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Bands urged to help stop piracy

A recording industry group implores big-name artists to campaign against online piracy.

In its continuing battle against Internet piracy, industry group the Recording Industry Association of America is turning to artists to back it up.

Over the last few weeks, the RIAA has sent a letter to the management of big-name artists including Mick Jagger, Sarah McLachlan, and others, asking them to "speak out against Internet piracy."

Specifically, the letter--which was first reported by MP3.com, a site covering issues and news surrounding the MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3 format--appeals to the artists' managers' business sense.

"We want to bring to your attention an issue that is of the utmost importance to the future of the entire music community and the way that music--your music--is delivered throughout the world," states the letter, which was obtained by CNET News.com. "Consider the possibilities: Anyone can put a CD or just a song into cyberspace and, with the click of a mouse, send it worldwide?."

The industry group goes on to address how individual artists are affected. In a note sent to one artist's management, for example, RIAA officials wrote: "We recently discovered an MP3 site which contained your most recent release....As you may know, MP3 sites offer full-length sound recordings that are easily downloadable, for free.

"The RIAA is hoping to gather a group of artists who are opposed to this unauthorized distribution and use of their creative works," they added.

The campaign is "part of an overall effort to educate the artist community about some of these issues out there vis-à-vis Internet piracy," Joel Flatow, vice president of government affairs and artist relations for the RIAA, said today.

The artist's manager could not be immediately reached for comment. A spokesperson at Nettwerk Management, which represents Sarah McLachlan, confirmed the company had received the letter but declined to comment further on it or anything pertaining to MP3 or Internet piracy.

The RIAA, a powerful industry group that represents record labels, has been fierce in its fight against Internet piracy and MP3. The MP3 format, which in and of itself is not illegal, is favored by Net music fans and pirates because it offers high-quality sound files that can be easily posted to the Web and shared. Last week, the group filed suit against Diamond Multimedia to halt the shipment of its portable MP3 player.

The industry group also has sued individuals for posting MP3 sites, and helped author an amendment to copyright legislation on its way to President Clinton that would require Webcasters such as the nascent Internet radio firms to pay an additional license fee to record companies.

The MP3 format has been a thorn in the side of many record industry luminaries because its accessibility makes it popular among music fans online and a potential threat to CD sales. Some smaller artists have embraced the format as an easy, inexpensive distribution tool.

In an effort to address the growing demand for music delivered via the Net, record companies and other music firms have begun offering songs for download online--as a bonus for buying a CD, for example--via more secure formats such as those provided by Liquid Audio and a2b Music.

In its letter, the RIAA asked that artists contribute a quote for the group to use in its campaign. For example, the letter to the artist's manager states: "We are hoping that [the artist] would be willing to provide a short quote outlining his feelings about piracy and how it affects him both as an artist and songwriter."

However, the group also provided some quotes for the artists to "borrow" if they didn't want to provide their own. "If [the artist] is not comfortable providing a personal quote, please feel free to have him lend his name to one of the quotes we have provided," the letter says. Some of the quotes are as follows:

  • Don't trash us by pirating sound recordings on the Net. Get real. Get legit.

  • Like all Americans, I have the right to control both the reproduction and distribution of my work. It's called copyright and it's my prerogative. I support the RIAA for supporting me by stopping Internet piracy.

  • Internet piracy is theft, which as far as I can remember is illegal.

  • My work is my music. My music is my work. If you steal my music on the Internet you are taking something that doesn't belong to you. Remember, I sing for my supper.

  • Call it whatever you want but piracy is one thing: wrong. The RIAA is representing the rights of the recording industry and recording artists in protecting our intellectual property. Don't steal any songs.

    "There are a lot of artists who are very passionate and articulate about the issue themselves," Flatow said, naming Don Henley and Johnny Cash in particular.

    He said the sample quotes were a way to save busy artists time if they wanted a simple way to be involved in the campaign, or "food for thought."

    However, "there's nothing better than an artist who speaks from the heart," he added.

    Message boards on MP3.com were abuzz with music fans sounding off about the RIAA's campaign.

    "This is a really misguided endeavor by the RIAA," wrote one participant. "Artists have legitimate needs that need to be addressed and this, clearly, is not one of them. Get legit? Get a clue!"

    "I don't see why they are yelling so loud that MP3s are evil," wrote another. "I don't see a problem with collecting/making/etc. MP3s. As long as you don't make money from them. Only the artist should be able to profit from the music. If I'm not putting them onto CDs and selling them, I don't see a problem."

    A third wrote: "My biggest problem with this is that the RIAA is giving professional music artists the false impression that they're somehow defending them. Last time I looked, the RIAA was the one getting most of the profits, and the artists got a mere pittance?The RIAA needs to grow up and realize they don't deserve all the money from the sale of CDs--the artists do."