Home taping is killing music.

The inner sleeve to Echo and the Bunnymen's 12" single for "The Cutter." Photograph by Denny Medley (Random Photography)

A while back, my friend, Denny Medley, took some pictures of (me with some) cool, interesting album artwork. In August, I posted a discussion of  reissuing records, Neal Fujita and pictures with Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. While not as extensive as that post, this picture presents another recurring theme in the recording industry and album artwork in general.

In the 1980s, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) feared that copying music to cassette tape threatened money labels and artists could make. Congress ensured that a portion of a blank cassette tape’s price would go to labels (although many doubtful artists ever received anything). In 1992, the RIAA again feared for its life. This time, the culprit was blank CDs and digital media. Congress then passed the The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. Later came all the infamous lawsuits against people downloading illegal music. The RIAA first targeted CompuServe users but accelerated its efforts with the advent of peer-to-peer software like Naptser and Kazaa.

But let’s take a step back, as this paranoia is nothing new. The RIAA also feared the advent of radio and reel-to-reel tape recorders. It felt that if someone could hear a song on the radio for free, he/she would never want to buy the 45 or album. Reel-to-reel tape recorders then allowed people their first opportunity to record that music from the radio for him/herself.

So we’re in 2010, and people still make and sell music. Warnings, like in this Echo and the Bunnymen record and the newer FBI warnings on CDs, are funny, but mostly annoying. The reference to home taping is obviously funny because it conjures up images of a kid in the early 1980s dubbing off a copy of a friend’s record, probably wearing air traffic controller-style headphones. But it’s ultimately frustrating for me because an overwhelming majority of the most agredi0us law-breakers would probably never buy many albums anyway. The industry clutters up an album’s artwork with its warnings, irritating serious music fans like me, while people still continue breaking the law. Just make good music, and the fans will buy it.

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