Guest Author - Michelle Anne Cope
It happened in Columbus, Ohio – my hometown. I heard it on the news this week and it prompted me to write this article.
Nineteen students were sent letters telling them that they are facing legal action for illegally downloading files – allegedly. No charges have been filed as of yet and the pre-litigation notices offer students the chance to settle the copyright infringement cases at a discounted price. If students refuse or ignore the letters, they could be sued.
The letters were sent by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA). The main objective of the RIAA is to measure the sales of sound recordings. In recent years, the RIAA has also focused on the illegal downloading of music files using file sharing programs.
Why? What’s wrong with a little sharing of music between friends?
Now, I’m not going to be preachy or condescending, because I’m not guilt-free. With that said, illegally downloading music files is like stealing. It’s a copyright issue. It was the word copyright that stopped me dead in my tracks when the whole Napster issue was raised years ago.
One day Napster was born and it seemed really cool that everyone was sharing their own personal music collections on the internet for all of us to enjoy and download. It was the year 2000 and I thought it was cool, it was on the web and everyone was doing it, so it must be okay. However, nobody asked the artists or recording companies how they felt about this so called “sharing”. Metallica was one of the first bands to come forward and ask that this practice be stopped. The band members considered the sharing of files to be nothing more than stealing. And . . . they were right . . . it was.
No more pussyfooting around – I did it. I downloaded some songs from the first Napster project in 2000. Not many, maybe five. It doesn’t matter, I still did it and I should have known better. So what that everyone else was doing it and it was on the web. There was still that little issue of copyright infringement. I’m a writer and everything I write is automatically copyrighted the minute I write it. The same copyright applies to every picture I draw and collage I make. If I wish to make sure that I can sue for damages if someone uses my creations without my permission, I have to go the extra step of filling out forms and paying a fee to have my creations listed with the United States Copyright Office. Copyrights protect the work that I create – the same protection that is afforded to musicians and recording artists for their music and lyrics. I would assume that they go through the forms and fees for every piece. I think I’ve only paid for two of my creations to be copyrighted. None the less, my creations are just that – my creations and I have to give permission for someone to use them.
One night in 2000, after some soul-searching, I stopped downloading. A while later, Napster stopped sharing. Then one day, something really neat happened. Rather than totally thwart the technology, the music industry and other powers to be in the world of downloads and files worked together to develop legal services. Services where you pay a fee for each song or album that you download. The MP3 and iTunes market soared; artists and recording companies received their royalties and all was well with the world.
Sort of. There are still places where you can download for free. You might pay a small fee for the software that enables you to search libraries and download files, but that is really all you are paying for, you are not paying for the song or album.
Napster and iTunes are just two of the legal download services that are now available. I use both. I pay a monthly fee to belong to Napster for their “Napster to Go” service and I pay by the file with iTunes. It’s what’s right for me. I don’t want anyone to take my personal work and creations and suddenly make it their own or pass it around, so I make sure that I treat the creations of others the same way.
What do you think? Let me know.