Big guns vs. piracy

Ad campaign to target music downloading

The record biz has signed on a new ally in its ongoing war against digital music piracy: Madison Avenue.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America will team with artists and several other music orgs on Thursday to launch the first salvo in a new print, radio and TV advertising blitz aimed at educating consumers about the costs and consequences of trafficking in free downloads and pirated CDs.

The multimillion-dollar campaign, paid for mainly by the five major-label groups, has recruited more than 90 recording artists, including such luminaries as Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Eminem, Luciano Pavarotti and Stevie Wonder, to lend their names, quotes and visages to the cause.

RIAA topper Hilary Rosen says the campaign is not so much a bid for sympathy from consumers as an effort to make them aware that such activities are illegal — a fact of which the industry’s research shows many consumers are unaware.

“We want to send a strong message that downloading is stealing and it’s against the law, plain and simple,” Rosen said in a news conference Wednesday. “When people do learn that this activity is illegal, it makes a difference to them, and that is the critical factor.”

David Munns, EMI’s chairman and chief exec in North America, cited research commissioned by the industry from Peter Hart Research, which found that 70% of those who download music for free on the Net don’t know it’s against the law.

“They don’t know that what they’re doing is hurting people that work in the business,” he added. “And I’m not talking about just superstars here; I’m talking about record-store clerks, truck drivers — people with a regular job.”

Over the past two years, the industry has been engaged in a series of protracted legal battles with file-sharing services, beginning with peer-to-peer pioneer Napster and later moving on to second-generation networks like Kazaa and Morpheus.

In the process, record labels have drawn fire for being too focused on killing the peer-to-peer model rather than figuring out how to offer compelling online services of their own as an alternative. The industry has since launched two of its own digital music services — MusicNet and Pressplay — and a handful of independent companies are also trying to carve out a piece of the nascent market.

The latest PR push marks a third front in the battle over music in cyberspace — the hearts and minds of music consumers. It will be coordinated through newly created umbrella org Music, or Music United for Strong Internet Copyright. Entity comprises the RIAA, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the American Federation of Musicians and several other prominent music orgs.

Music’s first print ads will appear today in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the congressional periodical Roll Call. They feature the banner headline “Who Really Cares About Illegal Downloading?” followed by the names and quotations from supporting artists.

Five of the org’s TV spots will also be unveiled Sunday, during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee set to discuss peer-to-peer piracy. Rosen said she expects the ads to be broadcast on “several media outlets” shortly thereafter, with more spots in the works. The entire campaign is set to continue for several months.

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