today's market many independent musicians view the big record labels as a
parasitic entity of sorts, exploiting talented musicians, inflating
undertalented pop stars and lavishly spending, while crying over
"dropping" profits. Of course, not everyone feels that way, but
a recent settlement between major label copyright watchdog group the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
and filesharing service LimeWire does little to
convince observers otherwise.
You may recall that LimeWire was smote
down by the RIAA in federal court over copyright infringement
claims. The site's appeals fell on deaf ears, and the service was ordered
The case has finally been wrapped up with a jury deciding on damages
against the service. The jury in this case opted to arrange a settlement
between LimeWire and the RIAA legal team, which would call for LimeWire to pay
$10,808 USD per track for the 9,715 tracks the RIAA claimed LimeWire infringed,
for a total fine of $105M USD.
While that may sound like a lot, it's actually significantly less than the
maximum fine of $150,000 USD per track the jury could have
awarded for willful infringement. That would have resulted in a fine of
$1.46B USD. The RIAA originally sought $150B USD in damages from LimeWire -- approximately15 times the music industry's total reported yearly income -- but was deterred by the minor triviality
that LimeWire had nowhere near this amount of money.
RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol hailed the decision, commenting, "The
resolution of this case is another milestone in the continuing evolution of
online music to a legitimate marketplace that appropriately rewards
The settlement will do little to improve the major labels' image, though, as
they may not give any of the record windfall to the artists that actually had
their work infringed.
Instead, the organization has previously promised to spend the money to reinvigorate its unprofitable campaign of threats and lawsuits, in
addition lobbying politicians to offer greater enforcement of copyright infringement at
their constituents' tax expense and outlaw consumer practices like creating backup copies (which the RIAA
contends is "stealing").
RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy previously stated, "Any funds recouped are re-invested
into our ongoing education and anti-piracy programs."
The RIAA would surely argue that artists would eventually benefit by reducing
piracy. However, the organization's past efforts have proved only marginally effective at best as piracy rates
have waned and waxed with the years passing years, always remaining relatively
Recent studies have also shown that pirates are the biggest legal purchasers of music. This
makes sense, as many view piracy as a "preview" of sorts, which they
use to decide which artists are worth supporting. They might not buy that
Lil Wayne track they downloaded, but they might end up buying an album from a
smaller artist they discovered, like The Antlers.
At the same time major labels in the U.S. and Britain are accused of committing mass infringement and stealing millions in
revenue from independent musicians. The labels have
convinced politicians and the legal system to give them the right to sell any
track that they "can't find" licensing information for.
In effect this means they can go out and steal copyrighted work of small independent
labels and musicians. A compensation system is in place, but it's notoriously bad -- many musicians have
struggled for years to get repaid, only to find their pleas fall on deaf ears.
At the end of the day the major labels' campaign of infringement and campaign
against infringers in the public have a surprising amount in common. Both
generate big money for the labels -- and both give nothing to artists.