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Magazines > Information Today > October 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 10 — Nov./Dec. 2003
OPINION
The Day the Music Died?
By Dick Kaser

When Don McLean released his song "American Pie" back in 1971, I can remember sitting around the campus with my buddies debating what the enigmatic lyrics meant. What was the allusion McLean was making? When was the day the music died?

Based on a quick Google search, I see that 30-odd years later the discussion is still taking place, with various sites now devoted to an interpretation of the lyrics. A popular opinion back then that has apparently endured the test of time is that McLean was alluding to the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. ("The Big Bopper") Richardson in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959. But there's so much going on in those lyrics that it's possible to make all kinds of other conclusions.

I wouldn't be surprised if the re-release of the American Pie album (on the EMI label) this past summer inspires a whole new generation to an entirely different interpretation.

Just days after the album's re-release in June, the Recording Industry Association of America announced it would sue "heavy music sharers." It carried out this threat on Sept. 8, when it filed copyright-infringement suits against 261 individuals for allegedly "illegally distributing substantial amounts (averaging more than 1,000 copyrighted music files each) of copyrighted music on peer-to-peer networks." In a classic PR blunder, one of the accused was, inadvertently, a 12-year-old girl.

RIAA's lawyers quickly settled with the 12-year-old for $2,000, just as they settled what could have been multibillion dollar claims filed earlier this year against various university students who operated file-swapping services. In those cases, RIAA's lawyers accepted between $12,000 and $17,500 each, when the maximum damages could have been $125,000 per song, on thousands of songs.

So it's not about the money, even though the association claims the industry has suffered greatly from file-sharing—to the tune of as much as $2 billion a year in reduced sales.

It's more about the principle of the thing. An RIAA press release euphemistically calls these suits "the enforcement phase of the industry's education program."

Can such shock-and-awe tactics actually create public understanding of a subject as erudite as intellectual property law? Sympathy for the recording industry? Compliance with RIAA's interpretation of the law? And a recovery of lost sales? Well, according to RIAA, it appears to be working.

Since June, when the association announced its intent to go after individual file-sharers, its surveys show that "the public understanding that song-sharing on peer-to-peer networks is illegal" has risen from 37 percent in June to 61 percent in August.

Whether or not this generation of music fans also views their loss of innocence (with regard to the legality of song-sharing on peer-to-peer networks) as the day the music died is a subject that remains to be polled.

 


Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of content. His e-mail address is kaser@infotoday.com.
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