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Lights Out, Guerilla Radio

Music downloading has been increasing exponentially lately with little sign of slowdown for a reason. Hundreds of thousands of people download millions of songs every day from nearly every country on the planet. Starting with Napster, which was created by 19-year-old Shawn Fanning in 1999, music downloading has gained international attention from record companies, the authorities, and patrons to the program as well as many similar ones. Record companies believe that those who share are in violation of intellectual copyright laws, whereas those who share and download believe their actions are legal for many reasons.

So should music sharing be legal? There is no doubt that it should be. There are a few very good reasons for the free sharing of music. One of the most important reasons, and also should be the most persuasive to the record companies, would be that people often use these downloaded songs as a pseudo evaluation of what they plan on buying. Many people that I know have many songs downloaded, but also own almost every one of the respective albums that the songs came from. Steve Knopper, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, said it best when he said file sharing and CD shopping are largely seen as complementary activities (14).

To back that up, many people often point out that the downloaded songs are of inferior quality to CDs, which is why they often purchase a CD after sampling it through a peer to peer downloading service. Unfortunately the record company does not feel the same way. They believe that sampling can take place at the store where customers have the option to listen to clips of a song on a machine. There are also places online where you can get song samples. They believe that since there are so many other ways to sample a song that there is no excuse for illegal downloading.

Their argument sounds good in theory, but what they dont realize is that people want to hear exactly what they are buying, not some ten second clip. When your sampling music, a short bit of a song just doesnt convey anything to the listener, people want to hear it all to see if its worth buy and lives up to the hype. Others would argue that the decline in quality of music is why downloaders choose to sample music through downloading. Users of these various programs say that if they werent constantly worried that they were buying a sub-par CD they would download significantly less or not at all.

Those that said this find it amusing that the record labels are so upset, when the record labels themselves are to blame for allowing such a drop in the overall quality of available music. Though the record industries have no response to this, I do. It has been more and more obvious that artists rely on a hit single to sell an entire album. Steve Knopper states, Albums with only one or two worthwhile songs are less likely to be purchased (14). This statement couldnt be more accurate. Most downloads are for singles, not albums.

I blame the diminishing quality of CDs on dates set by the suits at record companies, not the artists. I find it disgusting the way record labels methodically milk an artist, album, or song title for much more than its worth. If the greedy recording companies wouldnt lust for more wealth, then they wouldnt be pressuring artists into a poor release. Another portion of the argument for music sharing is the position of the artists. Very often, music artists go unknown until some of their music is distributed on the internet. Only then do they become popular enough to be a big time artist.

Also, very often, an artist will support file sharing because they are not in it for the money, but instead believe that music is a form of art which is protected under the first amendment and should be distributed freely. One of the first groups to make it known that they supported such sharing was Limp Bizkit. They thought that Napster was one of the greatest things since sliced bread. Fred Durst, lead singer and manager of the band, once said “It’s a way for people to check out music. You can go on Napster, listen to a record, and then go out and buy it”(Napster).

Of course, many artists totally disagree with this statement, the most prominent group being Metallica. They were by far the most active antipiracy group and made it known that they were outraged by operations like Napster. They openly condemned music sharing, claiming that they worked too hard for their music to be stolen. Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, is quoted on the Charlie Rose Show with saying We clearly own songs, we own the master recording to those, and we want to be the ones’ to control the use of those on the Internet.

I personally think they could embrace the new wave of information technology, using it to get opinions from fans on new songs and albums. Some of the best ideas come from the strangest places, which is exactly why, with a little tweaking and control, these tools can be used to satisfy both parties. Of course the record labels are in agreement with the opinions of bands like Metallica. They think that when the pen hits the paper during a contract signing the artists work belongs to the record labels.

And only they (the record labels) can control who has access to it, which is totally true. Legally the record companies do have control of the material, but they arent afraid of having control, so much as they are afraid of being undermined. Before the information age the only way of getting music was through the record companies. Now that there is a bypass they are quickly working to eliminate it and perpetuate their monopolous hold on the market. There have been advancements in the legalization of music. Canada has deemed sharing of music legal in a recent court battle.

The nations record labels were thwarted while attempting to get information about twenty-nine users of file sharing programs in preparation for suing them for copyright infringement. The judge denied the request for information and said that downloading music and placing it in a shared folder for others to view and take was not against any laws in Canada. That ruling alone has set the record labels back significantly in this round of litigation. Of course the record labels want to appeal it, and they plan to.

Even though the ruling only applies to Canada for now, if it stands it could have much larger repercussions. Rulings that take place in other countries could point to the Canadian ruling as stare decisis (Stare), meaning that they could use that case as legal precedence. This is especially pertinent to the United States because our laws are very similar to those of Canada. As Jefferson Graham, a writer for USA Today, said, since the U. S. lawsuits, online piracy has grown substantially elsewhere (03b). This is because, as studies show, people very often download across borders.

This leads me to my next point that as of right now it is legal to download music (take music from others) in the United States, and it is legal to upload music (give music to others), in Canada. Because people in Canada can give and people in the US can take there is a complete system of legality. Slowly but surely the legalization of music sharing is taking place. Though the record industry still insists on fighting this, it is obvious that they need to either stop or change their methods if they want to be successful. As stated before, they could use it to their advantage if they were to encourage it.

That way people could hear the song and then run out and spend money on it. CDs are of much superior quality to that of downloaded mp3s, and people know and hear this. Often people download songs not because they dont want to pay for them, but instead because it is much handier for them to download them than to go to the store. Noticing this problem and rectifying it could alleviate the situation. One attempt at this, iTunes, has been the most successful online music store, selling 70 million songs in its first year of operation. As you can see, both sides can be satisfied at once as long as there are some compromises from both sides.

The record labels need to learn to use free music sharing to their advantage, and the users of these programs need to be patrons to the companies that make music possible by buying CDs. On their own, the two activities of buying and downloading are almost symbiotic. Hank Barry, who runs Napster, said, “Napster is helping and not hurting the recording industry and artists. More access to music leads to more interest in music and more music sales” (p3). If this quote can be taken to heart then the end of this conflict really can exist.

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