As the content industry grapples with whether they should finally make peace with this new-fangled technology or continue arming their lawyers with thousands of cease-and-desist letters, it's difficult not to giggle at the old fogeys up in the boardroom. MP3s and digital videos have been around for over 10 years... time to update that business plan? Nah, let's kick and scream for a bit longer.
If you haven't been following the latest round of hilarious tribulations involving the RIAA, the MPAA, and the internet, you are missing out on some seriously great fun. Let's start with America's favorite past-time: lawsuits.
MPAA sues millionaire for allegedly downloading Meet the Fockers via Bit Torrent. Millionaire says nuh-uh, he already bought that stupid movie. MPAA says they'll forget about the whole thing if millionaire settles for $2500. Millionaire says f-u, I'm gonna shell out way more than that just to prove you wrong in court.
The RIAA, on the other hand, prefers to sue dead people, grandmas, and folks without computers for illegally downloading music. More recently, they've brought the smack down on their own customers: intimidating music fans who post lip-sync videos on the internet and threatening sites that host guitar tabs for pop songs. How dare you enjoy our music? How dare you. Clearly these unsanctioned activities must be stopped; Fergie is going to starve tonight because you posted a video on You Tube of your friends dancing along to "London Bridge" in your living room. I hope you're proud of yourself. The RIAA's latest PR flub involves a nastygram sent to the Astronomy Department at Penn State, who dared to have a professer named Peter Usher and the MP3 of an astronomer-produced a-capella song about gamma ray satellites on their server. The lethal combination of Usher + MP3 on any website clearly means some illegalism is going on. Thanks to Penn State, poor Usher had to get a second job to pay the bills.
For more on RIAA scare tactics, read the layperson's guide to filesharing lawsuits, posted on the Digital Music Weblog. Or go straight to the source, and check out the RIAA's own anti-downloading propaganda video. Weird Al has issued a musical rebuttal, but it's about as funny as those net neutrality songs.
Of course, the RIAA and MPAA can't hold up their noses to digital media forever. There have been a few promising developments on the digital video front recently, thanks to some TV networks who are warming up to the internet as well as the YouTube phenomenon. Fox will be selling TV shows and movies online, eventually using MySpace as a lucrative marketing platform to compete with other internet video stores and TV networks who have already joined the army of progress: Disney/ABC, CBS, iTunes, and Amazon.
Given the industry's reluctance to latch on to anything that is new and popular with the kids, I am still amazed that YouTube has not been shut down yet. In fact, it's thriving. Even though TV networks and the MPAA squirm at the idea that anyone can watch 10 full minutes of their programming for free, they're learning that this is a small price to pay for the huge amount of exposure the video-sharing site throws back at them. Visibility is worth something, and now NBC is even partnering with YouTube, and talks are underway with a few major record companies (Warner, EMI) to make music videos available on YouTube. Could this mark the beginning of the end of the RIAA's policy on sharing over the internet?
Perhaps, but you can bet they'll be looking for other ways to charge you twice for a record you already own... check out this NY Times review (requires login) of a computerless vinyl to CD converter: you can only feed this puppy "special" anti-piracy CD-Rs (they only allow one copy to be made), that happen to be a lot more expensive than regular CD-Rs (they have to be: the RIAA collects royalties from their sales! Wait, didn't you already pay for that record once?).
And don't expect the RIAA to stop its lawsuit rampage against file-sharers anytime soon. At least not until a judge calls them out for "spamigation."