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Musicians, Labels Launch Campaign Against Piracy

September 26, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With CD sales drooping and online piracy booming, a high-profile group of musicians, labels and their organizations is launching a campaign today to convince the public that it's wrong to swap music through the Internet.

The group, which includes such hit makers as Madonna, Eminem and Shakira, plans a series of print and broadcast advertisements that paint a grim picture of the harm caused by online file sharing. The ads will be funded, at least initially, by the major record labels' trade association, the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

The effort comes more than two years after now-defunct Napster Inc. made it simple for consumers to copy music online for free. Although three federal courts have ruled that such copying is illegal, the number of online file-sharing companies has skyrocketed, as has the number of people downloading music for free.

Some skeptics say the campaign is coming too late to make a difference in public attitudes about file sharing. They also criticize the RIAA for tarring legal forms of copying along with illegal ones in an attempt to educate consumers about the evils of piracy.

"They're trying to make it simple, and it isn't," said Allen Baden, a copyright expert at law firm Kenyon & Kenyon in San Jose.

RIAA executives say the vast majority of today's file sharing is illegal, yet surveys show that most people see nothing wrong with it.

"We try to be as circumspect as possible but at least give some guidance to consumers," said Cary Sherman, the RIAA's president.

The campaign also attempts to answer one of the most common defenses that people assume for downloading music on file-sharing networks: that musicians don't receive money from CD sales, so they are not harmed if people download songs instead of buying them. In the advertisements, dozens of artists argue that downloading their songs without permission is the same as stealing and that file swapping hurts new artists and emerging music entrepreneurs.

Notably absent from the campaign is the Recording Artist Coalition, a group of musicians that has battled the labels over contract terms and accounting issues.

But Jay Rosenthal, an attorney for the coalition, agreed that unauthorized downloads hurt artists, not just in lost royalties but also in diminished funds for promoting CDs and developing new acts.

"Behind every major label there are real artists being harmed," Rosenthal said.

Analyst Phil Leigh of Raymond James & Associates, an investment bank, said the advertising campaign may lay the groundwork for the labels' suing consumers who make heavy use of file-sharing networks, as the RIAA has threatened to do.

Leigh said the labels have to do more than scold consumers--they have to offer a legitimate alternative to file-sharing networks.

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