RIAA: Who are the pirates? Free and uncut!


By Zeek Greko

There is a scene in the movie “Men in Black” where Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are at the alien receiving center, in the alien technologies room. Tommy Lee Jones is showing Smith these new technologies and he picks up what looks like a one-inch-in-diameter CD-ROM for playing music and says, “I guess I’ll have to buy the Beatles’ White Album again.”

Using this example, why is Tommy Lee Jones saying “I guess I’ll have to buy the Beatles White Album again”? He obviously already owns it; the word “again” indicates that. What he is really saying is “I already have a full license to listen to and enjoy the music that is on the Beatles White Album that I now have on CD. But things being what they are with the greedy, pirate recording companies, in order to get the Beatles White Album on this new one-inch disk medium, I’ll have to buy another license as well. Come to think of it, being as old as I am, I paid for a full license for the original 12″ vinyl LP, the Eight-Track Tape, the cassette, and the CD. No, wait! I just remembered. I bought the eight-track twice and the cassette three times. Those old tape players ate a lot of good music.” In this scenario, you might expect Will Smith to ask:

1) Isn’t there a way to return the CDROM and pay for just upgrading to the new one inch medium ?

A) The record companies have at no time in the past nor are they likely in the future to (without buyers boycotting) implement any form of new media format exchange program.

2) What happens if the CD cracks or gets scratched (which is hard to avoid)? Can you get it replaced, or do you have to buy a full license every time?

A) You are out of luck, you have to buy a full license every time.

3) Is there any way to make a backup? That way you can store the original in a safe place and replace the backup when it becomes unplayable.

A) Currently (amid much pig squeeling in the background) you can make backups with your computer, but the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) using the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copright Act) is working furiously to plug that hole with DRM (Digital Rights Management) which if implemented, will cripple your computer so that you can’t. Already Windows XP users are crippled to some degree. (Microsoft is leading the charge, trying to establish themselves as the de-facto DRM “Copy Cops”).

4) What happened to all of those old legally licensed copies you bought?

A) The dollar value of legal, legitimate, licensed music on unusable media that has ended up in dumps and landfills over the years is undoubtedly huge and probably staggering. I don’t have a figure, but ask yourself how many times you have had to replace a tape or a disk because it became unusable. If you’re young, ask your folks how many trash cans they could fill up with LPs, 45s, eight-tracks, cassettes, DVD’s, VHS cassettes, Betamax cassettes, and CD-ROMs that became unusable over the years. The generally universal answer would be “a lot”! Now multiply that times millions of homes in the U.S. alone. Yup, “a lot” fits quite well!


We have to get out of the mindset that we are buying disks or tapes. We are purchasing licenses. The physical media that it is on is just a way of conveying it to you the purchaser. When you purchase dowloadable music online, you never see a CD-ROM because it is conveyed to you the purchaser by electronic media. Even Microsoft doesn’t make you buy a new license for Windows because of unusable media. They are only interested in COA’s and Product Keys. The recording companies like it just fine that we buy the same licenses over and over again. They are absolute zealots at trying to stop us from making backups of the media we purchase on flimsy, unprotected, easily damaged disks but have never once offered a remedy for the reason we need to make backups.

It is more than reasonable for us to expect to purchase only one license for any artist’s particular work, and that sellers of recording licenses should be obligated to assist us purchasers in maintaining those licenses on current, usable media. Even more so if they’re going to try to prevent us from making our own backups.

To end this injustice, the recording companies should consider changing its tactics and make available through their distributors:

1) Replacements for broken or unusable media for the cost of the media: If it got cracked, chipped, eaten, scatched, folded, melted, or just plain worn out, or like U.S. currency, anything over half is whole anything under half is zero.

2) Media format upgrades and updates: If it’s on an LP, 45, eight-track or cassette, etc., bring in the original for an upgrade to the current media format for the cost of the media.

That would be justice!

The recording companies would actually make money on these exchanges. Even at an exchange rate of $1 or $2, they would make money because they are just replacing the media. They don’t have to pay out royalties to artists. They are just repackaging a license on new, fresh media. They could even replace just the actual disk in a sleeve instead of shipping the jewel boxes. It would even help stop bootleggers because the purchasers would know they wouldn’t ever be able to return or exchange the media when they became unusable.

Local brick and mortar recording stores could be revived from the slow death they are experiencing because it makes more sense to exchange media at a local shop (lower shipping costs) rather than having each individual packing up and shipping disks or tapes one at a time. They would become relevent again. They would become our backups. (“Oops! My Queen BR CD is fried, so I’ll be on my way to my local recording Shop for a replacement. While I’m there, I’ll have a look around for something else I might like to buy.”)

Is it an assault on common sense to think that getting people into your store for exchanging broken media, could lead to the purchase of something ?

The recording company executives have been struck stupid by their greed. In this slow economy, why don’t they institute the above media exchange policy? It’s the right thing to do and it’s a source of income. I personally have $500 to $600 worth of broken media or formats to upgrade. The RIAA might even experience a precipitous drop in their so-called “rampant piracy.”

How much of this so-called rampant piracy is simply people upgrading or replacing media on licenses they already own? Maybe just downloading the contents of one of their muddy sounding, worn-out cassette tapes so they can enjoy that legally licensed music again. And who could really blame them for “taking some digital justice”? Just my humble opinion.

— Zeek …

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