Mere months ago, 75% of the public was content in knowing that, if they put their treasured Britney Spears CD into their computer, it would play. Now, suddenly, people are talking about MP3s--sound files that offer audio quality comparable to a compact disc, but at a fraction of the size of a ripped CD track. Thanks to everyone from Time magazine to the New York Post, the same person who was content listening to 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' on their Spears CD can now duplicate and trade the entire album over the net using free products like RealJukebox and Napster in a matter of minutes. The process is quick, easy--and 100% free.
Now, I wrote this article because I want to say that, yes, I download illegal MP3s onto my computer. I own few of the albums that I download songs from, I pass out songs to my friends, and generally - according to a lot of angry people- cheat artists and record companies out of a lot of money. But before you scroll down the document to find another article (preferably one that wasn't written by an asshole), or better yet, write in to flame me for being a cheapskate, wait a moment. I'm not looking to start any controversy- although I think it would thrive in an ezine like CoN. I want to explain, and perhaps defend, my use of MP3s, because some of us aren't taking advantage of this whole 'free music' situation they way it is being portrayed in the media.
First off, in no way am I defending those wonderful individuals who download entire albums in lieu of buying them. Likewise, everyone who pirates games should have their colons sucked dry with an industry-strength vacuum cleaner. I'd hate to think that someone out there was taking something I poured a piece of my life into creating, using it as they pleased, and denying me of rightful payment. [Note to reader of CoN: Send us $$$ :)]. That's not how it's done, and anyone who tries to tell me that they have a 'right' to product without payment can- for lack of a wittier insult- screw themselves. People like that make it really difficult for hard working individuals to earn a living and support their talents.
....But that's exactly what I'm doing, right?
Well, yes and no. As I said, I'm constantly downloading new, copyrighted songs that I have not paid for and have no intention of ever paying for. Many of you will probably say that I'm stealing. Maybe I am. But consider the following: about 75% of the songs I download are singles. These are songs that have been released to promote the album and radio stations and television programs play them constantly for a few weeks before discarding them for something new. This is what I do as well. A new single will rotate through my playlist for a month at most before I delete it. The majority of these bands will never be heard from again and their albums are of dubious quality to say the least. Are they losing any money if I make it more convenient for myself to listen to the very song they released to the public to hear? Hey, occasionally I'll become intrigued with one of the aforementioned artists whose singles I'm 'borrowing' and download a few more tracks from the album. If I like it, I'll buy it. If not, then I can delete the offending songs and be content knowing I didn't waste a trip down to the mall or go through the hassles of returning an unwanted CD. Believe it or not, but some artists have actually benefited from my 'illegal activities'. I never would have become a fan of older acts like Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Supertramp without fast, convenient MP3s.
So what accounts for the other 25% of mydownloads? The majority are bootlegs/live versions of songs I already own or unreleased material by bands I love. For example, The Smashing Pumpkins have recorded literally hundreds of songs in the their eleven year history (a history which is sadly coming to an end, but that's a rant for another article). I own all seven of their commercially released albums, but there are still a large collection of tracks that have never been released or were only played live. By downloading these songs, I get to enjoy new material by my favourite band as well as gaining new perspectives on their music. I would buy the right to listen to these songs if I could, but that's not an option, so I'm certainly not going to resist the download because of an annoying copyright.
Occasionally, I do download entire albums. I actually had full copies of the new Smashing Pumpkins album and the debut from A Perfect Circle months before they were released in stores. If I was a real thief, I could have made CD-R copies of the albums and generated quite a bit of income selling them to interested fans- but I didn't. Instead, I listened to the albums, and when they came out in stores I promptly bought them because I enjoyed the music.
In the end, my opinion doesn't really count for much. I'm just rationalising my habits so I won't feel bad whilst I'm 'stealing' someone's music. Either way, the music industry will adapt to the Internet and find a new way to force people to pay for the music they listen to. Or programmers and hackers will make it so difficult to stop music pirating that the whole system will collapse: Freenet, created by a 23-year-old British programmer, offers total anonymity for users sharing files (which is nice if you don't feel like paying for that new Blink182 album AND you also happen to be a terrorist who dabbles in child pornography on the side!) Arrgh. In the mean time, I feel like listening to 'Comfortably Numb' again before I head to the gym.
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