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The FBI and the Music Bosses

by Dave Marsh

The RIAA showed up on Capitol Hill the other day to demand more tax dollars to protect music.

A great idea.

Musicians can’t make ends meet by working live gigs. Record money trickles in even to the select few who have hits. Almost nobody, including many who have record deals with major labels, has health insurance or a decent pension plan. Indeed, according to a multibillion dollar RICO suit creeping through the federal court system, the record companies have colluded with one major trade union, AFTRA, to defraud singers of any hope of a decent pension.

Music education in America isn’t even haphazard; it approaches nonexistence.

Tax dollars could and should cure all this. American musicians, like all other Americans, deserve Social Security pensions that provide a genuine living (which could easily be achieved by removing the cap that limits rich people’s contributions).

Our musicians, like everybody else, deserve nationalized health care, like the inhabitants of every other rich nation on Earth.

Reassembling our education system demands massive reinvestment that can probably only come from federal tax monies. Music education would be a centerpiece of that restoration-and we could do it right this time, honoring all traditions rather than using the most elitist European ones to cudgel kids out of pride in their own.

Somehow, none of this came up in RIAA chieftain Hilary Rosen’s testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee. All she wanted to talk about was more money for CHIP.

Chip isn’t a hot new band. It’s the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property unit of the Justice Department, which means the F.B.I.

Like other F.B.I. units designed to protect intellectual property, its priorities are set by private industry-the record labels are the small fry amongst a group that includes the Motion Picture Assn of America (MPAA), which represents the movie cartel and the software giants.

Last year, the F.B.I. and the feds seized 2.8 million CD-Rs, up from 1.6 million in 2000. Arrest and indictments are up 113 per cent, with guilty please and convictions up 203 per cent and “sight seizures”-that’s where the record labels and their pet cops show up at a record store (an independent store, natch) and seize everything they don’t think is making enough money for the cartel, whether it’s illegal or not-are up 170 per cent.

Of course, by the RIAA’s terms, we commit piracy every time we share files on the Internet. That’s what the RIAA wants a bigger CHIP to deal with.

In reality, the RIAA pirated almost all the 400 million CDs sold in America last year, since the people who made the music didn’t get paid for them. But that logic would be lost on the subcommittee, since so few artists make huge campaign contributions and provide tickets to hot shows to the legislators.

This amounts to taxing us to make music more expensive.

If there has been an upsurge in piracy (the RIAA’s only rivals in unreliable statistics are the owners of major league baseball) the main blame goes to exorbitant album prices and the elimination of cheaper alternatives like singles. But the RIAA never takes any blame.

ZDNet’s quote from Rosen’s testimony is ominous: “Piracy is not a private offense. It hurts everyone by diminishing the incentive to invest in the creation of music. It should not, therefore, be viewed as a crime only against [the industry]…but against each of us.”

The most reasonable construction of this statement is that file exchanging is not just a violation of the law but a crime deserving significant punishment. It’s another step on the road to sending people to jail for sharing music.

When they’ve locked up all the music fans, who will the RIAA blame their slumping sales upon?

The artists, probably.

DeskScan (What’s playing at my desk):

1. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin

2. Become You, Indigo Girls (Epic)

3. The Complete 1964 Recordings, John Lee Hooker (RPM UK)

4. Sidetracks, Steve Earle (E Squared)

5. Delayed But Not Denied, The Bonner Brothers (Malaco)

6. The Righteous Ones, Toshi Reagon (Razor & Tie)

7. Arise Black Man, Peter Tosh (Trojan)

8. This World Just Won’t Leave You Alone, Star Room Boys (Slewfoot)

9. The Soul and the Edge: The Best of Johnny Paycheck (Epic Legacy)

10. A Magical Gathering: The Clannad Anthology (Rhino)

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. He can be reached at:

Dave Marsh’s Previous DeskScan Top 10 Lists:

April 22, 2002

April 15, 2002

April 9, 2002

April 2, 2002

March 25, 2002

March 18, 2002

March 11, 2002

Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: Dave blogs at

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