Music industry, downloaders face off

Thursday, August 7, 2003

P Owners of computers are getting subpoenas as the result of downloaded music files, which many have been taken illegally from the Internet by relatives.

File swappers -- those who illegally download songs on the Internet -- are finally being asked to face the music.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the music industry's top record labels, is cracking down on music fans who illegally swap copyrighted music online.

The industry claims to be losing millions in sales to online piracy. Sales of music albums have decreased 25 percent over the past three years, and the industry believes online file-sharing is largely to blame.

Now the industry is suing scores of music downloaders -- mainly college students -- who are ignorant of -- or indifferent to -- the illegality of their actions.

The industry also sent subpoenas this summer to colleges and Internet service providers, demanding the names and addresses of computer users it suspects of sharing copyrighted music.

Grandparents, parents and roommates, who may own the computer but have nothing to do with downloading the songs, are being handed the subpoenas.

It is the hope of the music industry that, once the word gets out, it will deter Internet music swapping and that music fans will once again become consumers and buy the music instead of downloading it and burning a compact disc, all from their seat at a personal computer.

Surveys show that most people don't really think it's all that serious. After all, they say, everyone else is doing it. But it is illegal. Copyright violation is serious business: Under federal law, the industry could seek penalties of $750 to $150,000 for each illegally shared song.

There's no doubt it's a problem. Ask any teenager about the latest CD he bought and you're likely to get a blank stare. Ask him what he downloaded recently and he'll list dozens of new artists and programs that make peer-to-peer downloading easier to do.

These people -- and it includes adults too -- make a compelling case. The prices of CDs have gotten ridiculously high. They see no reason to pay for music when record companies and those who make the music are still millionaires. CD stores, they say, are for suckers.

They also don't seem too intimidated by the industry's latest maneuvers. As one 16-year-old recently put it, "They can't sue 4 million people."

The music industry also is taking a risk with these subpoenas and lawsuits. It is taking the risk of further alienating a group of people who are music's biggest fans. Make that group mad and sales will only plummet further.

The industry could institute educational programs in colleges and universities, explaining how it impacts their business and update the students on what the legal implications could be.

It also could start with lowering the price of its CDs. Those CDs are relatively cheap to make and several dollars could be shaved off of the price. If they don't, for the $14 it takes to buy a CD -- or more -- downloaders can buy dozens of blank CDs.

The industry also could make certain songs free online. That would only build the buzz of the artists. Then consumers would want to hear other songs -- at a price.

If it wants its consumers to be happy, the music industry is going to have to change its tune first.

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