What Filesharing Studies Really Say: Part 3 – RIAA Suppresses Innovation

Part 3 of the republication of my meta-analysis.

[Originally published on ZeroPaid in May, 2012]

We’re continuing our investigative news series on what file-sharing studies really say. Today, we continue this series with a study that says that organizations like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is a suppresses innovation.

The study is entitled “How industry associations suppress threatening innovation: the case of
the US recording industry” and was published in 2011 in the journal Technology Analysis & Strategic Management.

The abstract certainly doesn’t mince words here:

This research examines how associations influence industry conditions in order to further member interests. We demonstrate that, when threatened by technological change, associations will attempt to shape industry conditions in order to suppress the adoption of threatening practices or policies. We propose that they do so by engaging in a multidimensional framework of influence directed towards public institutions. Their actions include agenda setting and influencing public policy to further member interests. Our framework is illustrated with actions taken in the USA by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in response to peer-to-peer file sharing technology and its use in the transfer of copyrighted music files.

Normally, I would be able to comment on something with an observation, but I just can’t add to that because it so impressively sums up the relationship between the RIAA and technology of today.

When the paper describes the RIAA and p2p file-sharing technology, the paper makes the following comments:

he RIAA provides an excellent example of how an association strives to deal with industry change. We examine the RIAA’s actions in the USA.


It has always sought to preserve the intellectual property rights of the record industry. However, with changes in existing technology and the introduction of a wide range of new technologies such as peer-to-peer networking, this traditional concern has become a priority issue (RIAA 2009).

Peer-to-peer technology allows users to bypass Internet servers in order to access files held by another computer. The key innovation that facilitates the file sharing practices the RIAA opposes is the MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 (MP3) file.


As a response to the continued threat of peer-to-peer technology, the RIAA implemented a
number of actions that serve as an effective illustration of our proposed framework of association action in response to threats. As we will illustrate below, the RIAA’s actions suggest that specific strategies are implemented in the public, judicial and policy contexts. Moreover, these strategies are dynamic and simultaneous.

Of course, actions to fight innovation was not exclusive to the United States. As we’ve seen with the Anti-Counterfeiting trade Agreement (ACTA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the hugely discredited USTR Special 301 Report, pushing a copyright agenda that only reflects the interests of major corporate entertainment companies represented through associations like the RIAA and MPAA is also hitting the world stage far beyond the US borders in so many big and profound and potentially damaging ways.

The paper goes on to document the RIAA education campaigns, alliances with the Department of Justice (DOJ), litigation activities and heavy lobbying with lawmakers. Towards the end of the paper, the authors make the following comments:

The extent to which associations can successfully protect the interests of their members through political action in the long run is another potential area for future inquiry. While there have been decreases in the number of illegal downloads since the implementation of the RIAA’s strategy, record sales continue to decline (Bhattacharjee et al. 2007). Moreover, research on the topic has shown that technological change is difficult, if not impossible to resist. Firms that have attempted to block threatening innovations have usually failed in such endeavours (Hargadon and Douglas 2001; Suarez and Utterback 1995). Moreover, research has shown that such external threats can be transformational, despite the resistance of incumbent firms (Leblebici et al. 1991). Whether associations can be more successful remains to be seen.

In short, change in the industry is inevitable. Interestingly enough, the paper says that both music sales AND unauthorized downloading have both been in decline. Industries that resist change typically end up failing to do so and when industries do change, it changes the industry (note the lack of any insinuation that technology destroys the industry).

I’d say, based on this study alone, claims that the RIAA always embraces change, technology and innovation are completely unfounded. I would say that resistance to change as is the case between the RIAA and file-sharing have a damaging effect on society as a whole as well given what the organization has done over the years.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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