Sunday, December 28, 2003

It's time to put to rest a misnomer: file sharing. To share means to take turns using a single item. What most people refer to as "file sharing" with music is file copying, not sharing. Some otherwise intelligent people have said that making illegal copies of music files is no different from what the public library does. No, it's entirely different. If a library wants to allow multiple simultaneous users of a work of intellectual property, be it a book or a CD, then the library buys enough copies to satisfy that simultaneous demand. But if they library only owns one copy of an item, then each person has to wait until someone else is finished with it before they can use Led Zeppelin's Complete Studio Recordings or Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. And with each copy that the library buys, as with any other legitimate purchase, the creator of the work earns royalties for the intellectual property.

Others have argued that musicians should be happy about illegal file copying because it exposes their music to a wider potential audience. Such people are oblivious of the meaning of "copyright." The words are obvious: it means the right to copy. Joe Schmoe with his PC does not have the right to copy a recording unless Joe Schmoe created the recording to begin with or it falls under narrowly-defined exceptions under copyright law. It's true that many musicians have benefited from encouraging copying and recording of their music. The Grateful Dead allowed taping at their concert and copying of such recordings under the tacit agreement that the recordings are traded, not sold, so that the bootleggers aren't making a profit. Especially for bands that don't get much radio or MTV airplay, offering their songs for free online exposes their music to a new potential audience. But in both situation, it is up to the artist, not the listener, to decide which recordings and under what conditions music is free for the taking.

Some fans have used the dubious justification that illegal file copying is not only acceptable but even righteous because the music industry exploits the artist. No, the appropriate response to unconscionable business practice is a boycott, meaning that you don't buy or use their products. To take their products without buying them isn't a boycott, it's just theft. If you are really outraged by how the recording industry subjugates musicians, then lobby your legislators for government-mandated industry reform. It's a shame that Courtney Love's outlandish behavior has overshadowed and trivialized her efforts supporting changes in recording contract standards because she has a valid point regarding their unfairness relative to contracts in other creative arts.

If you think that recorded music should be free, ergo has no economic value, then make your own instead of copying someone else's work. Write your own songs, either perform everything yourself or recruit others to work with you, record it and listen to what you've created. First, see if you rack up any expenses in doing so. Then decide if you like what you've created so much that you don't need to listen to anything else, particularly the illegal copies of your favorite top-selling act.

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