Adapting to Change: Intellectual Property in a Digital Era

Our lives revolve around technology. The digital age has become such an integrated part of daily living that many individuals would now be lost without their personal electronic devices. Digital technology is here to stay and those who do not embrace this notion will face an increasingly difficult struggle as technology progresses even further. Now that information can be digitized and copied indefinitely on computers with virtually zero cost for replication, the idea of intellectual property is being brought further into question. This is an issue that has recently turned the music industry on its head as digital piracy has become increasing prevalent.

Piracy has been a frequent subject of controversy in the news over the last few years. But what some people may have forgotten, is that piracy has been an issue since the 80’s. We all remember making mix tapes on our home cassette players, but we may not remember the anti-piracy campaign of the time entitled “Home Taping is Killing Music”. In the 90’s, the trend was burning compact disks, and at the turn of the century we began copying music onto MP3 players.

Well it’s 30 years later and music is not dead. In fact, many musicians would argue that it is the recording companies that are killing music by stifling collaboration and creativity. Interestingly enough, the most recent anti-piracy ad, that equates downloading unlicensed digital music to stealing a car, actually contained a pirated soundtrack. The Hollywood funded anti-piracy organization BRIEN contracted with a composer to score the ad which was supposed to be shown exclusively at a local film festival. Several years later this commercial has appeared in millions of movie theaters and on televisions around the world. Of course BRIEN never got permission from the composer, or paid him, for further use of his music.

Musicians being taken advantage of by recording companies is nothing new. The reason this practice was accepted in the past is because making an album was previously a hugely expensive endeavor and artists did not have any options other than to work with a recording company. With recent advancements in technology, many artists are realizing they can record and distribute their own music, without the need of a record company to siphon their profits.

An increasing trend in the music industry has shown many artists abandoning their corporate contracts with recording companies in favor of going into business for themselves, after repeatedly seeing virtually zero income from their work. However, smaller bands still face the issue of getting their music heard by the public. This is where questionable IP comes into play.

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish based organization that has had the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) up in arms for years and is credited for leading the piracy movement, has begun to gain overwhelming support within the independent music industry. The Pirate Bay is now encouraging musicians to provide some of their work for free to the public, and in turn, will feature the artist on their website for a period of time to three countries of the artist’s choosing. The mentality has been that since bands are not seeing much income from their recording contracts anyway, they would rather sacrifice the IP protection provided by the RIAA to gain the support of new fans as well as the viral model of promotion the internet provides. Results have been very well received for artists being promoted on the website and thousands of musicians have been lining up to participate with The Pirate Bay in this service. So what does it say about the RIAA when musicians have begun to give away their music for free as opposed to working with a recording company?

Obviously, something needs to change within the Recording Industry Association of America, however the RIAA is taking the same stance it always has by wasting billions of dollars on lawsuits and international lobbying to have The Pirate Bay and those associated with it shut down and put in jail.

The truth of the matter is that the corporate model for the music industry is becoming obsolete and musicians are no longer dependent on record companies to produce their work. The RIAA has been ‘strong-arming’ the music industry for years and refusing to adapt to the digital era, as companies such as Apple, Rhapsody, and Pandora have done. Regardless of how large an organization the RIAA is, any company that does not adapt to its current environment will be left behind and eventually perish. After years of lawsuits attempting to enforce IP laws to protect the creators of content, it is becoming clear the RIAA is just protecting itself, and its profit margins will continue to thin until it stops resisting change and embrace the digital era.





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