Brendan Polmer: An open letter to the RIAA

Dear Recording Industry Association of America,

So, this is awkward. I remember a time when I was pretty good friends with you guys. I’ve bought records my entire life and still do to this day. But now that you’re suing my fellow students at GW, I feel betrayed, sickened and angry.

I really think that it is important for the sake of our long relationship that I be perfectly honest with you here. I mean, I’d totally want you to tell me if I was being a dick – it would only be fair.

Lately, I’ve been viewing our friendship as similar to the one I now have with my Republican friends. When one of my conservative buddies tries to tell me that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married or that the war in Iraq is a good idea, it irritates me. But at least there’s an exchange of healthy dialogue between us and it’s not like they’re going to punish me for disagreeing with their beliefs.

But don’t get me wrong – I really, REALLY like you guys! You’re totally cool to hang out and chill with and all. I mean, remember that time you got totally wasted and made that Paris Hilton album? That was HIL-ARIOUS!

But, lately you’ve been kind of a bitch.

You’ve been all like, “Oh, don’t download music – it’s morally wrong,” we college students are like, “Oh, whatever.” So then you get all huffy and resort to second-grade playground comebacks like, “Oh yeah? Well, my dad’s a lawyer and he has lots and lots of money and we’re gonna SUE YOU!”

Except here’s the thing. You’re actually suing us, and now that you’re targeting GW students, it’s gotten personal.

In a recent perspective piece written by your president Cary Sherman on News.com, he wrote that, “This was never a step (suing people) that we wanted to take, and we recognized that it would generate criticism in some quarters.” No, really.

Sherman continues, “It’s tough love – for the first time, despite years of educational efforts and the availability of plentiful legal alternatives, we are holding people personally and financially accountable for the theft of creative works.”

Tough love? Really? I thought that was like when your parents tell you later on in life that they spanked you as a child when you were bad because they loved you.

I can see you now, RIAA, standing in that courtroom, ridiculing that poor, single mother who downloaded too many Journey and Linkin Park tracks and was stupid enough not to settle out of court so that you could rip her to shreds – all the while shouting, “WE’RE SUING YOU BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU! DON’T YOU GET IT?”

Look, I get why you’re upset. You make a good argument, but the truth of the matter is that most people are not going to stop downloading. All you’re doing is generating more and more negative press, and in case you haven’t noticed, everyone thinks you’re kind of an asshole – even the very artists you claim to represent. By suing single mothers and college students, you might as well kick a kitten or steal candy from a baby.

As a musician myself, I get giddy when I check the stats on my band’s MySpace page and see that 25 new people listened to our music in any given day (in case you forgot, that’s myspace.com/bottlescans). If we ever make it big one day, I surely wouldn’t be hassling (or wanting others to hassle) our fans or potential fans by limiting the way they hear our music. If they don’t pay for the music at first, hopefully they’d pay to see us play live and then tell others about how much we rock.

And don’t worry – there’s no bad blood between us! I still buy your records (but not from the record stores, because they don’t exist anymore). I still listen to your hits (but not on the radio, because I haven’t owned one since the invention of the iPod six years ago). I still think all your artists and musicians are really hot and sexy (but not from watching MTV, because I haven’t watched since the invention of YouTube).

The digital revolution we’re experiencing is still only in its infancy, and things are going to get even cooler and more advanced in years to come. So maybe instead of sticking to the old, shitty model that’s worked for more than half a century but is somehow now failing miserably, perhaps it’s time to hire some fresh thinkers that will give you guys new ideas on how to still make money and fight music piracy without turning it into a public relations nightmare and pissing off your friends.

I graduate this May and I’ll be needing a job – want to give me a shot?

The writer, a senior majoring in journalism, is a columnist and The Hatchet’s arts editor.

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