Every day, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of songs by established recording artists are illegally transmitted over the Internet - illegal because the people receiving the music have not paid for it.
Every day, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of songs by
established recording artists are illegally transmitted over the
Internet - illegal because the people receiving the music have not paid
Hundreds of artists, record labels and music distributors are being
duped out of money that, legally, they are entitled to.
That is why the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has
been spending more time in the courts than in the studios over the past
two years. First it sued Diamond Multimedia in a vain attempt to get the
Rio portable MP3 player banned from store shelves. That’s where things
stood the last time this column looked at online music distribution. And
look at what has happened since then. There are now dozens of copycat
devices on sale, all allowing their owners to go running, ride the
subway or walk to school listening to music they have downloaded over
Even Sony has gotten in on the act. The lure of people chanting ’I want
my MP3’ was just too great to resist.
Then the RIAA turned its attention to MP3.com. The company legitimately
sells recordings online in MP3 format, but what brought the ire of the
recording industry is the my.MP3.com service that gives people access to
MP3 copies of CDs they already own. Since it is legal for people to copy
recordings they have paid for, the service is completely legal, says
But an online database of professionally copied music will make illegal
distribution even easier, says the RIAA. That’s especially true once the
files start being swapped using something like Napster, software that
allows users to find other people online who have copies of songs they
want. That, says the RIAA, is a tool for rampant copyright
Exactly, says Napster, the company that makes the software. It’s a
But tools don’t break the law, people do. Suing the company that makes
the software is like suing Xerox because people make illegal copies of
To say that things like my.MP3.com and Napster are popular would be an
understatement. Napster is so popular that some universities and ISPs
have banned its use not because of copyright violations but because
their bandwidth is completely soaked up by music swapping.
And that’s precisely where the RIAA’s problem lies. It’s not that people
are breaking the law, it is that they are doing it in huge numbers,
joyfully, and with the full intention of breaking the law again and
again. And it’s not just ordinary Net users. AOL, never a company to
miss out on a populist move, is about to integrate an online digital
music storage service uncannily similar to my.MP3.com into its Spinner
and WinAmp music divisions.
It is hard to think of an industry that people feel less sorry for.
They’ve seen it all before, starting with the ’home taping is killing
music’ campaign of the ’70s. Then the entertainment industry tried to
get VCRs banned, and video sales are now one of the mainstays of the
The record industry is spending its money on lawyers when every battle
it might win in the courts will be nullified both by public opinion and
new technologies enthusiastically embraced by people who want their
music anyway they can get it. Ever heard of King Canute, the Viking king
who thought he could control the tides?