Is the music business in the bull's eye again?
As Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) President Stanley Gortikov put it recently: There's a record-business "assassination" in the making. A villain is poised outside the music industry door, ready to "invade our borders" and "trample on and exploit" the pop world.
What is this dread new scourge? Is it the Washington Wives, eager to sticker (and perhaps) censor nasty rock bands? Is it a vile new rock drug? Rampaging counterfeiters? Could it be killer bees?
Not a chance. The bad guy is digital audio tape (DAT), a new Japanese audio innovation that has been billed--by no less than Popular Science magazine--as "the recording system of the future." And what's DAT? It's like a compact disc (which we thought was \o7 already \f7 the system of the future), but you can record with it as well, just like a blank audio cassette.
Of course, that recording feature--which could make it possible to use DAT as a home-taping vehicle--is what has industry bigwigs up in arms. Even though DATs won't be introduced in the United States until (at the earliest) sometime late next year, key industry figures, like the RIAA's Gortikov, have already been sounding the alarm.
Gortikov has charged that DAT would "jeopardize musical opportunities, limit musical careers, heighten musical risks . . . and stifle musical sales." And what is the RIAA doing about this threat? It's been considering a massive public relations initiative that would seek legislation forcing manufacturers to equip DAT players with "copy-code" chips to prevent pre-recorded tapes or CDs from being copied onto DAT.
Pop Eye has obtained a copy of a proposal submitted by Howard Rubenstein Associates, a high-powered New York public relations firm that was approached last month by the RIAA Executive Committee. While Gortikov said that the RIAA has decided to "table" the firm's proposal for the immediate future, its guidelines offer a fascinating glimpse into how the industry might pursue its legislative goals--and influence media opinion makers on the controversial DAT issue.
According to the firm's 10-page proposal, the American public needs to be convinced of "the terrible disaster that DAT can bring to the U.S. marketplace." As the proposal explains: "This effort cannot appear to be simply an anti-consumer move by the industry. The threat that DAT poses to the American public--the destruction of the music industry--is reason enough for government action and for the public to understand that it too has a stake in preserving the industry."
Other proposed plans would include:
A "full-blown" news conference where industry leaders would "call upon Congress to act."
Meetings with editorial writers of the "major publications in key cities" across America.
The preparation and servicing of "letters to the editors" of major daily newspapers.
Prepared cartoons and articles for Op-Ed pages, business publications and political columns that would "fan the interest and indignation" in the issue.
Would this campaign really help prevent the introduction of DAT in the near future? DAT supporters are unimpressed.
"I've been hearing all the same paranoid rhetoric from the record industry for the past five years," said Charles D. Ferris, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman who is serving as counsel to a collection of electronics firms lobbying for the speedy introduction of DAT. "History has proved that each generation of new technology has been a tremendous opportunity for the record industry, not a threat to it. The music business is flourishing, and \o7 because \f7 of the availability of cassettes and CDs, because new technology always attracts new consumers."