Monday, September 22, 2003

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is getting desperate. Profits are declining, as popular music devotees in ever-greater numbers download songs from the Internet instead of buying CDs at the shopping mall. To try to stem the tide, the music industry has dropped prices, successfully had Napster closed down and filed hundreds of lawsuits against music downloaders. Now, it is gunning for the downloading software by fretting that it is being used to swap hard-core pornography. We sympathize with the victims of intellectual-property theft, but we are skeptical of the RIAA’s sudden concern for the preservation of the innocence of youth. Today’s pop music is a leading contributor to the corruption of children.

In complaining about technology used for swapping computer files, Sony Music Chief Executive Andrew Lack cried, “As a guy in the record industry and as a parent, I am shocked that these services are being used to lure children to stuff that is really ugly.” The Sony Music boss was referring to child porn, but these same exclamations of outrage could be directed at the pornographic music lyrics his own company peddles to kids.

For example, we cannot even print the title of one song on the “Skull & Bones” album by the rap group Cypress Hill, which is a Sony act. And we cannot print most of the lyrics either. Part of the refrain from that unnameable song follows: “You’re a [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] hoe (Punk [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]); You’re a [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] hoe; Don’t touch the microphone; You’re a [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] hoe (Eat a [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]).” Minus the vulgarities, there is not much content left to this popular Sony Music song.

We bring up this latest example of the music industry’s hypocrisy because Hollywood is now trying to enlist Congress in its fight to save its business. Legislation in both the House and Senate takes aim at file-swapping services, known as peer-to-peer networks. The House bill, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Joe Pitts and Louisiana Democratic Rep. Christopher John, would require parental consent for kids to use peer-to-peer networks, though it is not clear how such a law would be enforced or what technology could track file-swapping violations. The music industry sees this as a first step on the way to outlawing the technology.

The RIAA is having limited success in its justifiable efforts to crack down on music downloaders because there are serious legal and political debates over what constitutes copyright infringement. We hold to a hard line on the issue, and firmly believe that owners of intellectual property have a right to have their interests protected in law. But they should make their case honestly. Given the filthy language and images the music industry has spewed out over the past two decades, it is fatuous for record companies to pretend to defend traditional values when they are only defending their profits.

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