RIAA questions

I have a few questions concerning the RIAA and downloading music. By the way, this has been cleared with manhattan, so it’s ok to discuss.

  1. How many record labels fall under the RIAA? Is it just the major ones like Sony, Virgin, etc.?

  2. Can they do anything about you downloading music off of a foreign label? And are foreign labels being as vigorous as the RIAA is in this matter?

  3. (This is kind of connected with question #1) What exactly is an independent record label, and how do you determine if a record label is independent? And do they care if you download their music?

Thank you for your input.


  1. Hard to say exactly. RIAA claims that its members manufacture or distribute 90% of all CDs sold in the US. Certainly the Big Five (or six – I don’t recall how many they are, but you get the idea) record companies (which have 75-80% of all sales) are members. It’s a pretty safe bet that most downloaded music you have is from RIAA members.

  2. Depends on what you mean by “foreign labels.” If the labels are distributing songs recorded in the US, then the songs fall under the RIAA’s purview. It doesn’t matter if a song was taken off a CD produced (legally) in Germany; the copyright applies to the song no matter where the CD was manufactured.

However, if it was an original recording of a Bulgarian rock group recorded in Estonia, the RIAA wouldn’t bother.

  1. Independent record labels is an imprecise term for record labels that have no affiliation with the majors. They range from companies like Blind Pig, which covers blues artists, to One Way Records, which does reissues of classic old albums, to Joe’s Record Company*, which produces a single CD of Joe singing Cole Porter off-key. Some independents are members of the RIAA; some are not. They might mention it on their web pages.

The independents’ attitude toward file downloading varies from the same position as the RIAA (if so, they’re probably members), to decrying it but doing nothing, to having no problem with it. I’d venture that, generally, the more money the make from CD sales, the less likely they are to allow file sharing.

Some of the smaller companies do put out sample MP3s as promotional items, but do not allow any files traded other than the ones they designate.

*A fictional example.