from The Justice: The Independent Student Newspaper of Brandeis University November 13, 2007... link

Local Band eschews RIAA's illegal downloading policy
By Rachel Marder
Posted: 11/13/07

It's clear that the Recording Industry Association of America is playing catch-up in the digital age. By picking on college students who download and share music online-around 15 Brandeis undergraduates were forced to pay $3,000 each to the RIAA last semester-the music industry is revealing the weaknesses in its outdated business strategy for promoting artists.

Independent bands such as Family Junction are taking a stand against the RIAA through the Digital Freedom Campaign, an organization that promotes the rights of artists and fans to utilize digital technology without unreasonable government restriction or fear of RIAA lawsuits.

Family Junction, an eclectic funk/jazz/rock/hip-hop band performing at Cholmondeley's Thursday at 9 p.m., includes Ryan Pressman '06, a post-bac in studio art (guitar/bass/drums), Brandeis Hillel staffer Dan Levine (guitar/vocals), Matt Ross (guitar/bass/drums) and Alan Cohen (guitar/bass/vocals). The Family got involved in the campaign for digital rights after signing on to the SaveNetRadio Coalition, a group of artists and Internet radio providers such as www.pandora.com, currently lobbying hard against a federal bill proposing massive hikes in royalty rates at the expense of Internet radio stations.

"We don't want the rates to be so high that Internet radio stations are put out of business that play our music," said 24-year-old Seth Kroll, the band's manager and co-lyricist.

The Copyright Royalty Board's proposal last March sought to increase royalty rates by between 300 and 1,200 percent, but Kroll said the bill is still in limbo.

Family Junction and other bands that get airtime primarily through college and Internet radio stations rely on the freedom and accessibility of the Internet to get their music heard around the world. Kroll said around 40 percent of music played on the Internet is from independent artists, as opposed to terrestrial radio, which Kroll said plays about 10 percent independent music. By aiming to put these stations out of business, the RIAA shows its panic over challenges being made to its monopoly on conventional music promotion.

If the proposed royalty rate increase goes through, Cohen said, Internet radio stations would have to pay $500 for each channel they use, and a site like www.pandora.com, which uses a multitude of stations, would inevitably go bankrupt.

"Just because record industries are entering this new phase where they're going to have to start adapting and have to start changing how they create their revenue, doesn't mean they should get so scared and try and restrict new inventions and innovations," Kroll said.

Levine, 23, whose shaggy brown hair falls past his ears, doesn't think the exorbitant lawsuits are scaring people away from downloading files off peer-to-peer sharing sites. If anything, the suits just make fans more determined to download and come up with new methods of finding music.

To show their support for the Digital Freedom Campaign, Family Junction performed on the campaign's college tour Oct. 12 at Northeastern University, and they're continuing to advocate for user rights through their own work.

"It's in their business interest not to encourage us to succeed, and it's a shame. That's where it really touches us personally. People should be able to trade music. It really does affect us when the RIAA acts in such a way that restricts us from connecting with our fans," Kroll said.

The RIAA tracks Internet Protocol addresses on filesharing Web sites and then contacts the Internet service provider (in our case, Brandeis University) and orders the users to pay $3,000 or else face much more serious financial consequences in court. But whether the industry likes it or not, the Internet, largely unregulated, is drastically changing its fan base and the way the music market functions.

Since the RIAA can't seem to prevent college students, or anyone, for that matter, from downloading, it should adapt to the new environment and adjust their business model, bandmates said.

On their recent self-produced album, Running Trains (We're Huge in Japan) released this year, at $10, the disc comes with a movie they created, mp3s to download off a "FamJam Music-Stache" featuring music from 12 fellow independent artists. Free downloads are available on the band's website.

Family Junction also distributes its albums online at little cost to them through CD Baby, an Internet-based store with music by independent artists. While record labels were previously the basic way bands promoted themselves and recorded albums, the Internet makes it easier for independent artists to do this work on their own terms.

Aside from selling albums, Family Junction also embraces simple sharing of its music. Rather than viewing disc burning and file sharing as obstacles to profit, Family Junction sees them as opportunities for self-promotion and for drawing people to their shows.

"Our goal is to build community, and so we want to embrace what our community wants, and if it means that we don't want to strictly enforce certain copyright laws that we could, fine. That's something that we have to deal with and that we have to work with," Kroll said.

The guys especially take issue with the RIAA's claim that illegal downloading is destroying the music industry's potential for growth. Instead of focusing on record sales as a primary means to make money, the RIAA should put more energy into live shows, band merchandise and digital accessibility.

Levine said record labels fail by charging excessively high prices for their albums and by controlling the management of digital media by making it impossible, for instance, to transfer songs between computers, iPods and CDs.

"How can you question what [the consumers] are going to do with a product that they own?" Pressman said. "It sucks for the artist who's not making money from it, but at the same time, it is their CD, and they can do with it what they want. Somehow you've got to draw the line without policing it and telling them they can't do what they want with what they own."

With the myriad of opportunities made available by the Internet, the record industry needs to adapt rather than punish consumers for seeking other means of listening to or buying music.

"Why should they be policing, as opposed to seeing how the market is changing?" Levine asked. "We're willing to pay for music. Just stop trying to rape our wallet."

© Copyright 2007 The Justice