VICE: Many, many people believe that the Recording Industry Association of America is a giant hairy tumor on the neck of the music business. Many people further feel that this disgusting malignancy has slowly spread its cancerous wrath across the public domain in recent years. Over the past decade, the RIAA has sued the following individuals for allegedly using illegal means to download music: a 66-year-old grandmother from Boston who was accused of nabbing thousands of rap songs even though her computer wasn’t capable of running the software she was supposedly using, a 12-year-old honors student in NYC who lived with her family in public housing, a 79-year-old man who did not own a computer or know how to use one and was charged with sharing more than 700 tracks from bands like Linkin Park and Creed, an 83-year-old dead great-grandmother, and a homeless man living in a shelter. There have been many other unlikely defendants, but those are some of our favorites.
The RIAA’s early history, however, contradicts its current reputation. In 1952, the organization was founded with the primary mission of setting an equalization-curve standard for gramophone records. Prior to the RIAA’s formation, each record company used its own equalization. Many labels used different frequencies for playback, resulting in records that would only work on certain players. The RIAA fixed all of that and effectively increased record sales by unifying the recording process. It was a great thing.
In 1958, the RIAA did musicians another appreciable service by establishing a certification-and-rewards program that kept track of how many copies of an album were sold. This process evolved into today’s silver, gold, platinum, and diamond designations, which are awarded to albums that sell anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million copies. It has helped popularize classic, timeless records that every generation should hear and spawned numerous other systems that allow artists to track their sales. It wasn’t until about a decade ago that music technology, the very thing the RIAA was created to standardize, became too powerful for them to control. MORE