Record Cartel Accounting Scams

This week, California State Senator Martha Escutia called a hearing on record label accounting practices. Sen. Escutia represents Whittier, which was Richard Nixon’s hometown.

Perfect. Watergate unraveled as a White House conspiracy of dirty tricks, showing Nixon and his henchmen in CREEP (The Committee for the ReElection of the President) as ruthless bullies, liars, thugs and cheats (not to mention morons, since as the white supremacist candidate, Nixon would have won on the square).

Many of those in CREEP physically resembled the young white male MBAs who run today’s record business. How hard is it to imagine Universal’s Edgar Bronfman, Jr. being grilled by a Congressional committee?

Like CREEP, the recording cartel deploys juvenile tactics with no real purpose. Lately, RIAA’s CREEPs have resorted to “spoofing” file-sharing sites like Morpheus and Kazaa. That means uploading files with popular song titles that turn out to be loops of nothing but the chorus or even greater garbage. If you wanted to force people to have the cartel, you couldn’t pick a better method.

The label CREEPs haven’t uploaded viruses only because that’s illegal. Instead, the RIAA assigned its principal Capitol Hill stooge, Howard Berman, a repulsively sanctimonious Beverly Hills liberal, to introduce a law letting the cartel CREEPs get away with computer murder. Berman’s bill frees copyright holders-that is, multibillion dollar multinational corporations-to hack into any computer they suspect of “stealing”– that is sharing copyrighted material even if they don’t own it. This lets the cartel sabotage, say, artists who offer their own music for free on the Internet. Reasonably enough, since that’s also stealing by cartel standards, meaning it’s an exchange of music that does not involve slopping the RIAA’s hogs.

This probably sounds paranoid, just as earlier columns claiming the RIAA cartel would criminalize file-sharers seemed hysterical. Is it?

According to the July 3 Wall Street Journal, the cartel plans to file lawsuits against “the highest volume song providers within the [file-sharing] services.” Granted, that’s not the same as filing felony charges against song-swappers. But a criminal indictment requires convincing a Federal prosecutor to ruin a kid’s life (the RIAA’s done that twice, though). On the other hand, you can ruin a kid who loves music too much just as easily with a lawsuit. With any luck, you can drag his parents into it, too, and leave the family with the economic prospects of a ’60s soul singer living off record royalties. The price is only hatred.

The RIAA wants to counter with a public relations campaign featuring prominent artists committing career suicide by justifying the labels’ attempt to continue denying Internet reality. But they’d better round up the artists before Sen. Escutia holds her hearing, because what tumbles from under that rock will surely alienate every record-maker with a one point IQ advantage on James Hetfield. At the very least, it will expose consistent patterns of undercounting, shortchanging, and false charges for various “expenses.” At some point, someone might even note that these are multinational corporations who earn their billions this way. That might even lead the public to ask, “If they do that to recording artists, what do they do to the rest of us?”

Hating the bastards is really too good for ’em. Let’s work on our own trick: Finding a way to decently compensate our music-makers-which will mean doing it for everyone-so we can get rid of the labels altogether.


(what’s playing in my office)

1. “The Rising,” Bruce Springsteen (Sony)

2. The Modern Recordings, 1950-1951, B.B. King (Ace UK)

3. Blazing Arrow, Blackalicious (MCA)

4. Try Again, Mike Ireland and Holler (Ashmont)

5. Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis in 1968, Furry Lewis, Bukka White and Friends (Arcola)

6. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin (ATO)

7. Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz, Nappy Roots (Atlantic)

8. Masquerade, Wyclef Jean (Columbia)

9. Living in a New World, Willie King and the Liberators (Rooster Blues)

10. Revolucion: The Chicano’s Spirit, a selection of Chicano grooves from the early 70s (Follow Me, Fr.)

11. England, Half-Half English, Billy Bragg and the Blokes (Elektra)

12. The Shed Session, Bhundu Boys (Sadza, Ger.)-Two discs of early ’80s Zimbabwean guitar band music that rocks harder and easier than any of the “world music” that became of it.

13. Fire on Ice, Terry Callier (Elektra, UK reissue)

14. “Her Majesty,” Chumbawumba (free anti-royalist single from

15. A Stagecoach Named Desire, The Cornell Hurd Band (Behemoth)

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. Marsh is the author of The Heart of Rock and Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles.

He can be reached at:

Dave Marsh’s Previous DeskScan Top 10 Lists:

July 1, 2002

June 25, 2002

June 17, 2002

June 12, 2002

June 4, 2002

May 27, 2002

May 20, 2002

May 14, 2002

May 6, 2002

April 30, 2002

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