Sound Practice

Filesharing Isn't Unethical or Killing the Music Business

Lest we forget?
When the Cincinnati Bengals were in the 1988 Super Bowl (yes, really), a local radio station cobbled together rousing stadium anthems with such audio gems as “The Who-Dey Rap,” and the mix was broadcast every day at 5 p.m. “Get those tape recorders ready,” I remember the DJ saying. “?Welcome to the Jungle’ is coming up next.”

The Recording Industry Association of America, it seems, is now furious that technology has facilitated what teenagers have been doing quite harmlessly for years. Music fans are now freed from the ritual of standing next to the stereo, fingers on the play-record buttons, praying that the next song up will be “Walk of Life”?a single they’ll buy anyway on allowance day.

PR Geniuses
A recent flurry of RIAA lawsuits has targeted twelve year olds and grandparents in a bare-knuckles attempt to stop filesharing. It’s a top-notch PR venture on behalf of the recording industry, guaranteed to net more customers.

RIAA caterwauls that music sales dropped 10% in 2001, blaming the plummet on downloading freeloaders. I’d buy that if there weren’t four awful things going on in America in 2001: a recession, 9/11, a war, and Britney Spears . In other words, stop releasing brain-insulting material during an economic downturn, and maybe people will buy something.

Behind the whining
Most downloaders turn to KaZaA only to give an artist a whirl or access a song impossible to find elsewhere. It is a question of audio purity : Anyone who has heard a CD cut next to its popping, muted downloaded cousin knows that quality is sacrificed when a track is burned online.

RIAA’s principle battering ram has been the welfare of the recording artists; downloading is stealing, officials argue, from the creatives who gave birth to the music in the first place.

But most artists see only a tiny portion of the millions a hit track will generate; the big money is on the touring circuit, where ticket sales are boosted by exposure? exposure easily found on the Internet.

Bottled water
“There is,” rocker Janis Ian recently wrote, “zero evidence that material available for free online downloading is financially harming anyone. In fact, most of the hard evidence is to the contrary?Water is free, but a lot of us drink bottled water because it tastes better.” Indeed, witness the new releases from Jimmy Buffett, Toby Keith, and other worthies sitting in my CD cabinet? not in a “share” folder on my PC.

You may recall that Hollywood sued VCR companies when blank tapes appeared on the scene, scorching the earth with assurances that the movie industry was finished. (And I spent $400 on Seabiscuit alone this year.) In the same way, MTV hardly doomed concert-going.

Can’t we all just get along?
Also, is there no possibility for creative solutions here?

The best resolution I’ve heard thus far to the downloading controversy comes from Ian : “Imagine one giant music site? offer(ing) downloads at reasonable prices for everything and anything ever recorded, and links you back either to direct sales, or to other sites where you can purchase the music in CD, DVD, or other formats.”

Sounds good to me.