www.boycott-riaa.com?

The recent struggle between the RIAA and Napster may seem like a distant battle rumbling off in some foreign realm, far removed from most audiophiles: about once a week we get e-mails asking why a high-end audio website should even cover such stuff.

But to ignore the issues being settled in the lo-rez world would be a mistake. The major labels may be drawing battle lines around crummy, compressed MP3s right now, but in the not-too-distant mega-bandwidth future (okay, maybe middle-to-far-distant future), even audiophile-grade downloads will be affected by what is decided today.

And so the RIAA, backed by the music business, is throwing its biggest guns into battle, and as a result, more folks are joining the fight against them. One such anti-RIAA crusader is 51-year-old Bill Evans, of Virginia. After hearing more than he could stand of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on downloadable music two weeks ago, Evans put together the www.boycott-riaa.com website during an inspired all-nighter.

Stating that "after listening to the debate for the past year, we have decided that enough is enough," Evans encourages music fans to refrain during the month of August from buying any products from companies that support the RIAA. Evans makes clear that he does not support piracy or illegal copying of music, but explains that "in 1999 these so called 'protectors' of the music industry and musicians [the RIAA labels] released only 2600 CDs. In the first 4 months of 2000 Napster says they signed up 17,000 new artists. I have no idea how many are on MP3.com. Excellent artists are being ignored, and discouraged by the music industry—in short, I'm forced to use MP3.com and Napster if I want to hear new music or artists. My comment to the 'Big 5' is you made your bed, now lie in it."

Other sites catering to music fans disenchanted with the RIAA's tactics include Boycott the RIAA, which claims that, as of the end of July, over 100,000 music fans have pledged to not buy any music from labels backing the RIAA until the suit is dropped or Napster wins. The site calculates that this adds up to almost $8 million a month in lost sales. The site pledges to send the entire boycott list to the RIAA as a show of strength.

The bottom line for the music business may simply be that the RIAA has taken the wrong approach to finding ways to protect profits from online music distribution, driving fans away from the major labels while simultaneously ensuring that beleagured Napster won't be able to offer them the 20 million and growing (and now alienated) consumers who already use the system.

Writing recently in Business Week, Dennis K. Berman contends that "Napster is good news" for the major labels, if they'd only recognize the opportunity staring them in the face. Arguing that Napster has trained a legion of potential music buyers how to download music, the majors now just have to figure out how best to work with the Web company on how to charge music fans as they release new tunes. Michael Kahn, also writing in Business Week, warns that the suit could backfire in other ways, pointing out that since the suit started, Napster use has swelled dramatically as a result of all of the attention the fight has received in the press.

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