File sharing…theft…free music…illegal…whatever you call it, programs that allow the transfer of MP3’s over the Internet are quite popular these days. They are also the cause of quite a bit of controversy as well. Should it be illegal? Who should be held responsible for the transfer of copyrighted media? The program designers or the program users? I got the idea to write about this when I read an article about how the record industry filed a $98 Billion lawsuit against 4 college kids. That’s a hell of a lot of cheddar people! What you will read here is mostly of my own opinions rather than actual facts. Enjoy.
We’re all very aware of the first program to come under fire for the sharing of copyrighted material. Napster. A federal judge ruled in 2001 that the program aided in copyright infringement, and order it to close. It’s been down ever since. However, there are still many other similar programs up and running as I type, that allow millions of people every day to download millions of MP3’s. Should this be illegal? In my opinion, yes and no. Before I explain my answer, let me state that I am one of those people who download MP3’s from file sharing programs. However, I’m also a person who owns nearly 600 CD’s and 9 times out of 10, I purchase the album after downloading material from it. I use it mainly to check out new bands or a new album. With CD’s ranging in prices from $14-17, who wants to waste that much money on a CD they won’t like? Not me. Now, the reason I say it should be illegal to transfer copyrighted material is because of this reason. If you download a complete album and burn it to a disk, with no intention of ever purchasing the artists album, you are taking money out of the artists pocket. Think about it, if a CD costs 14.99 and 1000 people download it, how much money is that taking away from the artists? $14,990, which is a lot of money considering most artists don’t even get half of the cost of each CD. That’s $14,990 more that the artist could have possibly gained had those 1000 people actually purchased the album. The reason I say no, it should not be illegal, is that I feel it’s more of a morals issue as opposed to a law issue. If someone really enjoys an artist, they should support them and help them out by paying for the album and rewarding the artist for their hard work and creativity.
Who should be held responsible for the transfer of these copyrighted songs? Should it be the program designers, or the people who use the programs? Here’s is an example…if you buy drugs and a police officer catches you, is he just gonna take you in for buying them, or is he gonna bust the dealer as well? He’s gonna take you both in, right? Same thing here. The people who design the programs are providing the service. They are, in a sense, the dealer. But if you take part, fully knowing that it could be illegal, then you’re just as guilty. Now I know some of you are saying, “but you said you download music from Internet file sharing programs.” You’re exactly right, I illegally download copyrighted music from the Internet. I fully know what I’m doing could be illegal. However, it’s not likely that they’re gonna come and rip every single person who downloads MP3’s from their home and take them off to jail.
The artists appear to be taking a stand against the issue as well. In 2001, the main reason for Napster coming under fire was Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich. Other artists, such as Eminem and Dr. Dre, also spoke out against the program as well as file sharing in general. Now the artists are taking a slightly different approach, such as phony MP3 files uploaded to file sharing programs. One most notable would be Madonna. A user downloads a file, thinking it’s the latest hit song from Madonna. Once downloaded and played, the user finds not the song, but rather Madonna herself asking “What the fuck do you think you’re doing.” It seems as though the users are fighting back as well, as Madonna’s web site was the target of a hacker last week. The person hacked into Madonna’s web site and made her entire new album available for download to site visitors, as well as including their own message. “This is what the fuck I think I’m doing,” the message read. Well put.
In conclusion, I do believe that file sharing costs recording artists and labels money. $98 Billion? Hardly. There’s no possible way anybody could ever pay off a debt that large. I find the thought of them being sued for that amount of money completely ridiculous. They did, however, say that they would settle out of court and that the initial $98 Billion was just to make their point. Point made and point taken. What can record labels do to slow down file sharing? Probably nothing. A lot of record labels are offering free MP3s through their web sites to promote new albums, and allow the buyer to sample the music before purchasing the album. On Amazon.com, you can preview 30 seconds of some tracks on most albums before purchasing them. But is there a way to stop file transferring altogether? I don’t believe so. Threats of huge lawsuits might slow it down a bit, as was proved when several smaller file sharing programs shut down in the midst of the $98 Billion lawsuit. It seems the record industries scare tactics worked, if only for a short amount of time. However, I find it hard to believe they’ll ever put a stop to it. It’s kind of like the war on drugs, pretty pointless if you ask me. They’re fighting an uphill battle, one that I feel they just won’t win.