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March 7-14, 2007

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The scales of justice

The war against customers: The scales of justice are heavily-tipped in this image from the RIAA's new website.


Paypal Hustle

By Paul Davis

There's no doubt the past decade has been a dire period for the music business. But if the Recording Industry of America wants to elicit some sympathy, it could do better than mistakenly suing old grannies who couldn't tell a DSL cable from a phone line for file-sharing Nelly Furtado mash-ups, all while offering customers the opportunity to settle such lawsuits online with the kind of confidence they might have in say, ordering bulk Viagra from Eastern Europe.

Last week, the RIAA rolled out, its latest salvo in a war against its customers that has been at turns perplexing and entertaining. Employing a Web 1.2 design scheme that makes barely legal Russian mp3 sites like appear legitimate by comparison and evokes the halcyon days of Geocities, the site offers defendants the convenience of settling their pending lawsuit from the RIAA for pennies on the dollar. If you're unclear about your rights, the RIAA generously offers questionably accurate legal counsel in a FAQ that could be legibly fitted on a beer coaster.

It must be the year of the Paypal hustle: Snoop Dogg has moved his pimp game online, selling off portions of his Myspace page to any hungry MC who'll part with $300 via Paypal. He might be onto something. Recording industry executives feeling a pinch on their monthly hooker budget might consider fattening the bottom line by sending their mailing list emails with "she wants a bigger sex" in the subject line and offering some of that Eastern European Viagra. Perhaps they could license Sony's malware technology, last seen on the label's late 2005 releases that came with embedded spyware in a classic case of "adding value for the consumer."

Despite optimism that the RIAA would adopt a less confounding approach to digital music in 2007, it looks as if it continues to take crisis management notes from the Bush administration. In another recent initiative, the RIAA has begun cracking down on bootleg mixtape CDs, underground compilations that often feature leaked tracks from upcoming hip-hop CDs--tracks often willingly leaked by the labels themselves as a forum of viral street marketing.

Yet as I sit here staring at a pile of reflective beer coaster (promo-tional unprotected CD-Rs of the new Fall Out Boy album sent out by the label to writers and magazines in triplicate), I can't help wonder if it may be time for the RIAA to stop suing neophyte grannies in Dubuque and put a little more effort into plugging the security holes on its own end, and begin developing a new business plan while it still has a business to save.

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