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What is the RIAA?

Posted by Steve Vondran | Jul 09, 2021

Attorney Steve Music Law - Overview of the RIAA - Entertainment Lawyer for California and Arizona Cases.  Fair Use, Infringement, Contracts and Celebrity Endorsement!

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The Recording Industry Association of America® (the “RIAA”) protects intellectual property and First Amendment rights of artists and record labels. It is also the organization that certifies records as Gold, Platinum, Multi-Platinum, or Diamond. RIAA members' creation and distribution of sound recordings accounts for approximately 85% of all legitimate recorded music consumption in the United States. The RIAA performs a lot of important functions in the music industry, the most important of which will be discussed below.

Represent Iconic Record Labels

The RIAA represents some of the most iconic record labels in the world and the artists they back. Labels such as Atlantic, Capitol, RCA, Warner Records, Columbia, and Motown are all represented by the RIAA and are some of the most famous record labels of all time.

According to Wikipedia:

"The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a trade organization that represents the recording industry in the United States. Its members consist of record labels and distributors that the RIAA says "create, manufacture, and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legally sold recorded music in the United States. RIAA is headquartered in Washington, D.C."

Protect Artists' Rights


The RIAA works to protect artists and creators from music theft. As technology evolves, so does piracy in the music industry. Ever improving file-sharing services and stream-ripping software make pirating music easier than ever, so it is important that copyright enforcement keeps pace.

There are severe civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized reproduction, distribution, rental, or digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings under federal law. 17 U.S.C. §§ 501 and 506 provide for these penalties.

Civil liability can lead to a payment of thousands of dollars in damages to the infringed-upon party. Criminal charges carry up to five years of jail time and fines up to $250,000. Generally, without express permission of the owner, music sound recordings cannot be copied or distributed.

There are many websites where downloading and streaming music is permitted as it has already been authorized by the owner, regardless of whether the site charges a fee. However, downloading unauthorized music from peer-to-peer (“P2P”) services, like BitTorrent, or making unauthorized copies of music available to others on such services, is always illegal.

Legitimate owners of CD's are allowed to copy those CD's onto computers or onto a CD-R as long as it is solely for personal use. Lending that copy to others for copying, or giving away the copy, is not a personal use and is illegal. Any commercial use of such copies is also strictly prohibited.

Copyright Infringement Notices

The RIAA provides information to those who have received copyright infringement notices from their Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) and the proper next steps to take. If an internet user downloads or uploads copyright-protected music without authorization, the RIAA will send a copyright infringement notice to that user's ISP. The ISP will then determine which Internet Protocol (“IP”) address is associated with that infringement. Legitimate notices will only come directly from a user's own ISP. The RIAA does not send notices directly to infringing users.

The first step for a user should be to take note of whether there are specific ISP-imposed penalties associated with the infringement. Next, the user should take the following actions:

  • Immediately cease downloading and uploading unauthorized copies of music.
  • Permanently delete all infringing material from computers linked to the IP address.
  • Delete any P2P software that is not used for lawful purposes.
  • If used for lawful purposes, ensure that all files in the P2P “shared folder” are authorized for distribution in this manner.
  • Secure the internet connection to ensure outsiders cannot access the internet through that connection.

The important thing to remember about receiving a copyright infringement notice from the RIAA is that you are not being sued! (Yet!) It is simply a warning that the RIAA has detected unlawful downloading or distribution and that those activities must stop. Failure to comply with this warning may lead to copyright infringement liability in the future.


Copyright owners are free to license some of their exclusive rights to the public or to individuals. There are two types of licenses: voluntary and statutory. These two types of licenses are discussed below.

Voluntary License

Most licenses are voluntary. They are expressly granted by copyright owners in exchange for negotiated fees, terms, and conditions. This typically involves a written contract, signed by both parties. The license is expressly limited to the purposes covered in the license agreement, and any additional desired uses must be covered by a new agreement.

Statutory License

There are limited circumstances in which the Government grants a statutory license that does not require the express permission of the copyright owner. In such circumstances, the Government determines the terms, conditions, and rates of the copyright licenses. The policy behind statutory licenses is to create more efficiency in the market and avoid situations where licensees have to enter into many separate licensing agreements with multiple parties.

The most common use covered for which statutory licenses may be granted is internet radio or digital webcasting. Without statutory licensing, these digital radio stations would have to acquire so many individual licenses that the process would become impractical and thus, there would be less content to be consumed by the general public.

Support Parents with Parental Advisory Labels

The RIAA helps parents monitor what their kids are listening to with its Parental Advisory labels. The RIAA owns the “PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT” (the “PAL Mark”) trademark for use in music-related goods. The RIAA allows any artist or record company to license the PAL Mark free of charge.

The PAL Mark allows parents to easily recognize content that may be inappropriate without having to listen to the entire record. Record companies and artists work together to decide which releases should contain a PAL Mark to warn of explicit content. In some instances, record labels may ask artists to re-record songs or to revise lyrics that are too explicit.

Maintain Industry Standards

The RIAA helps to set technical standards for the production, recording, and transmission of music. This standardization helps reduce costs and build consumer confidence.

Technical Standards

Below are two industry technical standards that the RIAA has helped to create to achieve this goal:

Global Release Identifier (GRid) – used to identify a release of music over electronic networks.

Digital Data Exchange – this organization reports messages related to trade in music, for instance, sales numbers of particular tracks over a period of time.

The International Standard Recording Code (ISRC)

An ISRC provides a unique and permanent identifying code for every individual sound or music video recording. This Code allows digital distribution companies to track sales and manage their digital inventories.

International Cooperation

The RIAA supports international cooperation with the goal of ensuring that rights of music creators are enforced across the globe. The RIAA also works to reduce barriers to foreign market access for consumers in the United States. The RIAA is a member of the following organizations dedicated to promoting American creativity and advancing foreign trade policy:

ACTION for Trade:

USAlliance For Music:

International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA):

Copyright Alliance:

Global Innovation Policy Center:



The Recording Industry Association of America® is a large national organization dedicated to protecting the intellectual property and First Amendment rights of artists and record labels. It accomplishes these goals through the many different measures discussed above.  Anyone who receives an official RIAA copyright infringement notice from their Internet Service Provider or has general questions about copyright infringement or how the RIAA works to enforce intellectual property rights, should contact us at (877) 276-5084. We have been helping clients succeed since 2004!

This blog written in part by ASU law student Justin DeLuca.

About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337

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