Monday, February 07, 2005

Why I decided to stop illegal downloading

It's not because of Garret the cartoon Ferret, who thinks file-sharing is "uncool."

I used to illegally download music but after reading about all the economic effects to the recording industry, and hefty fines the Recording Industry Association of America has been issuing, I have decided to stop. I still plan to download music, but from now on I will do it legally, since there are alternatives. I think the courts have made the right choice by cracking down on individual downloaders and not the file-sharing sites that simply provide the software. Legally, it is wrong to download music from such sites, but ethically I still have to convince myself so. But first, let me explain my reasons for downloading in the first place.

One of my reasons for downloading the music I wanted was out of anger. I was and still am angry at all the big media conglomerates like Clear Channel, who are raping the music industry as a whole. Clear Channel is buying practically every venue and radio station so the mainstream mass is hearing the same songs on the radio every hour, every day. Because of this, it was difficult to hear new music. The industries were getting so big and powerful, that they decided what the public would listen to. Downloading music was my way of protesting. I wanted to hurt the big labels and media conglomerates, not the artists because I am a musician myself and have friends who are also.

My other reason for downloading music is because as an environmentalist, I saw sharing MP3s as a way to eliminate unnecessary labor, plastic and paper, and save some of the earth’s natural resources. Downloading music does not require shipping costs (like the cardboard and plastic each compact disc is wrapped in when you order it from an online site), and it eliminates the need for gas and money for the buyer and distributor. The cost of buying and operating a CD-producing machine is also eliminated.

I liked the fact that I could download just a few songs from an artist without having to buy a whole CD. Usually I only repeatedly listen to 30% of songs on a compact disc while others I skip over. Downloading music felt liberating to me and as a musician, I know that I have distributed a lot of my own music for free because it was more important to me to have others listen to my music than making money. I know that other small, independent artists feel the same way.

And lastly, I downloaded music because it was easy and I knew I was getting away with it. Technology was moving faster than the law, but finally the courts are catching up. Next month, the Supreme Court is to hear MGM (the copyright holders) vs. Grokster (the makers of file-sharing software). As soon as one service would get sued, another service would find some loophole and start something else. In the last few years, things have changed for individual users. It was easier to get away with downloading music before because the first legal actions were not taken against individual users, but rather manufacturers of MP3 players, and Web Sites like Napster, which contained a bank of pirated music on a central repository.

On peer-to-peer file sharing sites, you would also search by song or artist title, but another user who has the song on their hard drive would also have to be online and logged onto the system. Services like Kazaa and Grokster did not contain a central server with the songs on it. I didn’t see what was illegal about that because it is like making a copy of your friends’ music and making mix tapes for them. Musicians who distribute their music this way, are saving themselves promotional, marketing, manufacturing and shipping costs. When the Chicago-Sun Times asked recording executives where they saw the music industry in five years, Ken Waagner, Internet music consultant said “What I really see is that more and more you will see artists being less dependent on the record company as a whole.” (Chicago-Sun Times, 2003)

In 2003, a California judge ruled that file sharing software to manufacturers of copy machines and VCRs in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster Ltd. Although they can aid individuals to violate copyright laws, they are not liable because the user is breaking the law and the manufacturer is not. (Hopkins, 163)

Illegally downloading music is copyright infringement and I have realized that I can not get away with it anymore because I am primarily liable. Internet service providers, universities with fast connections, and file-swapping software manufacturers are given “safe harbor” because Congress has protected them from secondary liability under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, so the pressure to be law-abiding is all on me.The RIAA has started to sue individuals with a “substantial” collection on their hard drives (“substantial” means around 1,000 songs, according the The Economist), and some labels have included “white noise” to illegal copyrighted material that has been download, so when the user starts listening to a song, in the middle they will hear annoying white noise which the music industry hopes will deter users from illegally downloading.

Legally, I know it is wrong to download music, but I never felt bad downloading music because I knew that the people who were profiting from it were the big major labels, who exploit artists and change their image to market music and make money. In earlier and more glorious times, music actually meant something. If you were a musician, you would make music and people would listen to you. If you played at a lounge, pub or hall, the proprietors would take some of the profit. Years later, when record players and recording devices were invented, the musician shared their profits with engineers, producers, distributors and record manufacturers. More sophisticated forms of recording and marketing were developed throughout the years and now the music industry is predominantly business and a little bit of music. I do think that the music industry is evolving and instead of complaining about change, the RIAA needs to realize that musicians will depend less on big labels, and produce music and distribute it directly to the listeners. Like in the movie “High Fidelity” music snobs will continue to brag about having the original pressing of an album on vinyl or whatever medium, and mp3s are not as impressive to these folks. Maybe the RIAA needs to target this type of consumer.

The media portrays musicians as being the victims of Internet music downloading. Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, is an advocate for musicians against Napster and has been used as a poster boy for the RIAA. But, according to the Chicago-Sun Times, the real victims of peer-to-peer file sharing are not the musicians, but the music business. Metallica, along with some record labels have started sending out Web crawlers called NetPD, which target individual users and send them and/or their employer an email saying that they are caught and are guilty of copyright infringement. Metallica later claimed that after months of using NetPD, copyright infringement was reduced. (Hopkins, 163)

The music industry has sought to persuade listeners that without profits, it will not be able to invest in finding and promoting the bands of the future. File sharing sites allow users to download the work of artists whose music they enjoy, rather than what is force-fed to them on the radio or MTV. Musicians are marketed more for their appearance and gimmick and less for their music. Tera Siwicki of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences told the Chicago-Sun Times in an article last year, “As things get more electronic, the industry is going to have to come up with much more creative ways to market a product besides cover art and liner notes… and maybe the image of the artist won’t be as important as the music itself. If a song is floating around on iTunes, you’re not necessarily looking at the person, you’re looking for music. If there isn’t a focus on the image, then maybe people will focus on the craft.”

My personal opinion is that legal music downloading will not kill the music industry, just change it. Continuing to download illegal, copyrighted material is not only wrong, but economically disastrous. The music industry needs to evolve with technology just like it always has.


At 6:20 PM, Blogger Kogi Kaishakunin said...

Maybe the times they are a changing...


Post a Comment

<< Home