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Political Animal

Who's Your Daddy?

By Brian Morton | Posted 8/6/2003

The hell with Big Brother; it's the big daddy over your online shoulder you have to worry about these days. And his name is the Recording Industry Association of America.

Sure, we can all bitch and moan about how athletes get paid massive salaries, which pushes owners to jack up prices and bleed their communities dry for new stadiums, skyboxes, and ever bigger cuts of the revenue pie. But how do they reach into your home? Peter Angelos may be trying to keep the Orioles as a half-baked team so he can plead poverty to Major League Baseball so Washington doesn't get a team, but he's not coming after you to do it.

The RIAA is now filing lawsuits and issuing subpoenas against the little people--us--all over America for file- sharing music on the Internet. The record companies have got their copyright lawyers leaning on Internet providers to cough up names of people sharing music, and they're going right after those people. The Associated Press ran a story on July 25 showing how a 22-year-old female college student in West Virginia ended up a target of an RIAA subpoena after she downloaded tunes from her roommate's Internet account. Both her and the roomie's names and addresses were turned over to music-industry lawyers.

Think back on the days before the CD--you'd make mix tapes for people, you'd record albums onto tapes and swap them with friends. Back then the record companies weren't all that thrilled about the idea--remember the war they started over recordable cassette tapes? But they never followed you home from Radio Shack when you bought that 15-pack of blank tapes.

Greed plus politics usually equals someone getting screwed in the end, and that someone is us. The RIAA is one of the biggest lobbies in Washington, and this past week it moved to keep a lock on its franchise by hiring Mitch Bainwol, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Bainwol was also the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which helped the GOP retake the Senate in last year's elections, and he's a former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee. Which means that there's a bunch of incumbent GOP senators who owe a certain part of their jobs to him and his fund-raising ability, and we all know whose side the GOP comes down on when it's big business vs. you.

Starting Sept. 1, Bainwol will be pulling down a million-dollar salary, and his industry's top goal this fall is to intimidate you into keeping your music off the Internet. Now since we all know how clean the music industry is, how fair the profits are that they get, and how well artists are treated, this shouldn't bother us, right?

OK, even we at Animal Control couldn't make it through that last sentence without guffawing.

Times have changed since the '80s when Tom Petty waged a one-man crusade against his record label when they wanted to raise the price of his Hard Promises LP past the $9 mark. The music industry bankrolls fading ego-driven divas like Mariah Carey with multimillion-dollar contracts, indulges her by letting her worship herself in craptaculars like Glitter that bomb at the box office, and, in the end, all the money wasted gets recouped from the consumer at the cash register.

The RIAA brags that it's got a 90 percent share of all music publishing in the country, and yet it is resorting to heavy-handed Big Brother tactics like issuing subpoenas from Washington, D.C. courts--which no college student in West Virginia is going to have a shot at contesting. Think of living in Maryland and suddenly getting a $14,000 traffic ticket from Albuquerque--that's the kind of game the RIAA is playing. The AP reports the music lobby has issued at least 900 subpoenas so far, and its lawyers say the RIAA plans on filing several hundred lawsuits within eight weeks. Copyright laws allow the record companies to collect damages between $750 to $150,000 for each song downloaded! Anvil, meet ant.

The only group looking out for the people being hunted down by the RIAA is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, working through the Web site www. subpoenadefense. org. There's a list of lawyers, as well as a link to see if you've been targeted by the RIAA for music downloading. So far, Verizon--our local telephone monopoly, I mean, provider--is the biggest target for the RIAA to cough up the names of major downloaders, as the company has already lost a District Court battle in D.C. to keep the names private. Verizon is appealing to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but in the meantime it's open season for lawsuits.

Artists have already felt the sting of Clear Channel's virtual radio monopoly, concertgoers have seen Ticketmaster kick Pearl Jam's ass, and now it comes right down to your privacy, and your mailbox. Music piracy is illegal, but at what point does your privacy come second to a music industry that is determined to squeeze out every last dollar while intimidating its consumer base? And remember, this is where even the politicians won't help you, because at this point they've already been bought. They know who's their daddy.

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