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RIAA chief to step down

Hilary Rosen says she will step down as head of the Recording Industry Association of America at the end of 2003, after a controversial five years at its helm.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
3 min read
The chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America said Wednesday she would step down as head of the organization at the end of 2003, after a controversial five years at its helm.

Hilary Rosen has presided over a transformation of the organization that has matched the turmoil of the music industry since her ascension in 1998. Once a trade organization little known outside music and policy circles, the RIAA has become a household word known for its vigorous prosecution of online piracy, and its role as the nemesis of file-swapping services from Napster to Kazaa.

The outgoing chief executive said she wanted to spend more time with her family.

"This has been an extremely difficult decision, but I know it is the right one for my family," Rosen said in a statement. "Nonetheless, this is a critical time and I have much to do in the coming months. We continue to face unprecedented levels of online piracy as well as a changing market in physical piracy here and abroad."

During the past several years, Rosen has served as a focal point for all the criticism and complaints levied by advocates of unfettered technology. Indeed, she was featured in the most recent issue of Wired magazine as "The Most Hated Name in Music"--a bold statement in an industry notoriously rife with avaricious record producers and label executives.

She has been cast by her critics as an unswerving enemy of technology, an impression she has tried with little success to dispel by saying she did not oppose peer-to-peer or Internet technologies per se, but only their use to distribute music without permission.

Nevertheless, she--or the legal strategies of the group she has headed--have had as significant an impact on the direction and future of Net technologies as virtually any technology company in business.

The legal battles against Napster ultimately ended the life of the fastest growing community in the Net's history. The enforcement actions indirectly helped spur a generation of programmers to find ways of replicating Napster's actions that couldn't be shut down by the courts, leading to services such as Kazaa, the various Gnutella software clients and their progeny.

More recently, Rosen has extended an olive branch to the technology industry, worrying that rhetoric on both sides had created an artificial gulf. Last week, she signed an agreement to work with counterparts in the Business Software Alliance and the Computer Systems Policy Project, each of which represent large technology companies on common goals.

Under her tenure, the organization has also been attacked for non-technological issues, such as lobbying activity on a controversial musicians' contractual issue called "work for hire" that has galvanized opposition to major labels among some artists.

She's also won accolades for her work at the industry organization. In 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California gave her an award for her work supporting artists' freedom of expression. Ironically, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow--a figure who would later become one of Rosen's chief intellectual antagonists for his insistence on unfettered information flow online--was given the same honor at the same time.

Music industry executives praised her work on news of her announced departure.

"Hilary Rosen has been a tremendous advocate for the recorded music industry," said David Munns, CEO of EMI Recorded Music North America. "She has been incredibly effective in raising awareness about the important value and impact that music has on our lives, our culture and our economy.

The RIAA will conduct a search for Rosen's replacement during the course of the year, the group said. Cary Sherman will retain his current role as president of the organization.