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Musicpirates going overboard! Artists fight back to protect their livelihoods.

RAPPER TALIB KWELI WORKED ON HIS CD The Beautiful Struggle for more than eight months before it fell into the wrong hands and portions of it ended up on the Internet, where it was available for illegal downloads six months before it was officially released in November 2004.

Kweli, who spouts his views on American society through his lyrics, had been recording the highly anticipated album between Los Angeles and New York City, working day and night in countless recording studios. He speculates that it was at one of those studios that someone got their hands on the unreleased tracks.

The Brooklyn-born rapper, half of Black Star, a duo formed in the late 1990s with rapper-actor Mos Def, partially blames himself. "I'm a forgetful person. I'll do a session and leave a CD in the studio by mistake," he says. "But someone took advantage of my carelessness."

Artists across the world can share similar stories of stolen music. Now record label executives not only have to worry about a CD selling once it hits the stores but also about the music falling into the hands of pirates, who seem to be everywhere--on the Internet, in illegal CD distribution centers, in factories, and on the streets. The unscrupulous are inventing more and more ways to profit from recording artists. Whether it's CD piracy or artist impersonation, the music industry is paying the price.

When Napster was launched in June 1999, incidences of online piracy began to mushroom. In 1995, the recording industry reported $12.3 billion in music sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (BIAA), the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Music sales rose steadily, reaching $14.6 billion in 1999; however, the industry lost 2% in sales between 1999 and 2000. Figures continued to decline through 2005, when the RIAA reported that music sales dropped to $11.2 billion, a 23% drop from 1999.

When consumers steal music, everyone suffers, says Amanda Hunter, deputy director of communications for the RIAA. "Not only does it rob recording artists and songwriters of their livelihoods and threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of less-celebrated people in the music industry, it also undermines the future of music by depriving the industry of the resources it needs to find and develop new talent." And while offenders may feel apathetic toward the rich, powerful moguls at Sony, Warner, and Arista, they may forget that many working-class individuals--musicians, composers, engineers, producers, and songwriters--are affected as well.

Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, the Pop/R&B group that made it big in the 1960s with songs such as "Stop, In the Name of Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go?," says she loses money every time an impostor group lures fans to a concert using the Supremes' name. These groups are made up of women who may or may not have performed with the Supremes but never signed with Motown Records or recorded with the group. Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong (who replaced founding member Florence Ballard), and Jean Tyrdl, Scherrie Payne, Susaye Greene, and Lynda Laurence--who recorded with the Supremes in later years--should be the only other people with the right to use the name, Wilson says.

"They will say 'We recorded this in 1964,'" when they weren't members of the group during that period, Wilson says. "It's false advertisement. They're not giving us credit. It's almost like the history is taken away." This is not just a problem for the Supremes. A number of groups currently perform as the Platters, the Drifters, and the Coasters, all groups who made it big in the 1950s and '60s, Wilson says.

Though the courts ruled in 2001 that Internet file sharing of music is illegal, there is no national legislation to protect artists from the piracy of imposter groups.

Wilson is working with the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation, other musicians from the 1950s and '60s, and numerous legislators to pass the Truth In Music bill. At press time, the bill had passed in Connecticut, Illinois, South Carolina, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, and in several committees in Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York The bill requires truth in advertising musical performances and makes it unlawful to advertise or conduct a live musical performance or production through the use of a false, deceptive, or misleading affiliation, connection, or association between a performing group and a recording group. Imposter groups, their agents, and venue owners could be fined up to $50,000. Wilson hopes that a federal law will soon be in place.

It's not uncommon for artists to take matters into their own hands when their music and identities are violated. After he realized parts of his CD had been downloaded, Kweli posted a letter on www.okayplayer.com, an online community of recording artists. He says the response from the site's visitors was negative. "They were bashing me for not wanting people to download it. They totally missed the point that I'm an artist and you have to respect what I do."

Because so many people were downloading the CD, Kweli went to his label, MCA, to persuade executives to release it early. "It had a lot of buzz around it and I wanted to make it available. But they said no. It was then that I decided to start my own record label." In August 2005, Kweli signed with Warner Bros. Records, where he also penned a deal to sign new artists to his own label, Blacksmith Music Corp.

Vincent Phillips, an Atlanta-based entertainment attorney and a co-founder of BME Recordings (the home of artists such as Lil' Jon & the Eastside Boys, Trillville, and E-40), suggests other preventive measures that artists can take. He tells his artists not to let their friends have copies of their CDs before they are released and to limit the number of CDs they burn. Phillips also says that if the press wants to review a CD before it's released, he will bring the media to him, so they can listen to it on his premises rather than take it out.

And while record label executives can protect themselves, artists should go the extra mile to protect their name and image by making sure their trademarks extend beyond the U.S., says Brad Rose, a trademark attorney and partner with New York--based Pryor Cashman Sherman & Flynn L.L.C. "When you file a trademark application here, you don't have those rights internationally," he says. For example, someone overseas could be performing under the name "Usher." Rose, whose clients include Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, says he advises his clients to file a community trademark application, which provides trademark protection throughout the European Union and costs between $2,500 and $5,000.

Although these steps can be taken to diminish music piracy, executives say it will probably always be a problem. "As fast as we can create technology [to avert it], people will find ways around it," says Phillips.

Kweli's trying yet another tactic--he's giving his fans Liberation, a CD he's working on with tapper/producer Madlib, for free, in hopes that they won't download his future projects.

The RIAA has done its part to fight music piracy as well. Since September 2003, the organization has filed lawsuits against more than 18,000 individuals for illegally trading music. While several cases resulted in judgments or settlements, and many are still pending, no case has ever gone to trial. Hunter says the RIAA promotes sites that offer a legal alternative. The group also promotes educational initiatives; works with artists who tape public service announcements about how they have been hurt by piracy; and partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on warnings that can be included on copyrighted music.

Other groups, such as the Recording Artists' Coalition, Country Music Association, Gospel Music Association, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Jazz Alliance International, R&B Foundation, and SESAC, are working in conjunction with the Recording Academy to stop illegal file sharing. These groups' efforts have led many file sharing companies to work directly with the motion picture and recording industries to develop services that compensate artists and copyright holders.

What is certain is that artists and others in the recording industry will continue to fight back. Whether with compromise or legislation, they will search for ways to protect the integrity of their work while seeking to turn pirates into legitimate customers.

how you can help

Musicunited.org or M.U.S.I.C. (Music United for Strong Internet Copyright), a body of professionals and institutions involved in the recording industry, lists four reasons why people shouldn't illegally download music: it's against the law, it betrays the songwriters and recording artists who create it, it stifles the careers of new artists and up-and-coming bands, and it threatens the livelihoods of thousands of working people.

Here are some ways consumers can help stop music piracy:

1. Web surfers can visit http:///musicunited.org for a list of links to download music legally from places such as, Apple's iTunes Music Store, FYE, Sam Goody, and Yahoo! Music Unlimited.

2. College students should check with their school's computing services offices to explore legal download options on campus. Pennsylvania State University and George Washington University formed deals with the online music service Napster to provide their students with legally downloaded music. Students pay no additional costs for the service. It is funded through a pre-existing technology fee.

3. Parents should talk to their children about illegal file sharing. Civil liability can extend to parents of underage offenders, even if they were unaware that their child had been stealing.
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Title Annotation:INDUSTRY WATCH
Author:Hayslett, Chandra M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:1606
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