The popularity of LimeWire, the now-defunct peer-to-peer file-sharing network, predictably drew the ire of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which went into full-attack mode within the last year. The RIAA first went to federal court and had LimeWire, which they called a “massive piracy machine,” effectively shut down in that the court ordered them to cease their central operation—an application designed to allow sharing of copyrighted material. The next logical step then was to seek damages. The RIAA has a history of overreaching in their compensation goals, making actual recoupment of damages unlikely and further casting themselves as the greedy, monolithic villain. In this case, they settled with LimeWire for a relatively more reasonable $105 million (a jury could have gone as high as $1.4 billion).
So where does the money go? Who absorbed the actual damages? This is where the RIAA may very well cement their reputation as the Monty Burns of corporate associations. Ostensibly, they have sought this recompense on behalf of artists, whose hard work is being stolen—STOLEN!—from them by nasty pirates…and children… and hospitalized teens…and grandmothers. But there is rampant speculation that artists will see none of the $105 million. While the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) broadcasted their satisfaction with the settlement, they simultaneously made it clear that they expected the money to go to their musician members. For a few days, the beneficiaries remained undetermined, and rumors surfaced that the RIAA intended to keep the money for their ongoing operations.
RIAA spokesman J.M. Burns
Needless to say, people were pissed.
But the RIAA quickly denied that they ever intended to keep the money and countered that they have no control over how funds would be distributed. Subsequently, Warner Music, EMI and Universal announced their intention to share the settlement with their artists. But the lack of specifics and the continued silence of other plaintiff-labels did little to ameliorate the concerns of the artistic community. AFTRA has pledged to see the funds distributed fairly to their artists, but questions remain, especially in terms of how much of the settlement will remain after legal and other costs incurred by the RIAA are paid.
This here is a joke.
For artists, this will likely signify nothing. There is a chance that small fractions of the settlement will reach certain recording artists, and while Metallica might be psyched, few others share the backward-looking mindset of the RIAA and affiliated labels. In the end, the labels typically blew this case out of proportion, explicitly blaming LimeWire in court for the steady decline in music sales over the past ten years. Yeah, no one believes that. While this is a nice little settlement and is being celebrated as a great victory by the powers-that-be, it is more likely that this is a last gasp—the final effort to contain an uncontainable sea change in the way people obtain and consume music.