June 30, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

The Lawsuits Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Responding to a new FindLaw survey suggesting that most people think the recording industry has gone too far in its litigation campaign against music fans, RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy told the press that it will continue "as long as necessary." Meanwhile, attorney and law professor Sharon Sandeen, quoted in the same piece, observed that "People say, 'If I paid for it, I must own it,' but they don't."

The first quote sounds like the common humorous office memo found in Xerox rooms the planet over: "The beatings will continue until morale improves." The second expresses well what the recording industry evidently hopes to acheive with these beatings -- people so scared of lawsuits, they'll purchase music that they can't even own in the traditional sense.

Sure, you can buy a song at iTunes, but digital rights management dictates what you can do with it. The newest version of iTunes lets you do less with your legitimately purchased music than the last one, and the company has reserved the right to make further changes to its DRM. Under these circumstances, "owning" the music you paid full price for is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get.

Ultimately, competing with free means offering fans a compelling product at a reasonable price point -- something the record labels have so far failed to do. There's no credible evidence to suggest that the lawsuits are "improving morale" -- that is, driving music fans en masse to the legitimate services. Why not offer a blanket license that would allow P2P users to pay $5/month for file sharing? What better incentive could there be to "go legit" than knowing you can legally access all-you-can-eat, unencumbered music?

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