Are Music Labels The Ultimate Copyright Trolls?

Are labels and organizations like the RIAA really the ultimate copyright trolls? Are they really the ones who are stealing from artists?

For better or worse, piracy is a part of the digital age. Politicians and special interest groups consider it a money-sucking plague, while statistics continue to show that online copyright violations have had, at worse, a neutral effect, and at best, a positive effect on certain entertainment sectors. Truth be told, the stats are so alarming it makes you wonder if anti-piracy advocates are self-perpetuating a litigation industry that ultimately only benefits label executives and association big-wigs.

Furthering that notion are two recent developments highlighted on The first being the revelation that the €550,000, which Pirate Bay defendants have to pony-up, will go back into a copyright litigation kiddy and not artists’ wallets; the second, a leaked slide-show wherein the RIAA admits that SOPA was an “important principle, but legislation not likely to have been effective tool for music.” While the leaked presentation may have been written after the failed SOPA attempt, and thus reflective of post-SOPA sensibilities, it still highlights that the RIAA’s agenda may really be about public relations as opposed to problem solving.

The Pirate Bay Copyright Incident Comes To an End; Jail-Time & Large Fines Handed Down

While they put up a long and noble fight, the Swedish Supreme Court found the infamous Pirate Bay four — Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundström — guilty of criminal intellectual property infringement. As punishment, they received jail sentences and were ordered to pay about $1,000,000 to various “harmed” labels, including EMI Music, Universal Music and Sony Music. Pecuniary damages were calculated by figuring out what the defendants would have had to pay if they licensed the music legally.

Money Not Going To Artists

If you thought, however, that even a small part of that money would be given back to the actual artists, think again. According to TorrentFreak, who got a look at IFPI legal documents, monies collected from the Pirate Bay case will be funneled directly back into anti-piracy measures, not content creators’ pockets. According to the RIAA, “any funds recouped are re-invested into our ongoing education and anti-piracy programs.”

“As far as I know,” began Sunde in a statement, “no money ever won in a lawsuit by IFPI or the RIAA has even gone to any actual artist.” He continued, “It’s more likely the money will be spent on cocaine than the artists that they’re ‘defending’.” (Thems fightin’ words!)

The Real Numbers?

The RIAA, MPAA and federal government often cite extraordinarily high loss numbers when speaking about the impact of piracy on the United States. A figure commonly used by anti-piracy advocates, which was calculated by a known lobbying group, is $58 billion in loss. But according to other reports, while the music industry has seen about an $8 million dollar loss over the past several years, the movie, TV and Satellite industry enjoyed a nearly 50% increase in revenues over the past few years – resulting in a net gain, despite increased piracy, which has led some to pontificate that piracy may actually be good for the entertainment industry.

What’s Next?

The court made its ruling, but will the labels even recover the monies owed?  “We have filed applications with Sweden’s Enforcement Agency to secure assets to satisfy these funds,” read a document about the case, “[s]o far very little has been recovered as the individuals have no traceable assets in Sweden and the Enforcement Agency has no powers to investigate outside Sweden. There seems little realistic prospect of recovering funds.”

Perhaps, however, the Pirate Bay Four best explained the hypocrisy of the whole pecuniary situation, “They [the labels] say that people who download give money to thieves – but if someone actually ends up paying (in this case: three individuals) then it’s been paid for. So who’s the thief when they don’t give the money to the artists?”

In light of the labels’ plans for recovered damages, I’ll ask again: do you think entertainment executives and lobbyists are slyly creating their own closed-loop litigation revenue stream? One that cheats artists’ out of money by exploiting common anti-theft sensibilities? But then again, I guess a troll, is a troll, is a troll — no matter who they know or the size of their coffers. #fightcopyrighttrolls

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