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Fundamentalist Fanaticism

Fundamentalism: Movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.

Fanatic: An emotion of being filled with excessive, uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby.

You can call me a fundamentalist fanatic when it comes to music, online radio stations and the RIAA with their puppet labels. Today was a river, no, a tsunami of events all dealing with my music tastes and political views. I'd like to transcribe the events that happened today, and hopefully, convince you to be a fundamentalist fanatic towards the political nature of music freedom. So, let's begin.

First, as many of you are aware, today was the Internet radio broadcasters "Day of Silence". If you are unaware what the Day of Silence is all about, let me explain. Thanks to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the United States Congress passed a bill that will increase royalty rates for broadcasters to play music from RIAA-owned labels. These rates start next month and are retroactive to the beginning of the year, January 1, 2007. This will most certainly put most, if not all, Internet radio broadcasters out of business. To protest the event, radio broadcasters created the Day of Silence to help illustrate what the rates would do to online radio: produce silence.

I for one, found the virtual protest, for lack of a better phrase, very exciting. To be part of something that you believe firmly in, especially to make a stand, feels good inside. I hope the RIAA was listening (no pun intended), because if these rates pass, that's exactly what's going to happen- independent Internet broadcasters will go silent. Now, think about that for a second. If independent online radio goes silent, how will I be able to support artists and music that I like? Both independent and main-stream? Not only does this hurt the artists trying to get their name out, and their music heard, but it hurts the industry in the long term. The RIAA wants more money for their music being played, but what will happen, is they will get paid less, as very few broadcasters will be able to afford the rates. The RIAA is cutting off their own lifeline, and they seem like nothing is the matter.

Just about every last online radio broadcaster participated in the Day of Silence, except for my favorite broadcaster: Last.fm. There were rumors leading up to today that Last.fm would not participate, and I hoped with all my might that they would go silent for a day. Reading the explanation on their blog made it sound like it was a corporate problem, and not an end-user problem, as Last.FM is ultimately the one who has to shoulder the rate hike, and not it's listeners. While this is true, the principle is being simply overlooked. It's not just about Last.FM, but EVERY radio broadcaster. Last.FM isn't the only one to shoulder the burden (not everyone has as deep of pockets as CBS, who just recently purchased Last.fm). But aside from that, by not taking a stand, whatever your reasons may be, you are telling the listeners that you are okay supporting the RIAA and the royalty rate hike, which has been labeled by the Consumerist, as the Worst Company in America. Sorry Last.FM, but your decision in not supporting a cause to keep rates down, has inspired my decision to not support your service. I'll most likely be deleting my account.

I wrote my congressman and my senator about the Internet radio rate hike, as obviously, I'm violently opposed to it, and I received a formatted letter in the mail from Rob Bishop, my congressional representative. Here's what the letter says verbatim:

Dear Mr. Toponce:

I thank you for contacting my office regading the Copyright Royalty Board's recent decision to change royalty rates for internet radio. It is always a pleasure to hear from my constituents.

Royalty rates are determined by the Copyright Royalty Board which is comprised of three copyright royalty judges. These judges are appointed by the Librarian of Congress who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. In 2004 Congress passed the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act which put into place the Copyright Royalty Board. Previous to this the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel determined copyright royalty rates.

Congress is aware of the ever growing use of the internet which has resulted in a new form of cyber crime including fraud, pirating, identity theft, and intellectual property law violations. Copyright and royalty laws are necessary to protect the work of creative minds. I am committed to pass legislation that will protect the intellectual property of authors, artists, musicians and other producers while providing a practical solution to the distribution of intellectual property.

I am, however, concerned with the current system. I contact the Royalty Copyright Board requesting the appeals process and the replied, "The appeal of our decision is to the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia." This basically means that the appeals process for the Copyright Royalty Board's decisions is only through a Court of Appeals for civil and legal appeals. Three judges appointed by the Librarian of Congress who are not responsible to Congress is a pretty elitist system. This system places too much unchecked and unchallenged power into the hands of these judges.

H.R 2060, the Internet Radio Equality Act, has been introduced in the House. The intent of this bill is to check the power of copyright royalty judges, which I support in principle. H.R. 2060 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee; I do not set on either of these committees. It is still early in the legislative process for this bill, and many changes could be still be made before it reaches the Floor of the House. If the bill does make it to the House Floor, though, I would likely support it. (Emphasis mine to show the updated missing paragraph)

Once again, thank you for your letter. Please feel free to contact my office with any further questions or comments.

Sincerly,
Rob Bishop
Member of Congress

There are several things wrong with this letter. First off, this is the exact, and I mean word-for-word, letter that I received from Senator Orrin Hatch over 3 months ago. Second, Rob Bishop never states in the letter where he stands on the issue, and what he is doing, if anything, to solve it. Sure, he explains the system, and it's fallacies, but nothing about his resolve, or lack thereof, to stop the royalty rates from taking hold. Third, the letter is about the Copyright Royalty Board, and not what I wrote him about- Internet radio. the word 'Internet' is only used twice in the letter, with 'radio' only being used once. Lastly, the letter pretty much told me that Rob Bishop is creating excuses why nothing can get done on his end.

So, here I sit in my den, reading this letter, thinking that Internet radio is doomed, and I feel completely helpless. Then, my favorite online radio broadcaster decides to continue to broadcast, despite the Day of Silence protest. Depressed as ever, my wife and I decide to head to our local FYE, and purchase some music. Before we leave, I grabbed my list of 11 pages of record labels owned by the RIAA. I am determined now, more than ever, to completely, and flat out boycott the RIAA and it's record label puppets, so I need the list to know what is safe to purchase, and what isn't.

As we browse through the massive CD library that FYE offers, I get more and more frustrated and depressed. You see, every artist that I'm interested in listening to, recorded their music under an RIAA-owned label. I keep my list close by checking each one off. EMI, Warner, Geffin, A&M, BMG... The list just goes on and on, and every album I grab, under an RIAA label.

Basically, going to the music store was supposed to lift my spirits, and get me listening to the music I like, but in reality, it made me feel worse. You see, it's not because every artist decided to go with one of the Big Four labels, but rather, there were so few, if any, artists that chose independent labels. I understand exposure versus principle. Even if the artists don't like the RIAA, they would rather get their music mass produced and exposed with a major label, then take the chance with a smaller label. Money talks I guess. It just must mean that my money isn't talking loud enough, or something.

By-the-way, a great way to support the artists you love, and bypass the RIAA, would be to receive the song illegally, either through downloading or copying from a friend, then pay the artist directly for the song(s) you copied. This way, the artist gets paid for their work and time, and the label doesn't get a dime for it. Sounds fair to me.

If you would have come to me 15 years ago, asking me to boycott the company that produces the music I love, I would have laughed in your face, and told you to keep dreaming. However, now that I've grown, and I've seen the effects of and consequences of many political and industrial blunders, I stand firm in my ground, that I just will no longer purchase any music that I love, if it falls under an RIAA label, to support the RIAA. It just means too much to me to support independent artists, and to see the RIAA make some changes in the way they conduct business.

For example, take a look at the current way of thinking. Right now, artists put out album after album. Usually, one album will only contain 1 or 2 songs that you are familiar with. The rest, you probably haven't heard. What's unfortunate, is most of the time, the unfamiliar material is just filler. It's not really worth listening to, let alone, purchasing an entire album for. But you just had to have that one song, so you got the album.

Well, fortunately, society is moving away from the concept of albums, and to the idea of playlists. You see, the paradigm has changed. A core way of thinking has evolved. No longer do you go to your local FYE to get the album with that one song. Rather, you pull up iTunes, or another music download service, to grab just the one song that you like, while ignoring the filler. Then, you create a mix, whether on your MP3 player, or on a CD, of all the songs that you like, with none of the garbage. This holds true for not only popular music, but hard to find, unique, or independent music as well. You see, no longer is the listener letting the artist choose what should be listened to through an album, but now the listener is in charge of what is heard.

You see the paradigm shift? It's a completely new way of thinking. It's even a higher way of thinking, and a more mature approach, as the listener is now in charge, not the label. This is why Napster and KaZaA were so popular: listeners getting just the music they want. It's why Internet radio is also so popular: listeners deciding what station, via tags or genre, to listen to. No one else is making the decision for you (except the DJ mixing the music you already like). Yet, the RIAA doesn't seem to grasp this concept. Rather, they would rather bite the hand that feeds them through lawsuits and shady legal practices. Don't they understand that they will be the ones hurt, and the listeners, as well as many artists, will win out in the long run? I take it that they haven't gotten the memo.

At any event, today proved to be an interesting day music-wise in my house. It generated a lot of discussion with both my boss and my wife. If anything, it's strengthened my resolve to boycott the RIAA, and support the independents. Would you call me a fundamentalist fanatic when it comes to music? Naturally, and I'm proud to stand with such noble people who hold the same views. I just hope, that after my travels and emotions today, that you as a reader, will find yourself in the same camp that I, and so many others are in. Help us defeat the RIAA. Help us break down the Big Four music labels. More importantly, and I haven't even touched this area, but help us demolish Digital Restrictions Management (DRM).

UPDATE (June 26, 2007 07:30): I leave you the reader hanging here, as I mention that we need to demolish DRM, as a most important cause, then say nothing about it, as though it were an afterthought. For this, I apologize. It was getting late when I was finishing this post, and I wasn't thinking clearly. I would like to follow up this post with a piece about DRM, it's effects on society, and why we need to be concerned about it. I feel that topic isn't appropriate here, however, and that's why I merely mention it. Please stay tuned, and I'll satisfy your need for my interpretations and concern of Digital Restrictions Management.

UPDATE 2 (June 26, 2007 21:30): After Congressman Rob Bishop contacted me regarding this post, we went over the letter that I received. Apparently, I have a copy that is missing a crucial paragraph, namely, the paragraph stating the stance that he would take regarding bill H.R. 2060. He has our full support as Internet radio listeners, and is voting to nullify the Copyright Royalty Board's rate hikes. I hope to receive a copy of that letter, so I can update this post accordingly. See my follow-up to this post regarding our discussion.

UPDATE 3 (July 16, 2007 20:11): I just received the updated letter from Rob Bishop with a Post-It note attached saying this is the letter that they sent me. I have photocopied my letter, and have sent the original off to Rob Bishop, so hopefully, they can track down how I received a letter with a missing paragraph.

Thanks for reading.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Warren using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Windows XP | June 27, 2007 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    great reading...I share your emotion on the subject! I also deleted my account on last.fm and made sure they knew why on their blog comments. I remember reading somewhere about the parallels between this situation and early radio in America. Seems thousands of independent small radio stations got eliminated under similar circumstances, leading to the corporate bullshit that passes for radio in America today. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if this were allowed to happen to the most free and democratic medium the world has ever seen. Keep up your efforts to educate any who would listen.

  2. phoenyx using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Ubuntu | June 27, 2007 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I'm reminded, once again, of the Aesop fable of the goose that laid golden eggs: specifically, when the farmer becomes greedy and kills the goose in hopes of getting more eggs.

    I was disappointed in last.fm as you were. I only listen to them occasionally, but I've decided I shouldn't support them at all now.

    I am consistently disappointed in our state representatives in any area related to technology issues.

    You suggest paying the artists directly, but how exactly would one do that?

  3. Joshua Kugler using Konqueror 3.5 on Kubuntu | June 27, 2007 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    For your post on DRM, if you haven't read A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection already, you should. It outlines the shear stupidity and idiocy caused by greedy corporations as they attempt to prohibit fair use of their product. Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the linked document, I'm just about half way through reading it and find it horribly depressing.

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