Raw Sue-age

Let us not squander the gift of mass lawsuits against average Joes: Fuck the RIAA!

"Every penny the record label spends on you, you ultimately have to pay back," says Grant. "People don't realize it, but some bands that have sold like 2 million records don't even recoup their losses. I have friends in bands who have sold in the millions and still haven't recouped on their record deal."

Add this to the peril of shady lawyers and managers, and you can see why countless big names -- TLC, Billy Joel, MC Hammer, and the list goes on -- often wind up slumming it after prolific careers. And those are the ones who do make it. These days, the occasional Britney Spears or Eminem or Blink 182 will finance the cultivation of dozens of other acts. When 98 percent of them fail to sell, they will be dropped like bricks all the way to the bottom of the pop-cultural ocean, their careers ruined after the label has determined them economically unviable.

But if the music business is fucked up and in need of a makeover, the only thing that will happen if we file-sharers don't get our shit together is that the RIAA will eventually win in court. For, at the very least, the RIAA has a legion of lawyers, whereas most of us have little more than a DSL connection, a bong, and a few conspiracy theories.

"[File-sharers] like to say, 'I'm in a crusade against the music industry.' And it's like, 'No you're not, you just want a free song,'" says Grant. "And the labels are the same way. They're like, 'We're protecting artists.' And it's like, 'No you're not, you just want to make money.'"

There are an estimated 60 million people who use P2P networks. As the EFF points out, that's more people than voted for President Bush. But if all of us act like looters during an electrical blackout, we're not helping our cause. The RIAA has given us a gift with these lawsuits: Revolutions always begin when the ruling majority rounds up the leaders of the insurrection. It seems that this one will be no different (even if those leaders are only 12 years old). If we act responsibly, if we work toward creating and supporting P2P networks that allow us to discover new music for ourselves and pay the artists who create it -- thus circumventing the corporation-controlled labels and distribution outlets -- then perhaps the members of the RIAA will be the first casualties in a long-overdue war against corporate music monopolies.

Who would have thought that all these years later, that cryptic Smiths song would finally make sense: "Shoplifters of the world/ Unite and take over!"

Visit www.eff.org for some great resources, including: "How Not to Get Sued by the RIAA"; a database to find out if you've been subpoenaed by the RIAA; and "Making P2P pay artists." Check it out.

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