The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are organizations that lobby on behalf of their members. Like most good trade organizations, they work hard to press the concerns of their members before judges, legislators and other officials to obtain a legal climate that is favorable to them.
That is what a trade group does and, by itself, that doesn’t make such a group “evil”. Many “good” organizations do the exact same thing every day of year and never catch any flak for it.
The problem with these organizations is a strange combination of the amount of clout they’ve developed and the recklessness with which they push legislation through. On the surface, it appears these organizations (The “AAs” I like to call them) truly believe that they’re the only ones who matter and that everyone else, even those with common goals, can go to Hell.
Unfortunately, that often includes fellow artists.
The AAs, at best, represent a fraction of a percent of all of the creatives in the United States (or the world for that matter). For every musician on a major record label or every writer hammering out scripts for a major studio, there’s hundreds of DJs mixing away in their basement, thousands of bloggers proudly displaying their Creative Commons logos and countless anonymous poets, musicians, directors, artists and other creatives toiling purely for the pleasure that making art brings.
Unfortunately, when issues of copyright come up before our government or in our courtrooms, it’s the AAs that stand to be heard. These trade groups, and the small fraction of artists they represent, wind up practically writing the laws by which everyone must operate.
When we’re talking about copyright laws, we’re talking about the very laws that govern how culture, art and information are distributed. It’s quite literally the key to all knowledge and creativity. Any small change in copyright legislation can prevent or grant access to anyone in society. Thus, copyright laws have to strike a delicate balance to both reward creators and encourage publication, but also allow as much free access to works as feasible.
It’s a delicate balancing act that must be approached with caution. However, when the AAs step up to have their voice heard, they invariably wind up favoring only one side, their own. They take rights away from the public to make their own bottom line look better. It’s what trade groups do, but when dealing with such serious issues, it’s also very wrong.
Even though it’s their disdain for their potential customers that’s best known and documented, it’s the complete lack of respect they show their fellow artists that bothers me the most and gets the least attention. Not once do they ask other copyright holders how they feel about the legislation they seek, rather, they just push forward their own agendas, which usually have more to do with lining their pockets than promoting art.
Artists who disagree with the AAs’ opinions have to fend for themselves. Those who favor the open distribution of their work have to detangle the web of red tape the AAs create and deal with laws that are designed to favor large corporations.
The DMCA is the perfect example of this. Though it’s designed to give copyright holders the power to stop copyright infringement that takes place online, it creates a “big stick” that only giants can wield. How many people (that don’t visit this site) know how to file a proper DMCA notice? How many small artists can afford to sue under the DMCA?
For most, these things are left to lawyers, lawyers who are financially out of reach and not viable alternatives for the cost of the work stolen. Only the biggest fish can make full use of the DMCA and, since it grants so many insane powers to copyright holders, creates an unimaginable potential for misuse by the small fish who learn what it can do.
It’s a bad law that only serves the purposes of the AAs. It doesn’t represent me nor countless other content creators. Yet, we all have to deal with it because the AAs wanted it. Their desire became our reality, it’s that simple.
In the copyfight, the AAs don’t represent the public nor the bulk of artists. Yet, they’re steering the ship. It’s time that all of us got behind organizations like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and Creative Commons to start taking back control. After all, it’s our work and our rights. We have to be the ones to defend.
Because it’s obvious that the AAs have no interest in doing it for us.
[tags]RIAA, MPAA, Copyright, Copyright Infringement[/tags]