For years now, EFF has been arguing against the strongarm tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and its vain attempt to stop filesharing by dragging music fans into court. At the same time, we?ve also been tirelessly promoting the idea of Voluntary Collective Licensing (VCL) as a solution that could give fans what they want, while ensuring that musicians get paid. Lately, these formerly fringe ideas are garnering broader respect after a few mainstream stories about the RIAA lawsuits and VCL.
Take the excellent series on the RIAA lawsuits from American Public Media's Marketplace (heard on NPR stations around the country). While responsibly airing perspectives from several major players, the show nevertheless presents an unflattering portrait of the music industry?s tactics. RIAA lawsuit victim Tanya Anderson, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred Von Lohmann and RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol are each featured in extensive interviews, and the simple facts of the story are allowed to speak for themselves. The RIAA?s effort to intimidate fans by randomly targeting a few individuals is clearly futile, and unnecessarily punitive.
Meanwhile, VCL schemes are beginning to attract interest from some influential music industry players. The new co-chief executive of Columbia Records, Rick Rubin, has been talking about subscription-based music services. ?You would subscribe to music," Rubin told the New York Times Magazine. "You'd pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you'd like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere.? And Rubin isn?t the only one. Music industry insider and gadfly Bob Lefsetz has recently been talking up VCLs as well.
In addition, Universal Music Group has reportedly been circulating a proposal for a subscription service under the name "TotalMusic." Details are vague, but would likely include an agreement between Universal and ISPs that would require all of the ISP?s subscribers to opt in, in which case subscribers? service rates would increase whether they downloaded Universal?s music or not. An improvement to this plan would be to allow people to opt in on an individual basis ? this would generate immediate cash flow, and demonstrate the public interest in this sort of service.
Clearly, the music industry is awakening to reasonable, immediate solutions that can bring us all more music, at better quality, while generating more money for artists and their labels. The only question is how long the music industry will delay the inevitable.