The Era Of Silencing Voices Is Ending: A response to the RIAA’s Cary Sherman’s Editorial in Favor of SOPA

By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)

In a recent editorial, Cary Sherman (Chief Executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents music labels) makes the argument that in order to stop SOPA, websites like Google and Wikipedia are presenting lies in order to advance an agenda:

The hyperbolic mistruths, presented on the home pages of some of the world’s most popular Web sites, amounted to an abuse of trust and a misuse of power. When Wikipedia and Google purport to be neutral sources of information, but then exploit their stature to present information that is not only not neutral but affirmatively incomplete and misleading, they are duping their users into accepting as truth what are merely self-serving political declarations.

It is deeply troubling to read comments from the head of the RIAA accusing others of attempting to use their positions in order to advance an agenda that maintains a status quo.

Those who fear and have the most to lose with respect to technological innovation are the ones who will cling hardest to the models that support their livelihood.  The RIAA—with their historic, ongoing and insistent reluctance to embrace any type of technological innovation that they deem a threat to their business model—is the poster child for this type of behavior.

Mr. Sherman states, for instance, that policy makers:

…knew that music sales in the United States are less than half of what they were in 1999, when the file-sharing site Napster emerged, and that direct employment in the industry had fallen by more than half since then, to less than 10,000.

One can only surmise from this statement that Mr. Sherman desires to go back to 1999 when technological developments did not have such an impact on the industry he represents, as they do today.  Of course, he doesn’t mention the VAST amount of jobs created because of these technological innovations.  Nor does he mention, as my colleague and TuneCore Founder/CEO, Jeff Price did in his article on SOPA, that the RIAA’s calculation of music sales is far from accurate or comprehensively complete:

The problem is that the bills lobbied for were done so by the RIAA, the organization that no longer represents the music industry.   The majority of today’s music is being created, distributed, bought, streamed and shared from artists outside of the RIAA label member system.  The RIAA and its members are no longer the voice of the industry; they are the voice of what was, and an ever-shrinking part of what is.

As Venture Capitalist (and noted music fan) Bijan Sabet recently pointed out on his blog, with respect to another entity trying to cling to an outmoded business model:

Now Hollywood wants the nuclear option. They want to turn off sites that they don’t like or because of a few rogue users. They don’t want to give a take down notice and live with the rules of the DMCA—they just want to erase the site from the web along with data from the vast majority of users that don’t infringe.

Mr. Sabet does a nice job of presenting a counter-argument to Mr. Sherman’s seeming point of view that rejecting SOPA is illegal (“We all share the goal of a safe and legal Internet”), by referencing the current governing law, the DMCA:

I’m over simplifying things greatly but the basic DMCA deal was the following

1. Users take responsibility for content they upload
2. Content owners notify website owners of infringing material
3. Website owners receive the notice, review the notice and then take down any infringing content.

That is how the web operates.

The DMCA is, of course, not an easily-understood document, however it is the dispositive document when it comes to governing this ever-evolving technological world we find ourselves in.

The proponents of SOPA (essentially the RIAA and the MPAA) want to change the laws.  Fair enough.  There is a process to do this.  What they didn’t rely upon, and what Mr. Sherman apparently rails against (Would they have cast their clicks?” he asks — who is “they?”) is an ever-increasingly vocal constituent who — because of the very same technology that Mr. Sherman seems so opposed to — is now better connected, informed, and able to make his or her voice heard than ever before.  It is very possible, therefore, that Mr. Sherman not only desires to go back in time to an era where the industry he seeks to protect had a monopoly on what records were made, distributed, and promoted, but also a time when it was far easier to get legislation like SOPA passed without the type of public outcry that he must deal with today.  In both cases, unfortunately for Mr. Sherman and others, he can no longer silence the voices.

Update 3/2: Watch George Howard discuss this article in a live webchat.


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George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.  He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this. As someone with intimate knowledge of the realities of the old industry your words carry far more weight than many who have written on this topic and it is so important to have voices arguing against the RIAA’s stance that come from within the world of music. As someone who was working at a major label right when this revolution was fomenting I have never understood why the industry reacted the way it did and feel it is now paying the price for their own very bad decisions and reacting like a spoiled toddler over it. My main take on the Times editorial is the RIAA is anti-democracy in all it’s forms. Mr. Sherman clearly also thinks all Americans are stupid or something, assuming everyone against SOPA/PIPA only read Wikipedia and Google pieces on this topic before taking a stand. That’s ridiculous. The amount of intelligent recording artists who came out against them alone shows that it’s not about music & film vs. tech firms but the old guard in both industries vs. everyone else, including the people who the industry relies on to make them money, the creative people. As an intelligent artist myself who is passionate about copyright and it’s protections I read the bill itself as well as many pro and con position pieces before contacting my representatives and signing petitions and I am sure I am far from the only one who did that. The Times article was offensive to me both as an artist and an American, as was the legislation that started the whole affair. Pieces like this back us all up very nicely.

  • DC Cardwell

    My music wouldn’t be out there if I hadn’t been able to distribute it myself with the aid of the Internet. Big record companies, studios and the likes of RIAA represent a dwindling percentage of artists, and the music they put out is rapidly becoming the kind of sterile pablum that state-sponsored record companies used to release in totalitarian nations (and probably still do). At least in those countries artists are persecuted for speaking out against authority. But there’s a chance we’ll be persecuted simply for not being signed to a major label!

    • Tyler

      you mean “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” on MTV is “pro-life” Republican programming and the fact that during the height of independent music Rupert Murdoch of the conservative right controlled Myspace doesnt mean something was and is up? The new thing is teen placement-such as “Rebecca Black” at The Grammy’s and most people getting radio play are 25 and under.

  • Jaxonmuse

    Nice. As soon as I am able i’d like to get involved with fighting perps like RIAA and SOPA legislation. I believe this is a fight worth winning. Thanks tonecore for being on the vanguard.

  • Claire-France Perez

    Appreciate some thoughtful dialogue on this frightening trend for law in general, not just the protection of music. But a counterpoint is also needed for these bullies in the marketplace. After all, weren’t they the first distributors of sharing software? This guy says he’s got reams of evidence. Please take a look: http://youtu.be/p3cKvBVa0qA, and 
    http://www.youtube.com/JeepersMedia

  • http://twitter.com/Superflythug Mongo Slade

    Hopefully the voices continue to be effective in continuing to make the web more of an equalizer and viable source of distribution for the independents and little guys

    • http://www.9giantsteps.com George Howard

      exactly, and it’s why it’s important to stay abreast of these (and similar – net neutrality, for instance) issues.

      Best,George

      • michael

        it’s so interesting

  • Tyler

    I don’t know, though, SOPA seems to be preventing the “free music” trend-and how artists are going to make money if no one pays is beyond me.
    I agree the R.I.A.A. does NOT represent the recording industry however as 90% in the music business are independents.

    • http://www.9giantsteps.com George Howard

      you bring up the right point. we are *not* advocating some sort of relaxation of copyright laws. artists MUST have the rights and choice to exploit their music as they see fit (in accordance with (c) laws). the issue we have is that you can’t allow groups like the riaa and mpaa to determine what sites should be taken down; we have courts and laws for this.

      george

  • Jamax

    The people who made the the clicks are users who feel it is natural to steel off the internet and who were bullied into clicking by 900 lb. gorillas. Are you going to keep pointing fingers and second guessing motives of the RIAA or are you going to get behind theses bills to fix them and get them passed so that creators might get the royalties that are now being stollen. Freedom Sheedom! This is theft on a grand scale, a massavise hemorage. As my record company I want you to do the right thing for me and all the other content owners you profess to represent. PS. Quit with the first amendment argument. It’s weak and you should’nt be using it as a crutch. The internet is broken for creative property and needs to be fixed and the sooner you clowns at Tune Core realize it and work to fix the problems the better off we could all be. This should also address the performance right that gets paid for internet streaming. It’s totally inadequate!.
    Nobody’s going shut down anyone the way you talked about it but if they refuse to comply after fair warning they should then be sued, shut down or both. The bottom line is Tune-Core and the RIAA should have the similar adgenda of fixing the theft taking place over the internet.

    • Anonymous

      @Jamax

      Sorry for the delay in the response, we were busy dealing with the dancing poodles running around the circus ring here at clown school.
      You will find no bigger supporter of artists rights than TuneCore -artists deserve to get paid for the use of their copyrights if they choose to. Period, end of story
      However, the RIAA has no right to be representing the millions of artists that are not members of it
      The RIAA represents the interests of its members, the major labels, not the artist and not copyright
      And you truly are fooling yourself if you dont believe they will attempt to shut down sites.
      Please read the link in this article if you need more proof.

      Jeff

  • T Thegamblerhamilton

    While I agree that while the major labels need to be protected from piracy, I also feel the people who are representing themselves through sites such as Tune Core, CD Baby,I tunes ,etc. need EQUAL PROTECTION and the bills presented to congress and the senate should clearly and in laymens terms spell out the protection for them to have EQUAL Rights as the major lables , AND the song sales sites for the INDIE ARTIST should be protected from shut down and other business interferience from the major labels. I grew up in a time when the recording companies could and did REGULARLY SCREW THE ARTIST AND WRITERS. I both wrote songs, and recorded songs for Accent Records, and Cycadelic Publishing and have YET TO RECEIVE A SINGLE CHECK FOR ANY OF MY EFFORTS . The sites like Tune Core are out to stop this type of practice by the major labels in it’s tracks. and many ARE UNDER ATTACK W/O ANY REPRESENTATION WITH IN RIAA OR MPAA. INDIE ARTIST/WRITERS NEED A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD WITH THE MAJOR LABELS ! Otherwise it’s back to the trianny of the minority ! 

  • Brian Shell

    Another great article George, and I also enjoyed your YouTube video on “Like X… but with wh(Y)” too.  To me, this entire argument reminds me of a bit of dialogue from the indie movie “My Dinner with Andre” where they’re talking about people who speak of getting out of NYC but never do… and Andre says something to the extent of its like being in a sense of schizophrenia… where the people who create such structures are both the prisoners and the guards at the same time.  They take a pride in the prison they create and are offended if you try to ruin its grandeur or perception thereof… while at the same time, being at the mercy of “The Machine” (or “The Borg”) because they are prisoners of their own conscious choice.

    The ol’ Golden Handcuffs thing… where my saying about it is: “People caged by the Golden Handcuffs create NO art… only copies of the cages they’re in.”

    Similar, it’s the monkey with his hand in a treetrunk holding an acorn with the hunters coming.  He can’t escape them unless he lets go of the acorn… but can’t see through the fact that his freedom is within his own conscious control of letting go.

    Blessings George… and from a former article, each time I now do a Downward Dog at the gym, I think of your wisdom and smile.

    Brian Shell
    http://www.PassionHero.com
    Be a Passion Hero… at times, use words.

  • Vinylmatt45

    A point of View from a 39 year old Electronic producer and label owner in UK. Like any rule or boundary. Some say they are made to be broken, others will disagree. No one is perfect and id like to bet that everyone in every shape or form has crossed a line if there ever was meant to be one. From my days at University where i achieved a 100% distinction some 20years ago, the rules of engagement as far as i was taught and aware with copyright law is that if you use something that does not belong to you then permissions are needed in order to use it, but its never your own. How ever, if you take something, adjust it using filters and effects or quite simply cut it up and re-shape it so that its not in its original form. Then generally speaking its no longer bound by copyright, because its not the same as it was when you took it. Then other to this’ from a hypothesis point of view, does copyright not have a life span? For example, here in UK if you have a car on the road that is over 50years, our government tells us that its tax exempt (personally due to the damage they do to the ozone i think that this is ridiculous). Surely if someone takes some audio and for example the owner of the material has passed away, or not in that line of business anymore and could not give 2 monkeys either way then its free for the taking? haha.. Why cant people learn to live and let live!.. Personally, i feel its just another money making machine and someone, somewhere no matter whether they succeed or fail has probably made a nice small fortune :-)

  • Marcos Fernandes

    I take issue with the transparency of Tunecore on one point: that nowhere does it mention the signup fee is annual. Only after I had purchased several “submission credits” and signed up several titles did I find out that the fees were annual. Granted I got refunded for the unused credit but had I known about this, I would have gone with CDBaby from the beginning. As it is, I had to pay for a year of Tunecore for a few titles only to pay again to get them up on CDBaby. I could have saved about $200 had I known I had to renew annually with Tunecore.

    • Anonymous

      @Marcos

      Not trying to be contentious at all, but it says the distribution fee is an annual fee on the homepage, in your shopping cart, in your invoices etc
      Its listed everywhere as an annual fee

      In addition, you receive multiple emails starting five weeks prior to the year being up.
      Not certain why you are stating it does not say it is an annual fee

      Jeff