Friday, January 19, 2007


The RIAA, once again demonstrating an unexplored capacity for willful ignorance, is now attempting a crackdown on mixtapes. Someone needs to explain to them that, from time to time, social, technological, or cultural developments by their very existence simply nullify certain applications of the law. Traditional copyright is not going to work for digital content, and people who deal with these issues as a matter of course discovered that a long time ago. But the music industry, despite its ostensible involvement in creating and defining the cultural vanguard, spends most of its time studying how to cash in on existing trends, instead of studying (or attempting to shape) the culture of subsequent consumer generations. So instead of reading the signs and designing a delivery system that would protect its assets, the music industry followed a "wait and sue" policy (I came up with that independently -- kind of disappointing to find out it's a widely-used phrase).

That was dumb.

For example, a careful (or even superficial) study of mixtape consumers would immediately reveal what the Times article points out: "part of the fun involves hearing rappers remake one another's songs and respond to one another's taunts; a great mixtape captures the controlled chaos that hiphop thrives on." Mixtapes have the potential to be incredibly lucrative, as any of those guys selling $5 CDs on the street can tell you. But, obsessed with shoring up a doomed section of copyright law, the RIAA decided to arrest DJ Drama. It's not going to work, it's not a deterrent.

Imagine how much the Big Four/Five would have made directly on online sales if they didn't have to enter expensive contracts with mediators like Apple et al. This will turn out just the same. The record companies have already missed the boat on mixtapes, and if/when they do figure out a way to enter the real mixtape market (DJ Clue doesn't count), they will likely do so in compromised, water-down fashion that won't make them much money.

By that time listeners will have moved on to someone or something else -- which the RIAA will immediately try to sue, or arrest.

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