The Piracy SNAFU

In the Fall of 2003, during a social gathering at an industry event, I found myself being consulted by Vice Presidents of RIAA & MPAA (in an unofficial capacity) on how their associations could curtail online piracy.

I told them slowly and clearly that they must separate the stigma of the offense of file sharing from counterfeiting.  I explained that counterfeiting is linked to organized crime including terrorism.  Online file sharing, while out of control, is a theft of convenience and needs to carry its own stigma apart from the oft-violent black market profiteers.  I continued that it would be impossible to convince intelligent folks that sharers and counterfeiters are the same people.  Even then studies showed that most individuals admitted to regularly pirating copyrighted material and only a few percent to buying bootleg CDs & DVDs.  Their response was no less catatonic than DeNiro in “Awakenings”.

These organizations next began suing individuals (sometimes elderly, minors and/or uninvolved parties) based on nothing more than IP addresses of internet accounts, creating more collateral damage than the Enola Gay and as much public distrust as Bernie Madoff.  All this with a batting average lower than Michael Jordan’s stint with the White Sox.

The recent release of the RAND study is an articulate argument that counterfeiting is linked to organized crime and terrorism.  While many headlines read “Online Piracy Linked to Terrorism”, the report’s only reference to file sharing was one tangential sentence on page 140 which states that Britain’s “Knock Off Nigel” campaign increased awareness that file sharing is wrong.  The study made no other mention of file sharing, P2P/peer-to-peer networks, bit torrent or the Pirate Bay.  So RAND states that counterfeiting is wrong and does not address the still most rampant act of IP theft worldwide: file sharing.

After having the opportunity to take my generous gem of free advice, the RIAA & MPAA chose instead to bank on the public’s ignorance.  RIAA was named the Worst Company in America 2007 by the Consumerist over Halliburton, and was only saved from this shameful title in 2008 by the banking industry.

The RIAA & MPAA have more fans than any other industry.  People love your product so much they are willing to steal it.  Most of those people know it is wrong and feel guilty when discussing having done it.  Only brainless enforcers coupled with inept public relations could mess up a relationship like this.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like you.  But both organizations need to clean house and smarten up.  My door is open.

Now I am going to finish my coffee.

One thought on “The Piracy SNAFU

  1. Rob-

    There is an absolutely right on the money article relating to this topic at:

    The article is from the online Onion and is titled “Kid Rock Starves to Death–MP3 Piracy Blamed.” As I am sure you know, the Onion is America’s Finest News Source and, since I read it on the Internet, I know it has to be true. Right? I mean, they couldn’t put it on the Internet if it wasn’t true. Could they? No, I didn’t think so.

    Seriously, people need to get a grip on this online sharing. I have bought more CD’s as a direct response to something I downloaded from Usenet than I have from hearing a tune on the radio. The closure of the Online Guitar Archive (OLGA) is a related issue. According to the OLGA site, attorneys representing the NMPA and the MPA sent a “take down” letter, effectively closing the site. As a songwriter myself, I am sympathetic to a point but the files on OLGA were individuals transcribing songs and were actually good advertising. Making the songs more accessible to the general public increases the likelihood of royalties resulting from an expanded fan base. As evidence I give you this quote from Megan Romer at

    In 1985, anti-apartheid activist Paul Simon decided to make a record featuring some South African music. A friend passed along a bootleg Mambazo tape, and he knew he had found what he was looking for. Thus was born Paul Simon’s revolutionary album Graceland. The wild success of that album led to Europe and America’s discovery of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

    From: retrieved 4/7/2009

    It all brings to mind the famous line from Cool Hand Luke: What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.


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