Opinion 2005 proved one thing. The music industry really is as dumb as you think.
US CD sales in 2005 fell 3.5 per cent year-over-year, according to Nielsen Soundscan. That's quite a blow given that CD sales actually rose by 2.3 per cent in 2004. A sane person might suggest that higher energy costs throughout 2005 ate up a few of those sales or that pricey iPods left less cash to spend on albums. This logic escapes the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), which again attributes the fall in sales to piracy and which last year attributed the rise in sales to better anti-piracy measures.
So which is it? Are the RIAA's anti-piracy measures affecting sales or not?
Well, in 2005, the RIAA filed 7,000 more lawsuits against consumers - bringing the all-time total to more than 16,000. Along with the movie crew, it also managed to shutdown many of the most popular BitTorrent hubs. In addition, the US Supreme Court handed the RIAA a convenient decision against Grokster that holds P2P sites liable for their users' actions. Last but not least, the Down Under version of the RIAA convinced a court to clamp down on Kazaa.
All in all, 2005 marked a banner year for quashing CD piracy in the courts and on the internet. You'd think sales would have gone up once again, if you buy into the RIAA's way of thinking.
While P2P networks still thrive, they're mostly full of porn and mangled media. No one in their right mind or at least with a day job would sit there trying to pull down these tunes when they can buy a perfect album at the store. Similarly, movies take forever to download and come out looking pretty shite for the most part. The P2P networks - not that they were ever that great - aren't what they used to be, if hunting for music is your main goal.
Given all this, it would seem like the RIAA has the piracy fiends by their song-swapping balls. If they don't, then what's the next course of action?
Well, there aren't many sites left to shut down. In fact, without major media hubs to go after, the music publishers are now reaching to examine sites that post lyrics to songs. (We've bought many a song after lyric hunting, but that's surely because we're odd, totally unique, not mainstream creatures.) Along with the evil lyric mongers, consumers will likely be targeted by another 10,000 or so lawsuits in 2006. Then the RIAA can wait for the year-end data and say either that its war on piracy really boosted sales or that piracy continues to undermine the very fabric of the creative process, and this pattern will continue until the music industry enjoys a protracted boom.
Sadly, the RIAA's current line of thinking and method of operation prohibits such a boom.
Without question, the lawsuits against children, parents and grandparents don't help the music industry's public relations campaign. Nor do advertisements portraying download-happy consumers as criminals. It is wrong to grab this music without compensating artists. That's clear. What isn't clear is if suing thousands of people a year to prove a point is a punishment that fits the crime or a strategy worth pursuing.
Lord knows, Bono put food on his table this Christmas, Britney Spears can still throw away her panties after a single use and Sheryl Crow can afford not to eat. It's a bit hard to feel sorry for these millionaires when a 12-year-old faces public scorn and thousands of dollars in fines for firing up this thing called Limewire.
In addition, the RIAA has not encouraged a diverse, healthy online music buying environment as some suggest.