The RIAA is right

November 14, 2003|By Chris Collins

THE RECORDING Industry Association of America's official moralists: Illegally downloading copyrighted material off the Internet for free is wrong.

The collective opinion of 60 million Americans: Whatever.

And that's how it goes. Millions balk at the moneymaking moral imperative that lawyers of the RIAA righteously proclaim.

But as a student -- not as a record-label CEO -- I agree with them.

Online file-sharing is a bad habit I kicked about half a year ago. I used to download regularly -- in the morning, after lunch, at night, while I was sleeping. All the while, my trusty dorm laptop would be sucking dry the college bandwidth with songs from U2, Creed, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and other artists.

Finally, I began to lose interest. And I also realized I was wrong.

America needs a reality check on this issue. There's a reason online file-sharing is illegal, but file-sharers have crafted elaborate excuses for continuing the 4-year-old practice. They say it's just like recording from the radio, or that music prices are too exorbitant anyway.

A Gallup Poll in August found that only 18 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds considered cheating on a test morally acceptable. However, 83 percent of those same teens did not have a problem with downloading music for free.

A practical, no-nonsense look at the issue, however, reveals that file-sharing is as morally shortsighted as cheating on a test or stealing a car.

First, music and other copyrighted material are private property. Like a car or a perfect score on a final exam, they are something someone worked to create, purchase or achieve. They belong to someone.

The creative value of music must be respected in the same way.

With more than 230 million copies downloaded worldwide from Kazaa -- the leading online file-sharing program -- file-sharing is obviously mass dissemination of copyrighted material, and therefore an infringement on private property.

Technically, it's just Lou from Louisiana sharing a country tune with Martha from Maryland, but realistically it's giving away something for nothing when millions are sharing with millions. That's why it's illegal.

Luckily, there's a legal way for the Napster generation to avoid pricey music purchases.

Napster, the former bastion of online file-sharing, reopened for business Oct. 29. The new Napster, however, offers users 500,000 music downloads for only 99 cents a song or $9.95 an album. Though far from free, Napster 2.0 is definitely legal and definitely not a strain on the conscience.

Since the RIAA sued 261 online file-sharers in early September, traditional file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and Imesh have seen their numbers of users drop considerably. Meanwhile, traffic on Web sites that offer music downloads for a fee has increased dramatically. For-fee services such as Buymusic.com and Rhapsody both report dramatic increases in users since the September lawsuits. This new trend isn't so bad.

For too long, shaky reasoning has been used to justify online file-sharing. All the arguments fall short when faced with practical reality.

The RIAA lawyers may not be pillars of moral clarity, but they're right on this one.

Chris Collins, 20, is a sophomore at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash.

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