Remember AllOfMP3.com? And remember threats by the recording industry to block attempts by Russia to join the WTO because of perceived rampant online music piracy? And remember the popular media, echoing recording industry threats by saying that this would be a significant obstacle to WTO membership? I do. Well, AllOfMP3.com is still alive and kicking. And one week from today, President Bush will sign a trade deal with Russia (more concerrned with things like Russian oil exports and Russian imports of US beef, poultry, and pork, with no mention of AllOfMP3.com) that will clear the final stumbling block to WTO membership.
In short, concerns over energy production and food trade far exceeded concerns over whether Michael Jackson or Madonna get a proper royalty check from ROMS, the Russian copyright licensing agency. And, this doesn’t surprise me one bit.
I remember that when these recording industry threats surfaced, Vladamir Putin held a press conference. He assured the media that Russia will take intellectual property rights seriously and that law reform is upcoming. But during the same press conference, he also suggested that Russia might ‘nationalize’ all foreign-owned banks if WTO membership was withheld. I suspect it was Putin’s way of telling the world in general (and the recording industry in particular) that Russia, not the world, would determine the internal legal framework of Russia … and that if the world kept meddling in Russia’s internal affairs, Russia would start meddling in world banking affairs. The tit for tat, quid pro quo promise (or threat) from Putin was unmistakable.
Now … I’m not a fan of music piracy. Artists have a right to fair compensation for their works. But it boggled my mind when I heard that the recording industry was attempting to sue AllOfMP3.com and using WTO-related threats in an attempt to alter Russia’s legal stance regarding what, under Russian copyright law, is a legal business entity. And the reason it boggled my mind is because AllOfMP3.com is not the culprit here. Let me use an example.
Let’s assume that radio station KJDY in John Day, Oregon played an entire Madonna album over the air. And let’s assume that ASCAP or BMI (whichever licensing agency collects royalties for Madonna’s on-air music appearances) told KJDY to pay them a few cents per song in royalty – and that KJDY did in fact make the payment. If under licensing agreements, ASCAP or BMI forwarded those pennies Madonna’s way … but Madonna’s agreements provided that Madonna receive more money than she got … who does Madonna have a REAL beef with – KJDY or ASCAP/BMI? Quite obviously, it would be with ASCAP/BMI … the people who cut her royalty check.
In any case, a week from today on November 18th, Russia’s ascension to WTO status will be assured. Hopefully, this will wise up the recording industry to the folly of their lawsuit and threats to AllOfMP3.com … and that afterward, they’ll confine their complaints to the real culprit … the ROMS licensing agency in Russia for sending substandard royalty payments for online music distribution. ROMS, not AllOfMP3.com nor Putin, should have been their target all along. And with Russia as a new WTO member, perhaps Putin will eventually make nice with the world and reform ROMS. If he does, and as they raise their compensation rates to artists, so will go the rates that AllOfMP3.com charges its customers for online downloads.
Sadly, though, I honestly don’t think this will satisfy the recording industry. With AllOfMP3.com no longer a target they can attach threats to, they’ll just go back to their former policy of suing grandmothers and little children – some of whom don’t even own computers.