The Case for Social Networks and Sharing Music

Over the last ten years, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed thousands of lawsuits against music swappers.  Some cases have been tossed out, some settled out of court and worse, charging one KaZaa user nearly  $80,000 for each of the 24 songs shared in his music library.

The argument by the RIAA, their defense for these astronomically large suits?  Lost revenues.  Now, do we really think any one of these songs were actually downloaded nearly 80,000 times, from this user? Highly unlikely.  Even if a file went viral…

1
2
4
8
16
32
64
128
256
512
1024…

Follow that trend for each of the 24 songs to 80,000, if each person shared the file with two people.  Is there any real way to actually track one of these shared files from one user to all recipients? Not really.  The RIAA was, for a while, placing song into services like KaZaa and LimeWire and tracking their spread but never published the data publicly and never provided their methods.  Without any actual proof, I find it impossible to believe that a single file, from a single person, can easily reach 80,000 people, especially when this person only shares 24 songs.  It could be argued that someone who shares only 24 songs, isn’t someone who uses a service like KaZaa very often, or only shares files received through one of these services and not files already in their legal music library.

Heck, if I shared my iTunes library, following this logic, the RIAA could sue me for $2,582,337,500.  Spelled out, that’s two billion, five-hundred and eighty-two million, three-hundred and thirty-seven thousand, five hundred dollars.

So where is this all coming from?

Today I was livestreaming from my desk on Ustream to an audience of thirty-three people.  We chatted as I did some work and played a Jason Mraz album, Mr. A-Z.  I probably got through 10 songs during this livestream before I started taking suggestions from viewers on what good new music is out there.  Oh crap, there goes $800,000!

Ultimately though, it was this song by the Friendly Fires that got me to thinking…  (watch the video, it’s great!)

The song, Kiss of Life, is the latest single, released August 11 from their upcoming album.  Because @lostinthemusic posted this video link to our Ustream chat, we all viewed the video and a few of us even searched out where to buy the album.  I bought a copy of their last album on iTunes.

We began to discuss how cool it would be to have a Ustream channel where we all put in our music suggestions and for say an hour, we listened to each of these songs suggested.  Would this really destroy the music industry?

Highly doubtful.  Just a few weeks ago a video went viral on YouTube

The above video, as of this posting, was played 20,399,927 times.

Did the music industry really lose 1,631,994,160,000? Spelling it out makes it seem so much more relevant, that would be one trillion, six-hundred and thirty-one billion, nine-hundred and ninety-four million, one-hundred and sixty thousand dollars.  I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  In fact, the more you dig into this particular case, the more interesting the facts get.

This video seemed to do something Chris Brown‘s PR department, lawyers, YouTube confessional and blog couldn’t… Make Brown some money.  Ever since that incident where he beat up his girlfriend, platinum selling artist Rhianna, his musical career has been in the gutter.  He was cut from a very profitable advertising campaign with Wrigley, his album sales tanked, he was just short of banned from radio play and yanked from the BET Awards show!

What exactly did it do for Brown?  How about taking his album sales from next to zero, to within the top five in single and album sales for both Amazon.com and the iTunes Music Store!  A viral video of a bunch of white, middle-class, hipster-ish, artsy twenty-somethings dancing (flailing) down the aisle on YouTube did this.

Sharing music over the Internet sold thousands to millions of dollars in music from a guy who just months ago was a total outcast.  How can the RIAA argue against that?

Now, I don’t want to come off as someone advocating the illegal downloads of media.  I’m a photographer.  If someone took my photos and sold them or saturated the internet with them, well I’d probably be pissed, right after I was glowing with glee that people really loved my work.  I understand the value of owning your work and making a profit selling it.  I understand the importance of intellectual property and laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

At the same time, I see the DMCA and the tactics (which are often time, illegal themselves, by the way) of the RIAA are out of line.  The rules of “fair use” need to be re-written, in this new, digital-age.  Services like AmazonMP3 and iTunes going DRM free was a huge, important and necessary step.

The current system is broken and until there is a new distribution structure out there, these lawsuits, laws and regulations are, in so many ways, unenforceable.

We live in a crowdsourcing, social networking, life-streaming, blog-posting world.  Our lives are no longer private.  Our diaries are online for the world to see.  Our mixed tapes are Last.fm channels and even better, 8tracks playlists.

(Seriously, check out http://8tracks.com/ which more or less replaced MuxTape when its original purpose was destroyed by the RIAA)

Until the RIAA stops losing sleep to social networks, music streaming and fair-use, it will be up to the artists to make this change.  Radiohead, Coldplay, GirlTalk, and several other artists have already gone this route and have been incredibly successful.

Open your eyes, Music Industry.  There is an awesome pool party going on, and you’re running ten years late.

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