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
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
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
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-sharingto 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.