The Price of Stealing Music (When Caught) Is Coming Down

I’ve been saying for a long time now that the record labels through its lobby group RIAA should back off of trying to win lawsuits against consumers for stealing music.

I’ve even said that maybe the labels should pay consumers to steal it, spread it virally for them without any further expense to the labels and make them money.

After all, much of the credible research on music piracy shows that filesharing does not have the deleterious effect on selling music that the labels claim.

Actually, the labels are the main reason they are losing money.

Their misguided mergers, denial regarding the digital age and penchant for maintaining the status quo by suing the pants off of everyone they can.

So, we know there are many cases out there in the court systems of this country in which the RIAA is trying to win or uphold large penalties for stealing even a little bit of music.

That will set a good example for filesharers, they argue.

Keep in mind that the music industry has had no reliable way of battening down the Internet to prevent illegal filesharing.

The most recent outrage has occurred in Texas.

And while 22-year old Whitney Harper of San Antonio was ordered to pay $27,750 to five labels for stealing 37 songs, the good news is that the RIAA’s war on teenagers, kids, parents and dead people is actually blowing up in their faces.

In the Harper case, that means each stolen song was only worth $750 per song – a lot for a young lady just graduating from college, but not the mega sums that the labels have been going after.

And each appeal that follows – and they always do – sets the labels up for reducing the penalty for theft even further.

The argument is being made in other cases now before the courts that the real penalty should be the price of the stolen digital file – 99 cents on the iTunes store or less elsewhere.

Whether that happens or not, the labels are caught in their own quicksand.

The RIAA announced it would not file any further lawsuits but that they wanted to clean up the cases that were out there -- again, with the obvious purpose of setting an example.

They just couldn’t pull up stakes, retreat and declare victory like every losing army in the world does when they discover that conflict doesn’t pay.

Because winning lawsuits in music piracy trials apparently doesn’t pay.

The Jammie Thomas-Rasset case and another one in Boston are high profile David vs. Goliath suits that are on appeal.

Whitney Harper, who downloaded the music as a teenager off of Kazaa, isn’t being cut a break because of her youthful indiscretion. The labels want blood. After all, she is their prime target – a young consumer.

So Harper’s lawyers are arguing that the total cost of paying for her mistake could exceed $40,000 and force a young person just starting out to declare bankruptcy out of the box. They even say she can’t get a job because of the publicity.

And that’s where Whitney Harper has so much in common with her enemies – the labels.

They, too, are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Self-inflicted wounds that were not necessary and that will continue to cause bleeding at a time when the labels have yet to figure out a digital strategy.

No, I’m wrong.

The labels have a digital strategy.

Sue file sharers who tend to be young people.

Try to get more royalties from the radio stations that publicize their music for free at no cost to the labels whatsoever.

Holding back the growth of Internet streamers by waging a senseless war to saddle this young industry with royalty rates so high streamers cannot afford to be in business.

In all of this, record labels insist they are trying to teach music pirates who rob starving artists of royalties a lesson.

What’s missed is that the labels are apparently not learning an even more important lesson.

Keep making a federal case out of how much every stolen download is worth and you may discover for legal purposes at least music is worth less than a dollar -- at the most -- the cost of a digital download.

And for everybody else, it's free.

The RIAA royalty lawsuits haven't stopped filesharing. Hasn't even made a dent in piracy. And now adhering to a tactic of retribution is forcing courts to decide what is a stolen song actually worth.

Labels shouldn't go there.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for FREE, please click here. Then look for a verifying email from FeedBurner to start service.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.