The most interesting thing about Justin Ouellette's revealing post regarding the RIAA's take down of Muxtape is how the RIAA acted independently of the labels that the organization represents.
Over the next week I learned a little more, mainly that the RIAA moves quite autonomously from their label parents and that the understanding I had with them didn’t necessarily carry over.As Ouellete points out, the labels understood the inherent value of Muxtape -- viral marketing and mouth-to-mouth promotion of music, which creates a consumer generated community organized in a central location on the internet. The fact that the RIAA moved autonomously of the labels signifies that the organization does not understand the cultural value its content has for consumers, and instead views this content as nothing more than "product."
This fundamental misunderstanding is also evident in their ongoing anti-piracy campaign against 12-year-old kids and grandmothers. Not only is such a campaign doomed to failure, but the industry is targeting its best costumers. The only such case to go to trial, Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas, awarded damages of $222,000 to record labels. Thomas had shared 24 songs on Kazaa, a once popular peer-to-peer network. The ruling has been challenged, the punishment criticized as unfair, and the judge in the case has expressed doubts about the court's decision. The really interesting part about this case is the RIAA's efforts to solidify "attempted copyright infringement" into law. The RIAA doesn't understand that the "product" is much more than a cut of wax, a wound up analog tape, a plastic disc, or a series of digital bits to fans.
The emotional connection that people have with music goes back far in history, before copyright law and "intellectual property." Music transcends boundaries in ways that other mediums cannot. People have "played" with their culture continually throughout human history -- through sharing, modifying, or creating new works from existing works. The recent extension of copyright term limits has cut off people from these previously exercised abilities just at the same time that technology makes it easier to do so.
Muxtape served this emotional purpose well -- music fans were able to share their favorite songs to any interested party like never before. And on the business side of things, Muxtape provided the best possible form of promotion -- mouth-to-mouth advertising. People are more likely to make a purchased based on the recommendation of a real person, friend or stranger, than from record label advertisements on glossy magazine pages. All that potential, wasted. As I have said before, the RIAA is only hurting their own industry with these actions.
I think Muxtape will demonstrate the positives of sharing music through its new focus on the band feature. I find it unfortunate that Ouellette didn't try to reach out to independent labels exclusively and strike licensing deals while also barring major label participation. I think that such an action could have the effect of showing major labels that repressing people's natural desire to share will only hurt their businesses, while also helping out smaller labels experience more recognition and (hopefully) increased sales for their artists. (I'm confident that sales would increase; however, there's little solid data surrounding this issue. This could have been a great test case.) Perhaps this will occur anyway through the band feature. Only time will tell.