RIAA chief determined to keep copyright controls

CNET News.com sits down with Hilary Rosen to discuss her views on the Napster case and the future of online music.

Hilary Rosen is spending her days in an unaccustomed spotlight.

The unassuming CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Rosen has stepped into the role of chief antagonist to a new generation of technology companies that want to break down the structure of the traditional music business.

But these companies' ambitions have often brought them squarely in conflict with the on- and offline aims of the big record labels. It is Rosen's responsibility to defend those labels' copyrights and policies, and the online issues alone have become a full-time job.

Rosen's message to lawmakers, fans and technology companies is simple: The record industry is not against the technology itself. It's not trying to go back to a status quo that existed before the Internet.

But that said, the industry will not budge on its control of copyrights.

The record labels, as musicians' representatives, have long had legal control of how songs are distributed--and the ability to make money from that distribution. Napster and other innovations in online music distribution have challenged that control from many perspectives; the RIAA has leveled a series of lawsuits against several of the companies. Collectively, the lawsuits will go a long way toward establishing the ground rules for the music industry online.

That's won Rosen and her group plenty of enemies in the ranks of Napster users and other MP3 lovers. But as a longtime denizen of Washington, D.C, she's used to criticism. Record labels have always had an image problem, she notes; the labels are the establishment in the music business--an industry that is all about being anti-establishment.

"We're not only appealing to that, we're fostering it," Rosen says. "So when they turn it on us, it's not the worst thing in the world."

CNET News.com sat down with Rosen last week to discuss her views on the Napster case and the future of online music.

CNET News.com: Let's start with the Napster lawsuit itself. What do you hope to see as the outcome of this? Do you see this as setting the ground rules for other services as well?
Rosen: Every day it's a choice about enforcement. And you try and be thoughtful about it. Napster clearly has had the most traffic. We all know, we can all acknowledge, that this lawsuit has brought them more traffic than they ever dreamed of--sort of the ultimate irony of it all.

But we don't want to have to be in a position where we're litigating all day, every day. I'm not even a lawyer. Running a law firm is not my vision of a great job. But to the extent we have to deliver a set of precedents, that we have to create a kind of mutual understanding between the entertainment industry and the technology industry about what we think are the best ways to help develop the legitimate business with the creative community as a partner, we're going to be aggressive in enforcing our rights.

Do you see a legitimate use for the technology?
Sure. Not only could it be used legitimately, there are certainly no illusions by me or anybody else that I work with that somehow, depending on the outcome of this lawsuit, file sharing or file copying gets put back in the box.

Innovation is certainly here to stay. Peer-to-peer is here to stay. There are lots of interesting uses for it. But I do think that the people who want to commercialize it have an obligation to help develop those business models. I don't think it should always be our obligation to come and hit someone on the head and say, "Hi, remember us? We're making the stuff that your people want to use your great technology for."

What's your take on Napster's most recent argument, which essentially contends that the record companies have bordered on antitrust violations and could lose the rights to enforce their copyrights?
I thought it was silly.

Does it concern you at all that (former Justice Department attorney Napster attorney turns tables on RIAA David) Boies, someone who has got some antitrust experience under his belt, is raising that issue?
Not in the least. Nobody has been under more antitrust scrutiny than the record industry. And the companies are extraordinarily careful. I also thought it was sort of offensive that (Napster) wrote in their brief that somehow an implied sort of mysterious things were going on that they didn't actually put in their brief, but that they knew that there were mysterious things going on.

Copyright owners are entitled to enforce their copyright. There's a long history of that. If you have a monopoly on your individual copyright, you have an exclusive right to distribute it.

Napster's brief cited Universal Music Group documents that discussed using Napster ultimately as a front end to some kind of subscription or download service. Is that something that you think is relatively widely accepted as an end goal among the industry?
No, I think actually people are just kind of pissed at Napster because they've said for months and months and months that they want to be legitimate, but they've done nothing to get anybody there. So whether or not it's Napster after this lawsuit is over I think is irrelevant. The issue is what kind of innovations there are and how do you use these technologies to build a new business.

What evidence is there of actual economic harm to the labels over Napster?
Well, obviously we have filed our evidence with the court, and I understand that has been subject to criticism. But there's nothing that I'm going to say about it that'll convince you one way or another. I can only say that we were not overly dramatic about it. I think we've been pretty consistent about not being Chicken Little about this or any other technology--that our survey was of actual Napster users and what they say about their own buying behavior. We presented the results as they were given.

But I guess I have another answer. Napster wildfire I don't think it matters at all whether we've been economically hurt. I think that if I own my shirt and you borrow it, it doesn't matter whether or not I have another shirt. You're just not entitled to borrow it without my permission. And if you have a copyright asset, that is the principle of copyright--that you get to control and own your own work, and other people don't get to profit from it without your permission.

There's another case that people use as an example of how technology is in the crosshairs of the debate over copyright: The RIAA is suing MP3Board.com, trying to stop links to unlicensed songs on the Internet. Some people view that as an attack on underlying core technology that has much broader implications than simply copyright violation.
I think MP3Board would like to characterize the suit as that. Whether or not linked sites are copyright violations--and there are a lot of them out there that are just plain search engines--I think is sort of for another day.

MP3Board in particular was a target that has advertised itself repeatedly as the site to go to for the best unauthorized files. This goes back to what I said earlier, which is sort of selectively choosing targets or when you sort of can't afford to ignore them anymore. Their face page, if you looked at it, advertised "find the best illegal music sites on here," and "top five downloads." That message was all over the site, so this wasn't innocent linking.

What's your sense for the potential of digital rights management technology? Can it actually lock up content well enough that programs such as Napster and Gnutella really aren't a problem anymore?
No. I think technology is what it is. There will always be an innovation. If there's a code to crack, it will be cracked. But I think the goal is to create a level of governors that the reasonable consumer not only won't notice but can embrace because it provides other value.

I guess I'd like to get to a point where we don't think about things like a Napster or a Gnutella always being a problem, though, because it would be nice to get to a point where there is a much healthier give-and-take about the value of both. And I am optimistic enough to believe we can achieve that.

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