Stop the music?

Digital reckoning: Cyberspace quandary over copyright forces new questions of ethics and marketplace.

June 05, 2000

NEW TECHNOLOGY forces rapid change in lifestyle and law. But basic ethics must endure in a functional society.

That's the problem posed by revolutionary computer software such as Napster and Gnutella and Freenet. They allow unfettered, free sharing and downloading of copyrighted music.

The same goes for DivX, a hacker code that allows pirating of DVD movies via the Internet, and encryption-cracking of online-published books.

The names and technologies keep changing, but the challenge remains: fair compensation for work and product vs. freedom of ideas and expression. And this in an Internet society that is totally global and anonymous.

Artists and those who distribute their creative product deserve to be paid. To steal their work, just because it is technologically possible, is not right.

But the Internet and technological innovation are impossible to tame, even if the courts provide momentary pause, as in recent legal actions against Napster and its cousins. Filtering information may work at home, inside corporate walls or in other closed communities. But it is never total or efficient.

Control of Internet exchange is the issue. Recording artists and companies seek the widest use of and exposure via a borderless network. But they want to limit that freedom for others, to protect their own economic interests.

The unabashed greed of the music industry has certainly played a role in the eager embrace of computer "piracy" programs by millions of young consumers with limited income and limitless appetite.

What the entertainment/publishing industry must do is seek ways to derive profit from Internet delivery of creations rather than futilely fighting to preserve the CD medium.

There's opportunity for more efficient, convenient provision of their product to the masses, even if there's some loss of revenue (or samples) to unrelenting hackers. Most of us will fairly pay for value.

But there's no reason to turn a blind eye, or ear, to the deliberate providers of tools designed for theft. They must be held accountable by law, albeit defective.

Radio and TV provide "free" music and movies. Public libraries provide "free" books (and movies and recordings). They didn't kill the creative arts. Providers found ways to receive compensation. Technology and the marketplace will find new harmonies, even if not everyone will like the music.

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