The Music Industry's Fear of the MP3

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Corporate Fear of the MP3

The mp3 audio format is widely championed as the new great leveling format in the music business and the savior of local and unknown performers in the face of conglomerate-owned record labels, portrayed as giant, bloated entities who fear and despise the new format and seek to curtail its popularity and accessibility. In reality, the mp3 format is no different than previous innovations in portable recorded music software -- vinyl, cassette tapes, or compact discs all improve on their predecessors in sound quality and portability -- the mp3's novelty is its extreme accessibility, and once a conglomerate fully realizes the potential with which to exploit the new medium, the format becomes the latest appropriated technology. Corporate fear of the mp3 will only last as long as it takes for someone to figure out how to regulate and enforce the new format.

Opposition to the mp3 by large corporations rests on the grounds of property and copyright law enforced by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group which oversees "the recorded music you enjoy every day" (www.riaa.com). In addition to certifying gold and platinum sales records of albums, the RIAA lobbies against censorship of artists but conversely proposed and enforces placement of "parental advisory/explicit content" stickers on what they judge to be "offending" albums. The RIAA's concern with the mp3 format is how easily the format lends itself to the illegal industry of CD piracy. Added to a personal computer-run CD creator software/hardware package (a CD "burner" plus blank CD-R discs), the mp3's economic use of byte space while preserving digital CD sound quality is a potential gold mine for would-be pirates, and despite RIAA efforts ("confiscation of 23,858 illegal CD-Rs during the first half of 1998, as compared to 87 in the same period last year"), CD pirates in the U.S. as well as many countries around the world continue to peddle "counterfeit" discs at "flea markets, from street vendors, at swap meets, and in a concert parking lots" (ibid.).

The discs are regarded as counterfeit by the RIAA as well as the federal government because duplication of the work, which is copyrighted to the artist, their record label, or both, or others, is a violation of federal copyright law. Such fear over unauthorized duplication is not unprecedented; the proliferation of blank cassette tapes in the 1980s created a similar furor within the industry over

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