April 13, 2005

The RIAA tries a new direction

According to Rachel Feintzeig in The Daily Pennsylvanian (where April 12 is this year's April 1), the RIAA has decided to stop suing its customers for copyright violation, and instead to start using the justice system for aesthetic purposes:

The Recording Industry Association of America filed lawsuits yesterday against four Penn students who were found to have downloaded Sonic Youth songs onto their computers.

Citing "bad taste," officials said the individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If convicted, the students face a minimum sentence of 10 months in an alternative music rehabilitation center.

Treatment could also include intensive listening sessions featuring musicians of the 21st century, or trips to spring concerts at other universities that plan to feature contemporary artists.

This came as welcome news to those Penn students who were unhappy about this year's choice of Sonic Youth as the featured band at Spring Fling. The article goes on to suggest that the RIAA's new strategy will win them greater cooperation from University authorities:

The fate of the Spring Fling organizers remains unclear, but it appears as though the University is unwilling to offer them the same protection they have given earlier RIAA targets.

"We have no obligation to these individuals," University President Amy Gutmann said of the three Social Planning and Events Committee directors. "We just don't support students who endanger the Penn community, and we certainly don't support students who like shitty music."

And even the targeted students are apparently grateful in the end:

Lawsuits such as the ones aimed at the four students are part of the RIAA's strategy of suing individual users for their personal music preferences. The trend began in September 2003, when the group sued two Princeton students for downloading entire Ace of Base albums.

"I just liked 'I Saw the Sign' and it got out of control," recovering bad-music addict Bridget Takacs said. Though her police record will forever be branded "stuck in the 1990s," Takacs was grateful for the intervention.

"I'm thankful that the RIAA stepped in and got me the help I needed," the Princeton senior said.

There are serious scientific questions here as well:

Harvard President Larry Summers blamed innate differences between the Spring Fling organizers and the undergraduate population for the lawsuits.

"Fling organizers just lack the intrinsic aptitude to bring in good bands," he said.

Rumor has it that Steve Pinker's forthcoming book, The Blank Tape, will explore these issues in greater depth.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 13, 2005 07:36 AM