How the RIAA Works

By: John Kelly

The RIAA's Educational Role

Having gotten the attention of potential music pirates with its lawsuits, the RIAA moved on to ballyhoo the benefits of legal music. The group has worked to highlight the importance of music in terms of economy, jobs and culture.

Most music lovers understand that stealing is wrong and that artists deserve to be compensated. They're less clear about what's legal and what's not -- when does ripping a CD mean ripping off a musician? An important goal of the RIAA is to teach fans about what constitutes piracy and how they can avoid straying into illegal activity.


Since young people are a huge part of the music market, the RIAA targets its education programs toward kids in schools. The group pushes its "Music Rules!" curriculum for third to eighth graders. The program teaches young people to respect intellectual property rights of all kinds, including those of musicians. The RIAA also puts out a brochure that explains the serious consequences of breaking the law by committing piracy. It provides speakers and encourages debate about the issue.

The RIAA has also focused efforts on colleges, where file sharing and other forms of music piracy are common. Today, colleges are required by law to have plans in place to minimize piracy, and the RIAA sends notices to schools when their computer networks are used to download large quantities of copyrighted material from the Internet.

Also, understanding that the content of music song lyrics – which can be downright scandalous -- can be a serious concern for parents, the RIAA initiated its Parental Advisory Label in 1985. Working with the National Parent Teacher Association, the group came up with standards that alert parents to sexually explicit lyrics, strong language and references to violence on albums. The Advisory Label is a tool that parents can use to guide children for whom such material would be inappropriate.

One of the goals of issuing the advisory labels was to head off censorship. The RIAA stands up for artists' rights to creative expression, free from arbitrary standards. A musician or record company, aware of the Parental Advisory Label, may decide to change a song's lyrics, but the decision is up to them.

Aside from all of these education efforts, probably the best-known program run by the RIAA is the Gold and Platinum Record awards, which recognize the most popular music of the day.