(Ed. This is the second of a two-part letter about University of Tennessee students, the RIAA and file sharing. The first part ran Monday, March 5, 2007.)

The RIAA claims that downloading music without paying for it keeps musicians from being paid. Musicians typically make less than 10 percent (more likely less than 5 percent) of the cost of a CD. The recording company that owns the rights to the music gets a larger chunk (the artist who created the music rarely owns the rights to it). If the recording companies were really concerned about their artists, they probably shouldn’t have begun to push for a reduction in royalties paid to artists last year.
Furthermore, the RIAA’s claims that piracy is responsible for a major decline in record sales since 1999 has drawn fire from independent analysts across the globe. For example, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in a 2005 report, attributed the decline in sales to a number of non-piracy explanations and stated that “it is very difficult to establish a basis to prove a causal relationship between the size of the drop in music sales and the rise of file sharing.”
Such inconsistencies make RIAA’s self-righteousness seem hypocritical. RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol stated that “the state universities in Tennessee ought to meet a higher standard” regarding stopping file sharing. The suggestion that UT is failing to meet high standards is a blistering insult, especially coming from an organization that represents companies unwilling to hold themselves to such high standards.
In 2002, five of the largest record companies, represented by the RIAA, shelled out more than $140 million in a settlement in a major price-fixing case. In 2005, Sony BMG Music Entertainment agreed to a settlement for breaking state and federal laws by paying radio stations to air its music. In another case, the RIAA itself came under fire in 2003 by a federal appeals court for illegally sending subpoenas to ISPs demanding information on their users without a judge’s consent.
In 2004, L.A. Weekly published an article detailing how RIAA “agents” were dressing like federal agents “right down to the black ‘raid’ vests” with “RIAA” stenciled in yellow as they flashed impressive-looking credentials during raids on street vendors, who they threatened to arrest and to whom they issued pink incident reports.
Don’t get sucked into the hype. There’s no doubt that piracy is a legitimate concern and that theft of intellectual property needs to be addressed and dealt with, but the RIAA’s tactics, accusations and, especially, its credibility need to be viewed with a critical eye. Threats and intimidation seem to be the RIAA’s weapons of choice, rather than actual proof of wrongdoing.
We need to see these tactics for what they are and hold politicians and academic officials accountable for bending too easily to questionable allegations and demands from an organization that has yet to prove its own credibility and integrity.
Smearing UT’s reputation based on 985 alleged instances of piracy in 2006 is not acceptable, and the RIAA should be held accountable.

Jamie Richard Wilson is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at jwilso56@utk.edu.