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Against Illegal Music Downloading

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Flash back to October, 1997. The punk rockers who call themselves Green Day prepare to release the much anticipated follow-up album to Dookie, Nimrod. Every kid between the ages of 10 and 20 is ready to pounce on the album when it hits stores. Every one of my friends begs their parents to take them to the store on that cold Tuesday morning. The older kids ditch class to get in line at the local Best Buy. The album sells 80,000 copies in the first week and over 2 million before the new Millennium .

Now, let's fast forward to 2004. Green Day is preparing for the release their eighth album, American Idiot. This time, none of my friends rush to Best Buy, where the CD is only $12.99. None of the little soon-to-be punk rock middle school kids are begging their parents for a ride. Instead, nearly every kid I know between the ages of 10 and 20 is on the Internet downloading the album illegally. Whether it's Bit Torrent or Kazaa or Limewire, as long as the quality is decent, my friends couldn't care less where they get it. This is no new concept for these kids, who have grown up in what is known as the information age. All they know are laptops, I-Pods, cell phones, and CD/DVD burners. Lucky for Green Day, not every kid in America has a broadband connection and even some who do, ultimately bought the CD to support the legendary rockers. Still, Green Day has to wonder just how many kids have their record via the Internet. They also have to wonder how bad things will get as more and more people are getting high-speed Internet access and sharing files illegally. At this very moment, there are 2,239,976 users on the Kazaa network. If every user downloads just one album a night for a week, there will have been 188,157,984 illegal downloads in just that week! While the Internet has made our life a little easier thanks to up-to-the-second news and weather coverage and instant file sharing between companies, the growing sport of illegal MP3 downloading casts a dark shadow over the general public's perception of right and wrong, while testing the tempers of hard working musicians at the same time.

In the fall of 2001, I started a band with three of my friends called Off and On. Through the Internet, we accumulated fans in nearly every state before we even played a real show. When we did finally release a four song demo, we made even more fans thanks to, a website that streams your songs free of charge. Up to that point, the Internet was our best friend. Without any paid advertising or promotion, we went from no fans to many. has replaced as the main provider for unsigned bands, and even some signed bands, who want new listeners. The problem with illegal downloading starts at this exact moment in a band's existence. When the band decides that they want to make a profit off of their material, many kids who have grown up in the information age still feel that they are entitled to anything the band releases. They will either burn the CD from a friend or download illegally. Both are new concepts and neither helps the band directly. (Future CD sales and possible concert ticket purchases are some possible indirect gains). For older bands, such as Green Day, who had to promote and advertise the old fashioned way in the early 1990's, the system is even more unfair given the fact that they never needed the Internet to succeed in the first place. Few people realize how little bands actually make per album (barely $1 split between the band members), so while they may seem like gods on stage, most bands really do have to play to put food on the table. I remember an ad campaign as early as 2000 where artists tried to reach the hearts of music downloaders with the catchy line, "If a Song Means a Lot to You, Imagine What it Means to Us." Every transferred MP3 file is potentially lost money for the artists, many who spend their whole lives giving the "people" what the want to hear - great music. When you illegally download a song, you not only cheat the artist, you cheat producers, composers, sound engineers, studio musicians, and publishers. Even the most outspoken supporters of illegal music downloading concede that has been the cause for the drop in CD sales , so now it becomes a matter of whether or not users can really feel sympathy for artists and the people working around them or not. While musicians such as Alanis Morissette, Blink 182, and Metallica have all been very outspoken in regard to their opposition of illegal file sharing, particularly when Napster was booming in the late 1990's, nothing they could have said or done would've prevented the out of control illegal downloading of the new millennium.

Some downloaders claim that they are simply making use of new technology being offered, but "even in this new digital world, artists and record companies still have - and deserve - the right to protect their music." Even the courts have ruled that this Internet file sharing, unlike other First Amendment issues, is not a true form of expression. Rather, the only purpose is to receive free music. The fact that you can use the telephone to call people doesn't justify prank calling. The fact that you have access to clothing stores doesn't justify shoplifting. The fact that you can buy a gun doesn't justify killing. Everything is relative, and the sooner illegal downloaders know about the severity of their acts the better.

March 23rd, 2004, started out like any normal day for 89 college students around the country. Little did they know that within hours, they would be the latest group of illegal music downloaders



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