How the RIAA Could Solve the Piracy Problem

Disclaimer: These views are mine, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Here's my two cents on how record labels could effectively combat piracy. Instead of suing kids and chasing the DRM delusion, they should offer music free for download in unrestricted formats. But...

Here's the twist: Thirty seconds into each recording, an unobtrusive but intelligible voice-over advertisement would say "purchase this song at so-and-so dot com." It would be mixed straight into the recording. Other than this, the song would run unaltered. If a listener wanted a download without an ad, she'd just go to the website and pay for an ad-free version.

How would this help record labels?

Fans are on the fence about piracy, but it proliferates because any ethical qualms fans have are trumped by two factors: 1) Infuriating behavior by the RIAA, and 2) the desire for free music. This strategy addresses these problems. When fence-sitting Joe wants a free song, he's more likely to grab a legal copy off the web from a friendly record label, if such things existed, than enter the dubious world of illegal music downloading. But either way, Joe's gonna get that song.

It boils down to this: The free music distribution channel is going to exist, regardless, so record labels might as well legitimize it and use it to drive sales.

How would this help fans and artists?

The benefit for musicians and fans is unrestricted discovery. You could load up your MP3 player, and over time buy what you like and delete the cruft. Social bookmarking systems based on freely downloadable or streamable content could build dynamic, individually-tailored podcasts, and create new ways for labels to discover, promote and distribute artists.


Your approach definitely sounds better than what the labels are doing now. On a related note, you might be interested in some ideas for using digital watermarking instead of DRM which a UK startup called "Streamburst" is advocating.

Posted by Jamey Wood on January 24, 2007 at 09:28 AM MST #

I hope that sort of technology overtakes DRM. One of these decades there'll be a quantum leap in reasoning by the industry. I just hope I have a few years of life left to take advantage of it. :P

Posted by Greg on January 24, 2007 at 01:40 PM MST #

Sorry, but I don't think this would solve anything. People would pirate the purchased downloads, for one thing. For another, piracy (while the only subject of your post) is only half the issue. The other half is Fair Use Circumvention (FUC), called DRM by those living under the old paradigm. Nobody seems to be able to face the fact that the old days are just over. Gone. Kaput. Even Apple doesn't get it; they're just making money off the kinetic energy thrown off by the death convulsions of the old paradigm. They're taking advantage of the transition. It never was about intellectual property or artists getting paid. It was about making money from the restricted manufacture and distribution of physical artifacts, which is no longer necessary. The artists themselves no longer need to whore themselves out to record company pimps. They can record and distribute their music themselves, and then it isn't piracy at all. It's just the new distribution method.

Posted by Michael on January 28, 2007 at 04:37 AM MST #

"Nobody seems to be able to face the fact that the old days are just over. Gone. Kaput."

Taking the long view, like over the next thirty years, I think it's a valid point. But it's just wishful thinking to suppose the industry's embattled mindset is already gone or is going to disappear next year. We need transitional ideas.

Posted by Greg on January 29, 2007 at 03:30 AM MST #

I was just listening to my celtic folk music podcast and in the middle of each song it had a 5 second advertisement in the background of the song. Although your idea is a good one, what i then did was went and downloaded the album from yahoo music for free.

Posted by Shudrika Rumpeal on January 30, 2007 at 02:35 PM MST #

Shudrika, I'm sure Colradistan or wherever you're from doesn't have piracy laws, but you can get in big trouble for admitting that kind of stuff here in the good ol' US of A :)

Posted by Greg on January 31, 2007 at 05:34 AM MST #

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My name is Greg Reimer and I'm a web technologist for the Sun.COM web design team.


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