needless to say, A&R is basically dead, but if the labels need to stick to catalog to survive, while there are few positives in that for emerging artists, it forces innovation and creates the need to explore new options to try to monetize one's art. I listened to your stuff on MySpace and loved it--and I expected to not like it at all for some reason (I had come across this blog, but I only went & sampled the tunes after seeing the thread on Phoenix Rising).

I wish I had better answers. I content myself in not being willing to accept spin when there's so much more to the issue that's rarely if ever delved into. But before I fell ill with CFS/ME, I spent years playing in bar bands, contenting myself that it was better as a hobby than as a profession (to the consternation of bandmates who craved success and didn't see major label contracts as the net negative that I did).

Your tunes reveal too much talent to accept that sort of worldview, but the music industry is not willing to cooperate, at least not in a general sense. And yes, downloading has done much damage, but it's not theft, and labeling it as such doesn't help anybody.

Pris said...

Given all of the arguments on both sides, the bottom line for me is did the punishment fit the crime. Okay, charge her for the royalties missed out on if they want to do something. What they actually did was ludicrous.

Three Chord Monty said...

While I agree with your conclusion, Pris, a big part of the problem is that this is an issue in a realm where the technology has ranged far beyond the capabilities of current laws to address these sorts of issues efficiently.

Until the law catches up with technology, old saws like 'punishment fit the crime' are a distortion in a sense, since copyright infringement is not an offense tried in criminal court. If 'downloading' were actually 'stealing' or 'theft,' then anything outside of established fair use provisions would actually be considered crimes.

Given the zealousness of people like Prince, who actually monitors youtube for unauthorized use of his work (remember the case with the baby dancing to 30 seconds' worth of one of his songs), I wouldn't be surprised if there are actually people who wold like to see this brought to the level of criminal activity.

Fortunately, they are a minority. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that when President Obama presented Queen Elizabeth with an iPod pre-filled with files, he was engaging in an act of copyright infringement.

The law is an ass.

cinderkeys said...

These are fantastic, articulate comments, guys. Thank you.

I'm curious to see if somebody here takes a harder line ... says that illegal downloading IS stealing, dammit, and that the RIAA should go after them every single time. Anybody? Bueller?

wyvernfree said...

Well, I think it might be stealing. I just think that even if it is stealing, stealing 30 songs would be a two-bit misdemeanor and it's nonsense to try to charge her more than a few hundred dollars for a fine.

If I ran a CD store I would probably want to prosecute shoplifters every time, but that doesn't mean you get millions of dollars every time you catch one. That's just stupid IMHO.

Fireblossom said...

I'm not a musician, but those sorts of penalties for 30 songs, against one person, seems ludicrous to me. It sounds like the old jail terms for hippies busted with a couple of joints.

I think that, yes, it's wrong, but there has to be a way to not just pick out one poor person and make a cautionary tale out of them. And a distinction to be made between dl 30 songs and something on a much larger scale.

Lastly, I think that, for years, consumers were pretty much obliged to shell out too much for lps or cds that were one or two good songs and a bunch of filler. Payback is...probably deserved. here, I am talking about big names, not struggling bands.

MaikU said...

She commited no crime in a libertarian sense. IP laws are bunk.