Pirated music remains controversial ‘gray area’


by Joe Payne
Eagle Staff

Turn on your iPod. Briefly scroll through the artists and songs. Did you pay for more than half of that music?

I didn’t think so.

Since the beginning of the 18th century, copyright laws have been protecting the expression of an original idea, which prohibits the copying or distribution of the work by anyone but the owner. These laws are to ensure that the creator maintains credit for their work and that others do not profit from the redistribution of the work.

Today, copyright laws protect a wide range of intellectual property, such as movies, paintings, photographs, computer programs and, most controversially, music. However, with the rapid advancement in technology and increasing amount of information available on the Internet, it has never been easier to listen to music, watch movies and download software for free. Copyright laws are but a speed bump along the information superhighway, completely irrelevant in the context of peer-to-peer file sharing, also known as P2P.

P2P programs, such as Limewire (now shut down) and Utorrent, allow users all over the world to share any kind of file, free of charge. Millions of Americans use P2P file sharing to download, or “pirate” music, movies and computer software. With the speed and vastness of the Internet, it is almost impossible to enforce copyright laws on the people downloading the files. Yet record companies, film studios and software companies are as angry as ever at the supposed thievery occurring over the Web.

Recently, Jammie Thomas-Rasset was ordered to pay fines of $1.5 million for sharing a whopping total of 24 songs using the popular program Kazaa. The case had been a struggle since 2006 in which Thomas-Rasset had been repeatedly appealing for lower fines. Now she has lost her re-trial, being found guilty by the jury for infringing the rights of Capitol Records and must pay $62,500 per song.

“That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard in my entire life,” senior Josh Ibarra said. “This is an outrage. How can she be fined a million dollars if the songs are only worth a dollar each?”

Whether you agree with it or not, it is far easier and more cost-effective to download music for free over the Internet than it is to buy it at a major store or on iTunes.

“Whenever I need music I always download it,” junior Jonathan Cohen said. “I never buy it.”

Senior Dickson Garnett agrees: “Free is always better.”

An average human, especially in the teenage years, is likely to take the path of least resistance. The danger of copyright laws are an empty threat when millions of people pirate music every day, when the chances of actually getting caught are extremely slim. With the advances of new technology, illegal downloading has become a moral and legal gray area, and many court cases of pirating are turned down by the U.S. government.

Despite the prevalence of pirating, the media is still struggling to control it through television commercials and public service announcements before movies. These propaganda advertisements attempt to equate “stealing” a movie over the Internet to stealing a car. You would not steal a car, so why would you steal a CD, right? Right, except that is not shoplifting a tangible item from a store.

Downloading a song from a P2P program is essentially just copying the file. If it is not illegal to copy songs onto a CD and give them to a friend, why is it illegal to do it over the Internet? The fact that these advertisements even label file-sharing as “stealing” is completely absurd.

The arguments against pirating may seem like moral common sense: if you are not paying for the song, then the band must be suffering a financial loss. Sure, nobody is paying for the song, but is that really how musicians make their money? Not exactly.

Unless the band is wildly famous, most of a musician’s income comes from performing live and selling merchandise. However, if you are a popular artist like Prince or Metallica (two bands that voraciously condemn file-sharing), then your income is most likely coming from the millions of records being sold.

It is understandable that a professional would be somewhat angry over a leak in their source of income, but it is highly doubtful that Lars Ulrich (worth an estimated $175 million) is taking much of a financial loss over a few thousand people downloading “Enter Sandman.”

And with the insane amount of Metallica memorabilia sold, it is safe to say that the members of the band are financially stable.

Although Metallica may be a massive record selling group, most bands being shared over P2P are not going to sell millions of records. This may seem to take a toll on the bands’ income, but it is not what it seems.

Most unknown and undiscovered bands are not able to sell their records through major CD stores and will struggle to be noticed on iTunes. These bands are going to make money through live shows and will only make money if people show up. If these bands have their music on P2P networks and on free sites like YouTube, then this will dramatically increase their level of promotion, as well as increasing crowd size at performances.

Small, independent bands need all the promotion they can get. Even if they eventually sign to a record label, most sales will go directly to the label. File-sharing helps these bands become discovered and increases their fan base. These bands realize that they probably will never become as wealthy as Metallica, so they struggle to acquire fans in any way.

Copying and imitation will always be a part of human instinct. As technology advances, copyright laws will to attempt to adapt, and people will continue to find their way around them. Regardless of legality, it is unmistakable that a large portion of students pirate music and do not seem to feel much remorse for doing so. Whether it can be labeled as “stealing” or not, it would be absurd to call a student a thief for downloading a few songs.