Friday night I went over to a friend's apartment for a nice dinner, as his parents were coming through town on their way home. It was a nice evening, though I didn't really jump into the conversation until it turned to more technologically oriented ideas. One topic we got onto was music downloading, or "piracy", as my friend ran afoul of RIAA at one point in time. By that, of course, I don't mean he DID download anything, merely that they claimed he did, and his school was too scared to offer any form of defense. I ended up butting heads with my friend's dad on this topic, as I think RIAA has stepped way over the boundary of protecting their property and now is just using scare tactics trying to keep online music purchases from taking off any more. Now, at the time I really couldn't think up a good argument articulating why I felt so strongly against RIAA (besides just their tactics in general, I mean why I dislike their underlying ideals), and how to get across to someone in their early 50's who may have never bothered to download music, legally or otherwise, what the real issues are. Luckily I always replay conversations in my mind for days afterwards to rethink my positions and prepare myself should that topic ever come up again.
Just before America started the Revolutionary War, many colonists took up the slogan "No Taxation without Representation" because the American colonies were being taxed by Britain, yet given no say in the British Parliament. The British claimed a 'virtual [funny they should use that word] representation' by British representatives across the ocean. James Otis is recorded as having said "Taxation without representation is tyranny." What he meant by that is if some power can take a group's money, and yet give them no way to express themselves, they are no better than slaves under a dictator. Most Americans, would agree what was happening was unjust, and our fighting against those policies was justified.
Now imagine that RIAA is Britain back in 1765, and the colonists are music lovers. Don't quite see the comparison? Try this. The 'Taxation' that we're speaking of is the price of buying music, or movies in any format, hard or soft copy. Obviously it is necessary to pay for these, otherwise there'd be no music out there. However, the 'Representation' is the customer's rights. In our current society they don't exist. Hence we have a case where the consumer is being taxed ($12 for a CD), but then getting no representation (No rights to copy that CD for themselves, and if things go as RIAA plans something like a one CD per one player could happen). Wow, all of a sudden our outlook changes. Now its not tyranny, but necessary for our country. Congress even took time our of their busy schedule to write 15 major American universities to pressure them to expel more students for downloading.
I know exactly what will be said at this point. "Aha! You said downloading, it is illegal and therefore your whole argument is invalid!" That's interesting, as a major event in our (American) history would be the Boston Tea Party, where 90,000 lbs of tea (worth 10,000 pounds) were dumped into the harbor. 8,000 soon-to-be Americans cheered when they saw this. It is important to note this took place on the night of the biggest protest they had held against the British, it wasn't just 5 guys in Indian costumes acting on their own. Yet we are proud of that moment, many see it as one of the sparks for the American Revolution!
Lets jump back to today. We have millions of music lovers oppressed by crappy DRM schemes, the DMCA, and RIAA's lawyers who go so far as to set up fake music sites to catch and sue people. Yet we now accept that as the norm, and absolutely warranted to protect the sacred intellectual property. I put forth that something must be done to end this tyranny, as something was done over 200 years ago. With a big enough outcry the RIAA will be forced to recognize that what they're doing won't fly. With enough calls to your representatives they will understand that to keep signing things such as the DMCA, and writing letters asking for good students to be expelled for downloading one song will mean the end of their time in public service. The government is in place to serve the people, not the lawyers or the greedy, and it is time for RIAA's tyranny to end. I am not advocating any illegal action, obviously the choice to download music is your own to make, but it did take illegal actions for our country to be free, so I won't limit my call by criminalizing downloading either.
So tell me, how do you feel? If you were back 200 years ago, would you have cheered when they dumped that tea overboard? Or would you have said that property is sacred, and the rights of those being oppressed should take a back seat to the law?
EDIT: Ideas for how to get this 'revolution' to work. Boycott major labels that institute the worst DRM. Call your congress representatives. Refuse to buy music online unless it comes DRM free (While Apple supports this now, I'm boycotting their service as they make you pay a higher premium to get your rights). Encourage friends of yours that are in a band to look up the Creative Commons license for their work. Petition your favorite band to write their label and express discomfort at the scare tactics RIAA is using now. IF you download illegally, do it in such a way that you can't be caught, the more RIAA catches people the stronger they become (Yes, it is entirely possible to acquire DRM free music undetectably. No, I won't tell you how).
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