Pirates pillage online

Campus Times
April 16, 2004

by Max Zänker
LV Life Editor

The average college campus is full of criminals, and so is the University of La Verne.

They hide everywhere: in the dorms, in the classrooms and in the cafeteria.

They are pirates. Not the old fashioned kind as glorified recently in the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Piracy has gone high-tech, and arguably lost its romantic touch.

Gone are the black beards, the eye patches, the parrot on the shoulder and the quest for treasures of gold.

The black beards have become black keyboards; the eye-patches are flickering monitors; the parrot on the shoulder has been replaced by the mouse in the hand and the quest is not for gold but for free beats and bites.

Welcome to the age of music piracy. According to recent studies, programs like Kazaa swap out over 2.6 billion copyright-protected songs a month into the hands of anybody with Internet access.

Theater and music major Whitney Wickham has downloaded several songs from the Internet in the past.

“CDs are just too expensive,” she said. “The cheapest nowadays is about 15 bucks, and most of the time I only like one or two songs on the album. And as I hardly find single CDs anymore, I started loading music from the Internet. At many band’s homepages, you can listen to their music anyways.”

Jeremiah Moersch, a business major at UC San Diego has another way of staying under the radar. “Most of the computers in America are PCs, so this is where the Recording Industry of America Association checks,” he said. “So I feel pretty safe, using my Apple computer.”

Greg Willis, ULV communications major, uses file-sharing programs mainly at home – not in the dorms – where the University has begun to monitor file sharing activity. “I mainly load singles,” he said. “If I like a couple of songs from one album, I go to a record store and buy it. I never buy online because I hate waiting and paying for shipping and I just love shopping at record stores.”

Those record stores are among these pirates major victims.

Even big chains like Tower Records recently filed for bankruptcy, blaming piracy as one of the main reasons.

According to a 2003 RIAA report, sales in CDs have gone down by 21 percent since the year 2000, contributing to an industry-wide loss of $ 280.8 million.

The Internet generation, ages 15 to 24, comprises 24.8 percent of record store consumers.The demographics are the same for file sharing.

But ULV senior media analysis major Taylor Kingsbury said that not all music retailers suffer big losses from file sharing.

Kingsbury works at Rhino Records, an independent record store in Claremont.

He said piracy doesn’t hurt independent record stores, only the big chains.

“People might check out songs online, but they still buy the album if they are real music fans. Piracy mainly hurts the mainstream, where albums contain only one or two good songs, and fans of those don’t come for that music to Rhino Records. We offer more than the big radio songs, and people still appreciate a good album.”

In fact, Kingsbury said, file sharing can benefit musicians.

“As a band, you don’t make big money from your albums anyway,” he said.

“Metallica has the best record deal world wide and they make only about a dollar per sold album. All the money from record sales goes to all the other people involved in the production and sales process like songwriters, record companies, studio technicians and record stores; those are the ones hurt by piracy. The artists make money from touring and merchandising, and for this all you need is promotion. And getting heard and distributed over the Internet is a great promotion,” he said.

From the ashes of destroyed file sharing programs like Napster, another threat for the big record stores rises. Lead by the Macintosh program iTunes, more and more former file sharing providers contract directly with the recording industry to sell songs online for as cheap as 99 cents.

“I would totally accept to pay a dollar per song,” Wickham said. “At least, you don’t have to be afraid of being caught and sued and thrown to jail. You have a clean conscience.”

“I did it once, but for me it is still too expensive,” Willis said. “I don’t want to pay more than 25 cents per song, or $5 to $10 per album. I still see a lot of additional value in buying real music in stores. I don’t think that the CD will die out, but it could happen that the focus might shift to digital music. I could imagine loading up your iPod with songs at a record store.”

But some feel downloaded music is technically inferior.

“When you download music illegally over Kazaa, you are always in the danger of viruses,” said Florian Funk, a business major at San Francisco State University.“You never know about the quality of the songs. The connection speed is very slow, it can often take you days if you are looking for a rare song, and sometimes songs are even listed under the wrong name.”

In the Macintosh pay-per-song model iTunes, Funk found what he was looking for.

“The quality is one-to-one, the same as on CD; it hardly takes me one minute per song and the file is guaranteed free of viruses,” he said.

The online song-selling solution is ideal for those users who do not agree with music piracy or fear being caught and taken to court.

By downloading music illegally from the Internet, the user breaks two laws: the copyright in the musical composition, which protects the lyrics and notes on paper for the songwriter, and the copyright in the sound recording, which protects the actual musical production for the record company.

The online infringement of those laws can be punished by up to $ 250,000 in fines and up to three years in prison or, in case of repeat offenders, up to six years in prison, according to a recent RIAA press release.

The RIAA’s first step in its war against music piracy was educating the public about the illegality of file sharing.

A 2003 survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that public awareness of file sharing’s illegality increased by 24 percent during a two-month period.

Now, as a second step, the association has filed copyright infringement claims against 261 individual members, including a lawsuit against a 12-year-old girl from New York.

“Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman in a recent statement regarding the lawsuits.

“But when your product is being regularly stolen ... you have to take appropriate action. We simply cannot allow online piracy to continue destroying the livelihoods of artists, musicians, songwriters, retailers and everyone in the music industry.”

In its first wave of lawsuits, the RIAA took major offenders to court, who were averaging more than 1,000 downloaded copyrighted songs each.

All those subjects have received a warning and had the chance to escape their punishment by pledging to stop illegally sharing music on the Internet. Detailed information on how to apply for this amnesty can be found online at http://www.musicunited.org.

The RIAA promises that no user will be taken to court for past piracy activities.

Federal law and courts agree that it is illegal to make copyrighted work available for download without permission of the copyrighted owner.

In last year’s decision in the case against the file sharing-provider Aimster, the judge declared the “ongoing, massive and unauthorized distribution and copying of works” as “specious and unsupported.”

In fighting piracy, the RIAA works together with the FBI, which is provided with the power of the PATRIOT Act to control Web activities on private computers and track down users for the content.

Besides threatening file share users, the RIAA also fights the main source of file sharing as they address universities and colleges throughout the country, which provide their students with high-speed Internet connections.

The University of La Verne states in its housing policy: “No University computing facility or service or any other University computing asset will be used in any illegal activity (such as) distribution of illegal software or other media, (and) the distribution of copyrighted material.”

If caught with a running file-sharing program, students are warned once; repeated policy infringement can be a reason for ending the student’s housing contract.

“We don’t want to put our students into trouble with the law or intrude on their privacy,” said Eugene Shang, assistant director of leadership programs and housing at ULV.

“But if illegal file sharing activities are found on students’ computers, not only the student, but also the University has to face enormous fees.”

“What the users must understand is that illegal file sharing is not a victimless crime,” said Richard McIlvery, professor of music at the University of Southern California.

“And the victims are not the big celebrity artists, who have too much power to take pay cuts. The victims are workers in independent record stores or studios, songwriters and newcomers.

“By stealing music, the user is stealing the future creativity they crave passionately.”

The Songwriters Association International chooses the same tones.

“Songwriters pay their rent, medical bills and children’s educational expenses with royalty income,” read a statement.

“That income has been dramatically impacted by illegal downloading, so many have reassessed their careers as songwriters.

“It is heartbreaking that songwriters are choosing other professions because they cannot earn a living – in great part due to illegal downloading.”