The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is the subject of much debate in the music world, whether you’re an artist/musician or just an avid music listener/enthusiast. These are the guys who sued Napster, had Kim Dotcom arrested by the FBI (illegally, I might add, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Dotcom#Dotcom.27s_arrest_in_New_Zealand), constantly and consistently screw artists and bands out of their rights, and will “legally” fine you thousands of dollars for downloading/sharing music files in any manner.
[EDIT] If you haven’t already read my post about getting signed, and you don’t personally know that much about it, you should read this first- (https://mikldeitrick.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/getting-signed-a-brief-how-to-and-what-that-entails/). Also, it will be quite helpful to read Courtney Love’s article (http://www.salon.com/2000/06/14/love_7/) to fully understand this whole post.
Founded in 1952 by a collective of top music distributors (“labels,” Sony, Universal, and Warner, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recording_Industry_Association_of_America), their original goal was to “administer recording copyright fees and problems, work with trade unions and do research relating to the record industry and government regulations.” Now, their goal is to protect “intellectual property owners” from theft. So who are these copyright owners?
The labels, of course! In an article by Courtney Love (written in 2000, mind you, during the height of the Metallica vs Napster issue, (http://www.salon.com/2000/06/14/love_7/) she explains what it really is that a label will do “for you.” Long, but definitely worth the read, she explains from an inside perspective what I talked about in my article about getting signed (https://mikldeitrick.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/getting-signed-a-brief-how-to-and-what-that-entails/). Basically, be aware as a band or artist that if you sign a contract, you’re bound to it. Don’t let the large amounts of “fronted” money persuade you into a bad contract; have a lawyer look it over for you, especially (in my opinion) if that label is an RIAA member (and chances are, they are; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_RIAA_member_labels).
As for copyright ownership, be prepared to give it away the minute you sign a contract. Courtney Love breaks it down beautifully, and much more in-depth than I did. My post about contracts was intended to make bands/artists aware of how many people it really takes for you to “make it;” to explain why a label should get a piece of the pie. That’s assuming they’re not trying to steal the whole pie, as this post assumes they will. Now, I’m not saying that the RIAA speaks specifically for any of its member labels (of which there are over 1600), or that any specific labels aren’t to be trusted. Just know that a label’s only in it for the money, and if totally screwing you is how they’ll get more of it, expect them to try.
RIAA Tactics: Sue, Sue, Sue! They’re basically the Scientologists of the music industry. They not only sue websites that don’t even host copyrighted music but simply link to it from other sites, but they even tried to stop the release of the common mp3 player in 1999 (http://www.internetnews.com/bus-news/article.php/139091), saying that as a device that can “download” mp3s, it facilitated piracy. They cite music piracy as costing “$12.5 billion dollars in losses to the U.S. economy as well as more than 70,000 lost jobs and $2 billion in lost wages to American workers.” (http://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy_details_online). The fact that they cited this a from a “credible study” tells me that it’s not credible. Statistics are a funny thing, so easy to manipulate. On the other hand, here’s a study claiming that Napster and similar services have actually helped to boost music sales- http://news.cnet.com/Study-Napster-users-buy-more-music/2100-1023_3-243463.html. If you don’t believe that “illegal” downloads do in fact help, RIAA.com has admitted they do: “While industry revenues from digital formats continue to grow, and in 2012 surpassed $4 billion for the first time ever, up 14.0% versus the prior year after crossing the 50% threshold for the first time in 2011, digital music theft has been a major factor behind the overall global market decline.” (http://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy-online-scope-of-the-problem). UP 14%? Where’s this so-called “global market decline?”
How can you protect your music in an effort to make it to the top of the charts? Copyright it yourself, and DO NOT EVER relinquish your rights to your music. At this point, if you haven’t read Courtney Love’s article (http://www.salon.com/2000/06/14/love_7/), you need to if you want to understand why I say this. So, how to quickly and easily copyright your music? This article at WikiHow explains it in simple detail- http://www.wikihow.com/Copyright-a-Song. It’s $35 a song and can take about 4.5 months (for each copyright), but it’s the absolute official way to legally make your works yours (in the US). The old method was to mail a copy to yourself to prove the existence of your work at the postmarked date, but this method has been proven to not hold up in court. Don’t risk it, get your copyrights and be aware of label scams such as labels “pending” contracts with you and then illegally licencing your works to others (http://boycott-riaa.com/article/42548.html).
Also, DO NOT SIGN A CONTRACT WITH A “WORKS FOR HIRE” CLAUSE!!! I cannot stress this enough. If you hire someone else to work on your song, such as a session artist, they are a work for hire, paid a one-time fee for their work and retain no rights to your royalties. If you sign a contract that says you, as the band or artist, are a “work-for-hire,” then you have given all copyright rights to the label, saying that they hired you to write, perform, record this music, whatever, and you will own none of it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recording_Industry_Association_of_America#The_.22work_made_for_hire.22_controversy).
Termination Rights- Know what they mean and how to use them! Termination rights are the rights of the artists to take back copyright ownership from a label after (for simplicity’s sake) 35 years. This means that bands that were huge in the 70’s are now getting theirs back- or they’re supposed to be! Record labels and the RIAA are actively fighting to keep these rights, as this would be a huge financial blow to them if they lost all of them en masse. Again, know what “works for hire” means, because this is one thing record labels are trying to claim they had over these 70’s artists in an effort to not lose the copyrights, despite “works for hire” not being a thing back then (and clearly doesn’t apply to 99% of the music of that time). Here’s a great article on Termination Rights and the fight between artists and labels- http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120302/03503317944/emi-sneakily-trying-to-pretend-many-its-artists-cant-reclaim-their-copyrights.shtml.
For more information in general (not already linked to above), check out these articles-
I think that’s all I’ve got right now, definitely feel free to comment if you have anything to add or debate this, I’m always open to other opinions. 🙂 So in closing I’ll leave you with this, Dan Bull’s song (and my personal favorite by him) about this subject in general- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvWR6C0VvY0.