There have been a couple newsworthy legal happenings in the music industry recently. The first was when Metallica took legal action against their fans. For a long time now I've thought someone should take legal action against Metallica's fans, but I never dreamed it would be the band themselves - what irony! I thought legal action might be warranted against Metallica fans for supporting bad, pretentious, corporate rock, but apparently there's no law against that yet. "Band" may not be the most accurate term for describing the whole Metallica phenomenon. Like any popular show-biz act, they are a collection of lawyers, managers, marketing people, and oh yeah, throw some multi-millionaire musicians into the mix, although they may be the least essential ingredient. Metallica's success has always had as much to do with their name as their music. Twenty years ago when they started out they came up with a cool name - "Metallica" - now you've got to admit that marketing-wise that's a great name for a metal band. I doubt they ever would have nailed that Grammy Award if they'd been called "Metal Band #1,682". That would make them sound too much like what they really are. I won't say their name was a stroke of genius, but it was a great way to connect with that ever elusive 14-25 male demographic so critical to the success of any heavy (and fully copyrighted, trademarked and incorporated) metal "band". I'd be the first to admit Metallica had a lot more than just the name. Their logo people, merchandise company and graphic designers all did a first rate job. It scares me to think that in a society that gives out awards like tetanus shots, the graphic design team for Metallica might have only their meager paychecks to compensate them for the millions they've earned for Metallica Incorporated.
On May 2nd Metallica Inc. took unprecedented legal action against more than 300,000 alleged fans, under a bad piece of federal legislation called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (By the way, it scares me when congress passes any laws regarding computers because those people don't strike me as knowing a whole heck of a lot about computers, including how to use one.) Ten days later, under the law, hundreds of thousands of Napster users had their accounts cut off and were no longer allowed access to Napster. If this doesn't sound like a big deal to you, imagine some law by which someone with big bucks for lawyers didn't like the information you were exchanging over the telephone, and forced the phone company to shut off your service. The people who were victimized by this action had no reason to believe they were doing anything wrong. They weren't breaking any law, and they received no warning from Metallica Inc. Metallica also sued several major universities for allowing students broadband internet access. I'm not sure as to what form of spying on their fans resulted in the massive list that Metallica Inc. delivered to Napster, but more than 15,000 Napster users filed sworn statements that they in fact had not used their accounts to copy Metallica files. It would be nice to see some lawyers stop chasing ambulances long enough to seek really big bucks in suing Metallica Inc. on behalf of Napster users who may in fact have been misidentified, although the users who filed sworn statements were able to retain their accounts.
As technology moves forward, the previous technologies that are supplanted have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. When VCR's came on the market Paramount Pictures filed a case against Sony that went to the Supreme Court. Paramount argued that individuals with VCR's could tape Paramount movies and Paramount would be denied revenue as a result. Would Americans lose the "right" to videotape TV shows that citizens of other countries have? As it turns out, no, but the vote of the Supreme Court that allowed electronics manufacturers to continue selling VCR's here in the U.S. was 5-4!! The obvious irony here is that the movie companies were able to exponentially increase their profits as a result of the VCR's they sued to keep off the market. A similar irony is that Metallica became popular in the early '80s largely on the basis of their "No Life 'till Leather" demo tape which they encouraged fans to freely copy and distribute, but that was 100 million dollars ago, so the band might not remember.
The same scenario has happened time and time again, and will continue to happen unless the old technology interests succeed in getting congress to pass enough legislation to keep America firmly rooted in the past while the rest of the world moves on and stakes claim to the wealth that new technology brings. It would be easy for companies like Napster and Microsoft to take their business to a technology friendly nation rather than fight congress and the "Justice Department" here. When photocopy machines came along, copy shops were required to post signs next to each machine telling users that it was a violation of federal law to copy any published copyrighted materials. I guess congress thought people should just photocopy their ass. Copy shops were threatened with being shut down if they did not police the policy. So there's another stupid technophobic law that fortunately isn't being enforced, and as you know, the book publishers have somehow survived quite nicely. In fact the rule of thumb here is that once companies stop fighting new technology, and learn to adapt to it, they make more money than ever before.
There's been a great deal of speculation on how the various new technologies (internet, MP3, CD recorders, etc) will affect CD sales. The correct answer is "I don't care". Personally I find the music industry about as entertaining as the steel industry. If CD sales decrease that will mean there will just be less bad music out there. Maybe at some point they'll run low on money and have to lay off some of their lawyers, and file fewer lawsuits harassing their competitors as a result. The entertainment conglomerates have dumbed down our culture to the point where the vast majority of "entertainment" is aimed at teenagers, and everyone else is being taken along for the ride. The next time you flip on the tube, plan on five jokes an hour about the size of a guys penis, and another ten about the size of a woman's breasts. It's the kind of thing the kids used to laugh at when you were in Junior High School. Well, I'm afraid that we're all in junior high now, like it or not, and corporate America doesn't plan on letting us graduate any time soon. I was watching the Fox network and a show opened with an on screen warning that the show was intended for mature adults. Hey, get serious; Fox has never shown anything for mature adults! I know there's Britney Spears for boy teens and N Sync for girl teens, but what have they got for non-teens? Why do I even know the names of Britney Spears, N Sync, and Pokemon? The entertainment conglomerates may not be the least bit entertaining, but their ability to instantly create brand names for ephemeral crap is impressive. I think there might be adults in line right now for the part 5 of the Star Wars trilogy, and it hasn't even been filmed yet. Someone ought to go up to the front of the line and say, "Did you know that Star Wars is a children's movie? Where are your children? Did they go off to buy Pokemon toys while you hold their place in line."
Oh yeah, I said there were two newsworthy legal happenings in the music industry recently. The second was on May 10th, when the major labels agreed to Federal Trade Commission demands that they eliminate the "MAP", minimum advertised price, that retailers were forced to charge for CDs in order to get paid by the record companies for their share of the cost of advertising those CDs. However, that settlement did not address the fact that the majors have been illegally fixing prices on CDs through collusion for as long as the product has been on the market. Although the record companies have broken the law, the government has yet to stop the practice, much less help consumers to be financially compensated. There are however a number of class action suits presently in the courts. If you were wondering where Metallica Inc. got all that money for their army of lawyers, there's your answer. The price of Metallica's CDs have been artificially high as the result of illegal price fixing. When Metallica became popular in the early '80s, compact discs were new on the market, and the costs of production were high, about $3 each. As I said earlier the majors colluded to create artificially high prices from the beginning, and that was based on the $3 manufacturing cost. As the manufacturing cost decreased, eventually to around $1 per unit, the majors continued to conspire to keep retail prices high. So Metallica screwing over their fans is nothing new. The band has been participating in a scheme where they've stolen literally millions of dollars from their fans right from the start.
The illegally gotten gains of the music conglomerates are currently funding a wave of terrorism against MP3's. When I last visited MP3.com they had dramatically toned down their anti-music industry views in the wake of having been on the losing end of a music industry lawsuit. In addition, their excellent coverage of all relevant legal proceedings involving various new MP3 technologies, like Beam-It, have all but disappeared from the site. Sadly the same thing has happened at Napster.com. In an even more insidious action the RIAA lawyers issued a cease and desist order to a popular MP3 search engine, MP3board.com. Last year the RIAA sent a letter threatening MP3board.com's internet service provider with legal action, and as a result the site was shut down, although they are now back online, and are fighting the RIAA in court. This is not an isolated case. The RIAA is taking legal action against approximately 100 web sites a week! Not every ISP is brave enough to stand up to them. Remember that it only takes one bad judge to take away your freedoms, and there's a lot of them out there. The RIAA vs. Napster case went to Marilyn Patel, possibly the worst federal court judge this side of Thomas Penfield Jackson. Who are these bullies who are using our courts as a terrorist tool? In their own words: The Recording Industry Association of America is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Our mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members' creative and financial vitality. Hey, the only thing creative about them is their pricing structure. In truth RIAA is a trade group representing less than one percent of American record labels. Although industry surveys have shown RIAA policies run counter to the most widely held views in the industry, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks unless they have a team of lawyers to back it up. The bottom line is that every time you buy a record on a major label you are financing these bullies!