Maybe when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) hires new employees-millionaire former Congressional stooges like lobbyist Mitch Glazier or mealy-mouthed PR flacks or even receptionists-they learn a theme song. The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown,” most likely so they can moan, “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?” whenever the record label cartel’s front group gets nabbed cheating. Cheating is what the RIAA’s hired to do: Cheat artists out of royalties; cheat artists out of reasonable contracts in California; cheat music listeners out of their right to control the recorded sounds they buy; cheat the public out of its right to debate changes in the law that benefit only the cartel and its fellow corporate copyright owners.
In another dead of night deal, Glazier and company tried to sneak one of the cartel’s “anti-piracy” clauses into the already hideous anti-terrorism bill. This change actually just confirmed what the cartel believes is its right to steal than ever; it would leave you defenseless if record companies decided to invade your home computer and wreak havoc because your hard drive contained material it considered illegal.
The RIAA, which lies about as well as six-year-old holding a baseball in front of a broken window, insists that it just wanted to insert another of its famed “technical corrections.” The last one repealed a key clause of the copyright act, robbing performers of all hope of ever recapturing possession of their work. It proved so embarrassing to the cartel that the RIAA itself was forced to campaign to repeal it.
The new one, again stuck in without a smidgen of public debate and in essence, on the backs of the thousands murdered in the 9 11 attacks, pissed off everybody but Tommy Mottola and Doug Morris. One Republican legislative aide referred to the RIAA’s “vigilantism,” and Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher, who’s about as hostile to big business as I am to Bruce Springsteen, read the recording lobbyists the riot act in an interview with Billboard’s Bill Holland: “I think it’s time the RIAA respect the legislative process.Nobody goes behind the scenes as much as the RIAA does, and I think it’s a disservice to the legislative process for them to continue to do this.”
Unfortunately, even though the RIAA vigilantes lost, the legislative process failed to stop the anti-terrorism bill from repealing much of the Bill of Rights. To speak only of those issues directly germane to the music world, the bill says the government no longer has to get a search warrant to invade your home; it virtually repeals privacy rights for computer users; it makes all business and most personal records subject to government scrutiny, violating even doctor-patient privilege. As Senator Russ Feingold said just before he became the only Senator to oppose the law: “Under this provision, the government can apparently go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone.” (I urge you to read Senator Feingold’s entire speech.)
But there’s worse. Under the new law, cops need only define a song like “Cop Killer” as “advocating terrorism” to get rid of it and put its maker in jail. This makes the threats the FBI once flung at NWA over “F— Tha Police” much more tangible.
The FBI had pleaded for such powers for decades, so it’s going to use them. And since the FBI maintains an ‘anti-piracy” squad that operates at the beck and call of corporate copyright holders, these powers are effectively granted to the RIAA, anyhow.
Maybe we’d all better learn “Charlie Brown.” CP
Dave Marsh is coeditor of the excellent Rock and Rap Confidential. The entire October issue focuses on music’s relationship to war and terrorism. They would be happy to send you a copy. Just email them at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and a postal address.