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Life with the Lions

Jeff Partyka

April 2000 | On January 21, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents major record companies, sued MP3.com Inc. for alleged copyright violations. The charges stemmed from the introduction of MP3.com's "My MP3" service just days earlier. (On February 7, MP3.com filed a countersuit against the RIAA alleging unfair business practices.) The controversial service has two parts. First, the "Instant Listening Service" allows buyers of CDs from certain online retailers the opportunity to listen, via MP3.com, to streaming audio of those CDs, even before the actual discs arrive in the mail. Second, "Beam-it" allows people to listen online to CDs they already own, streamed from a database. The CD, once inserted into the user's CD-ROM drive, acts as a "key" to unlock the service and let the streaming begin.

The idea of listening to music on my computer has never appealed to me. When I want to hear music, it's usually because I need to get away from computers and stretch out on the couch, or take a drive. I work with computers all day, and I imagine the sound of "Born to Run" or "Rhapsody in Blue" blaring out of my computer speaker would be frowned upon in my workplace, not to mention distracting. And I'm not the type who thinks of music like wallpaper. I usually really want to listen to music and give it my full attention, to hear what Bob Dylan or Marvin Gaye has to say to me, or how incredible a particular solo by Miles Davis or Al DiMeola is.

Nevertheless, as an amateur artist with material on MP3.com's Web site, I can't help rooting for the littler guy. I do have a vested interest in MP3.com's survival, and I also view the record-industry establishment as a hopelessly bloated, insensitive, meddlesome, outdated, out-of-touch, and increasingly superfluous middleman.

On the day the first lawsuit was filed, RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen and MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson exchanged open letters. Both were posted at http://www.mp3.com; the RIAA's letter appeared on its Web site (http://www.riaa.org). "It is not legal to compile a vast database of our members' sound recordings with no permission and no license," Rosen wrote. "And whatever the individual's right to use their own music, you cannot exploit that for your company's commercial gain."

Robertson's response bemoaned the fact that the RIAA had decided, in his view, to "shoot first and ask questions later." He made a direct link to the larger issues that put his company and the RIAA on opposite sides of the fence. "These are the actions of an industry that is against consumers' rights, against new technologies, and against expansion of artists' revenues," he wrote. "This is the rhetoric of a monopolist."

For me as a musical artiste (however amateur), the last part of Robertson's letter resonates most, even if it has little to do with the issue at hand: "You purport to represent the interests of artists. We agree that artists' rights are important. And that artists should be able to control their music. But do your member companies really practice what they preach? MP3.com connects artists to their consumers. We empower them with tools to promote their music, know who their fans are, and to contact them directly. Your model gives to the artist only a fraction of the price at which a CD is sold. We believe that the artists will benefit far more by having Internet technologies give them the ability to make direct connections with their fans and ultimately receive revenue on a pay-per-listen basis."

While I don't agree with every word in either party's letter (that "pay-per-listen" idea rubs me the wrong way), Robertson's ideas strike me as more forward-looking and more in the interests of those who make and listen to music. Legally, the RIAA can probably make a pretty good case, but in my view, the organization does not represent artists so much as the companies that use and mold artists' offerings to make a buck. There was a time when artists had little choice but to seek out the backing, promotion, and distribution of major record companies. But the Internet has created tremendous upheaval in virtually every industry, and one that the RIAA seemingly prefers to ignore as it insists on playing by the old rules.

And I've always agreed with John Lennon's idea that no one can really own a song, anyway.

let's save JAM

In the last WAXING DIGITAL, I lamented the lack of an Adaptec driver enabling the use of the company's Jam CD-R software with my Yamaha CRW6416SX CD-RW drive. Soon thereafter, a Yamaha staffer wrote in to Adaptec's CD-R discussion list to say he'd gladly email a Jam driver to anyone who needed it. I received mine the next day and was back in business.

Another message followed with the ominous subject line "The Future of Jam." Posted on behalf of the Adaptec Software Products Group, the message said the company is considering whether to keep Jam in development as an individual product, or whether to "integrate" it with the next release of Toast. (Apparently, Adaptec is still gauging their customers' reception of consumer-oriented audio features that debuted in Toast 4.)

The message concluded: "The floor is now open for discussion." If you are or ever were a Jam user, write to adaptec@starfury.co.uk and be heard: no matter how many audio features the company works into future versions of Toast, I doubt it could ever cater to our needs as audio people quite as well as Jam does.

Jeff Partyka (jeffjp@yahoo.com), a former associate editor of EMedia, is working toward the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification, and is currently a Producer/Editor at TelekomNet.com Inc. in Boston. He is also an enthusiastic amateur singer/songwriter and recording artist.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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