Mitch Bainwol was just 4 days into his new position as top dog with the RIAA on Friday when 2 major wire services (Reuters and AP) ran stories stating that the RIAA was planning to announce an amnesty program for illegal file downloaders. Under the terms stated in the news stories, the perpetrator would have to fill out an RIAA amnesty form making a sworn admission of guilt and promising to purge all MP3 files from their computers, save those that were “authorized” purchases from sources such as iTunes (see Sept. 7 RIAA Watch). In return, the RIAA would agree not to sue you. Both stories quoted anonymous sources and official RIAA sources are stating “no comment.” Is this the sign of a kinder gentler RIAA under Bainwol’s guidance? If you think this question requires serious analysis, you probably also think that there is a possibility that the Pope smokes dope, uses a condom, and is an ardent Communist.
Let’s say I grant all readers of this column amnesty for smoking pot. All you have to do is send me a sworn statement that you smoke it, have some in your possession right now, and agree to dispose of it (I’ll give you the address where to send it on request). In return I’ll grant you amnesty. I take your sworn statement and hand it over to your local law enforcement (I wouldn’t, but this is all theoretical). Or perhaps, an aggressive D.A. knows I have this information on law-breakers and subpoenas it from me. John Law comes to your house, does a thorough search and finds some seeds clinging to the inside of the gatefold cover of Mott The Hoople’s first album which you used last New Years for the purposes of cleaning your pot. You tell the police that there’s nothing they can do because you have amnesty from BILL GLAHN. After they’re done laughing, you’re going to find yourself in the pokey anyway.
Bainwol is from a political background. This story smells like a politician’s trick. Float a story under the guise of anonymous sources, reap a little positive PR, distract the public, and then get down to the real job of serving your masters (in this case, 5 huge corporations with a track record for swindling both artists and the public). The RIAA may very well be planning an amnesty program. The problem is, they have no authority to grant amnesty to anyone other than from themselves. Just because the RIAA won’t sue you doesn’t mean that Universal, Sony, or Pope JP’s Vatican Record Co. can’t. You will be making a sworn confession with virtually nothing guaranteed in return. If you think this is a good deal, you’re high.
Postscript: A Deal You Can Refuse
Yesterday the RIAA announced their amnesty plan. As suspected, there is a contingency clause (labeleled as a “privacy statement”) that allows them to make all information you provide them with available to third parties such as the labels that fund them or law-enforcement agencies. They state that this will only happen if you engage in P2P file-sharing in the future (and we all know that the RIAA has never told a lie in their entire history). If you do (or your dorm roommate does on your computer without your knowledge) they will know. Because you also have to provide them with your ISP so that they can monitor your activity. And they’ll know where to send the lawsuit papers without subpoenaing the info from your ISP, ’cause you have to give them that info too. Sounds more like a cost-cutting measure than a deal. Privacy statements can be and are changed all the time.
Alt.Culture.Guide–The Journal of (Un)Popular Culture (Rev. Keith A. Gordon with BILL GLAHN, Anthem Pop/Kult Publishing) may be purchased online from Sound Products.