Emmanuel Legrand reports in his excellent newsletter that:
Music industry trade group the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has asked the US government for tougher measures against infringers, in particular in the online marketplace. The proposal was part of a submission to the US Department of Commerce, as part of its request for comments on the state of the state of counterfeit and pirated goods.
You can read the RIAA’s submission here.
Counterfeiting and pirating of physical music products facilitated by online platforms continues to cause harm to our members. In 2019, we conducted two studies to identify the amount of counterfeit offerings of music CDs on popular online platforms, including a study on the prevalence of high quality counterfeit box sets on certain platforms and a study on the prevalence of high quality counterfeits for a broad sample of current and evergreen album titles released by the major U.S. record labels. As further discussed below, each of these studies showed significant counterfeit activity on the noted online platforms, including findings that:
- A recent sample purchase program found 100% of new high quality box sets offered for sale through eBay or AliExpress in the U.S. were counterfeit; and
- A recent sample purchase program found 11% of new CDs offered for sale on Amazon were counterfeit, and 16% of new CDs sold on eBay were counterfeit.
For the study on box sets of music, we identified and made test buys on eBay and AliExpress’s U.S. platforms of 10 well known artist box set titles released by major U.S record labels. Each purchase was made after a search for “brand new” box sets of the titles selected, and a purchase of the 4 lowest priced box sets on each platform, without regard to seller location. We then examined the products that were shipped to us. On both eBay and AliExpress, 100% of the test buys of the box sets were counterfeit. This is of particular concern as box sets are premium physical music products designed for the superfan that often contain the most significant sound recordings in an artist’s repertoire.
The conclusion is:
Trafficking of counterfeit and pirated goods, whether in the form of physical CDs, box sets or artist merchandise, as well as online infringement of music and music videos in digital form, continues to significantly impact the music industry. We believe more can be done, including implementation of voluntary measures as well as governmental action, to deter and reduce such activity, and create a healthier online ecosystem where all can thrive.
Amazon apparently was the only one of the bootleggers who responded, and did so with the usual non answer and deflection:
Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products. Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed. We work with and empower brands through programs like Brand Registry, Transparency, and Project Zero to ensure only authentic products are sold in our stores. We investigate any claim of counterfeit thoroughly, including removing the item, permanently removing the bad actor, pursuing legal action or working with law enforcement as appropriate.
Sound familiar? Kind of like how YouTube responds to the community flagging? Investigating after the illegal goods are being sold is not the point. Getting caught is not the point. The point is stopping the illegal goods from getting onto the platform in the first place.
The reason this drivel from Amazon sounds like tired crap is because it is tired crap. And crystalizes that they think the problem is getting caught and that what they really want is to keep getting away with it.
And this is where I disagree a bit with RIAA–the time for voluntary measures has passed. Someone needs to go to jail–someone high up who almost invariably knew what was going on (for example, grand jury documents told the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island “Larry Page knew what was going on“).
Then we can talk again about voluntary measures to keep their butts out of the slammer–not their pathetic little “Project Zero.” I got your project zero right here.
Remember the great continuum that has driven homo sapiens for millennia:
FEAR <———> GREED
We need Jeff Bezos closer to the FEAR end than the GREED end.
Remember that data is the new exposure, streaming is the new physical and that both these tropes have something in common–artists are being driven to substitute away from low to no margin streaming and away from sustainable margins on physical like CDs with no revenue replacement. (Unless you’re in the 5% of tracks that account for 90% of streaming revenue in the hyper efficient market share distribution of streaming revenue.)
Against that background, we find that the online platforms like eBay, Alibaba and Amazon are going even further toward evil and doing little or nothing in their rush to drive physical retail out of business to stop the sale of counterfeit CDs delivered to your door by Amazon Prime or Ali-express. And most honest business folk would probably think they are pretty shameless about it and ask how could they get away with sucking up the revenue from counterfeits into their maelstrom of cash?
But before you go down that rabbit hole, you need to understand an important fact about the mind set of Silicon Valley–and it’s the same mindset that gave us both Google and Theranos. It’s not that they made a choice to do evil. It’s that they don’t understand there is a choice about doing evil. It’s how these little soulless people sit in front of Congress and lie and feel good about themselves. The Internet is their Ring of Gyges and they are unconcerned about justice because their thing is getting away with it, not getting caught and getting richer than Croesus.
Somewhere in their development they lacked the normative guide–or “sherpa” in their case–that should have developed a self-governing code to map their behavior. Parents, pastors, priests, rabbis, teachers, all failed to make a dent. These are the kind of people who don’t stop when the European Commission fines them billions. They don’t care how they treat their employees as long as they’re the richest man in the world. They don’t care about ripping off artists. Their reaction to getting caught is not fixing the problem, their reaction is to buy the shillery and try to make us look greedy for expecting them to behave.
If a $5 billion fine didn’t work, how about $50 billion? Let’s try that. But even in the Silicon Valley dual class system, the corporate royalty might start thinking about offering up an executive to save the company.
This is why the solution probably isn’t voluntary. It probably has a lot more zeros on it than any normal person would think reasonable, or is a court order for very specific behavior, or simply prison.