RIAA Trial – Big Mistake or Not?

Today a trial in Duluth, MN (USA) continues. It’s a trial that, IMHO, should never have started.

For years the Recording Industry Association of America has hammered people for downloading and sharing copyrighted music without paying. Thousands have settled (and paid fines) after getting the “nasty letter” from RIAA attorneys.

There is nothing wrong with protecting copyrights. We need to respect copyrights – both individually and as a legal and cultural concept. They are integral to a free market economy. If a person creates intellectual property and they want it protected by copyright, that’s their right. No one should violate that right and expect to get away with it.

But is that what the RIAA’s actions are really about? You could argue the RIAA is more interested in protecting the status quo (and their cash flow) than copyrighted music.

Whatever their motivation, at some point, they need to consider how the world has changed. If the RIAA is to sustain itself they should take a good, honest look at the writing on the wall. Their old model of publishing and distributing music is going away. They will no longer be the 800 pound gorilla.

And, in this case I think they’ve hit a wall. They’ve gone too far in taking this case to court because it will bite them back hard.

Whatever the legal issues, this case will be a publicity problem for the RIAA. I don’t pretend to be a legal beagle so I won’t comment on the legal strength of either side’s case. But the defendant, Jammie Thomas, offers a pretty sympathetic “David” versus the overbearing “Goliath” that is the RIAA.

Even if the RIAA wins in trial court, they lose in the court of public opinion. Consumers of music are unhappy with them anyway. This trial will make it worse.

And if they lose in court, then they will have emboldened more defendants to ignore their letters and settlement offers. They will have opened the proverbial can of worms and I’m not sure they’ll be able to close it.

From a marketing perspective, the RIAA has it all wrong. They are beating up on their customers. That’s never a good way to do business.

Instead, maybe they should acknowledge that the world is changing. Rather than trying to maintain control over the distribution of music they should look for ways to remain a player. Use their position and resources to serve the music industry – the musicians, technicians and consumers.

Every organization exists to serve someone. If I were running the RIAA I would ask, what business are we in? What purpose do we serve? And, given how the world has changed, how do we continue to serve that purpose?

If the RIAA did that they might find themselves with a sustainable role to play in the music industry. If they continue as they are, their days are numbered.

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz