RIAA: Redefining the English Language

Kurt Nimmo

For those of us familiar with the RIAA legal and propaganda onslaught against file-sharing and Internet technology, words taken out of context by the powerful trade association are nothing new or surprising. In order to drive its mantra home - simple file-sharing is theft - the RIAA has redefined common words. Let's take the RIAA's most common misusage: theft.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, defines theft as follows:

theft 1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

This is the primary definition of the word. It is important to note the last part of this definition: "with an intent to deprive the rightful owner" of personal property. This would surely be the case if an MP3 file trader had broken into Lars Ulrich's home and taken his personal CDs or master tapes. Simply copying and distributing music, however, does not "deprive" Lars Ulrich of his personal property. In fact, if not for the RIAA and others who repeatedly pull fire alarms in response to the file-sharing of Napster and Scour, Lars Ulrich would not miss anything, certainly not money.

The RIAA has more than a few smart lawyers in its employ. Is it possible not one of them understands the true meaning of the word theft? Not likely. No, the RIAA and its legal team are being deliberately disingenuous in order to portray file-sharing in the worst possible light. Open and free file-sharing - a truly innocuous and victimless activity - must be slandered in order for the recording industry (and the motion picture industry) to destabilize and render ineffectual the threat to monopolistic control of distribution posed by consumer empowerment and choice. Music consumers have spoken - they want to buy hit singles in MP3 format (not entire CDs filled up with "B" side music) at significantly lower prices than currently offered by the industry. Moreover, they want to preview music before purchase. Intelligent consumers no longer want the industry to dictate their buying and listening behavior.

The RIAA's Orwellian doublespeak reaches absurd heights in its own propagandistic literature. For instance, a "Questions and Answers" document published at the RIAA website () in regard to a lawsuit mounted against the Scour file-sharing service specifically maligns file-sharing in the severest of terms:

"(File-sharing) is stealing. Period. Sharing is when one person lends a product to another, expecting its return. This is mass duplication and distribution of copyrighted material. There's no sharing going on."

The American Heritage Dictionary defines sharing as: "To participate in, use, enjoy, or experience jointly with another or others." The definition does not mention the return of the shared item. It only mentions that the item in question is experienced in a collective manner by any number of individuals.

The RIAA propaganda document further maligns and distorts the idea of file-sharing, which, according the RIAA and its lawyers and copywriters,

"is a serious misnomer. If I share a piece of cake with you, we're each doing with a little less, because I have half a piece and you have half a piece. Under the Napster/Scour.com version of 'sharing,' I can give you and others two pieces, four pieces, eight pieces, sixteen pieces of cake, etc., and still have as much as I want. Accordingly, it's really more accurate to call Scour.com's service file 'squaring,' because what's really happening is that they are exponentially increasing the number of files."

On the surface, this paragraph may seem truly absurd - with its flaccid cake analogy and the contention that sharing is a lossy proposal - but it reveals far more about the industry's motives than the RIAA may realize.

Significantly, the RIAA is strongly opposed to what they term "squaring," or unrestricted and free copying of music files and the subsequent increased number of those files. Naturally, unauthorized and unrestricted copying endangers the very mantelpiece of the industry's immensely profitable scam - a fixed number of physical CDs doled out to fixed number of retail outlets at a fixed (and even rigged) price. File-sharing, for the RIAA, is more about the degradation of a monopolistic distribution channel and loss of control of that system than lost revenues to artists and song writers, as the industry loudly contends. In fact, when we take a look at how the industry mistreats and exploits artists it becomes obvious they have little interest in paying them what they deserve.

"We're all about distribution," the RIAA Q&A document declares, "but only in ways that are legal and that result in the owners being compensated." In other words, the RIAA is for maintaining the status quo - an ironclad and inequitable distribution system unresponsive to consumer demand for alternative delivery methods, such as the Internet. Moreover, when the RIAA mentions "owners," they are referring to multinational corporations, not individual artists. If you need an example of how the industry rips off and mistreats artists - and essentially steals from them - look no further than the disgust and anger of high profile artists such Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen, who have formed the Artists Coalition in response to the industry attempting to fleece them out of their masters. If anything, the RIAA Q&A should read, "We're all about exploiting artists and stealing their work from them to enrich shareholders."

This massive thievery rampant within the music business correlates to the dictionary definition for more closely than anything Napster or Scour engages in. For an expanded and concise explanation of how the major labels routinely take artists to the cleaners, read Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music" and Courtney Love's article published at Salon.

Finally, as consumers and artists, we should not allow the recording industry - primarily composed of large multinational corporations (accused of unfair business practices and price-fixing by the FTC) - to dominate and define the terms of the debate on digital music. Or, for that matter, redefine common words. We need to write our government representatives, send letters to the editor, post on forums such as Dmusic and Cypertropix, and generally make our opinions about the Great Corporate Music Swindle known.

--Kurt Nimmo

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