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April 26, 2009

Illegal = global

I never downloaded music illegally at all - until internet radio Pandora became off limits because I didn't live in the US.

The market for illegal mp3 files is global, while the market for legal music is still supposed to be limited by international borders. Why?

Øyvind Solstad at NRK Beta writes (in Norwegian):

One world - not 200 countries.

The music- and film industry seems to think we still cross the Atlantic in steam boats, and that we don't hear about things that happen in the US just because we live in Norway. So they ignore the fact that young people don't think about international borders and where things come from. (...) People don't understand why they can't listen to some songs on Spotify in Norway, but if they drive over the Swedish border and go to an internet café they can. They don't understand why they can't see American music videos on YouTube or shows on Hulu.com. They don't accept that slow bosses in the music- and film industry still haven't come up with a system where an artist can release their music all over the world (Øyvind Solstad, my translation).

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about this problem for journalism class at the American University of Paris (click "continue reading" for the full article).

A week later, my American friend was trying to buy a song from iTunes. She couldn't, because her laptop was American. I could buy it for her, because my laptop was Norwegian.

We were both in Paris at the time.

That is absolutely ridiculous.

Does piracy kill music – or globalize it?

Julie Andersen – Journalism 2 – April 2008

If music is distributed through the internet, where you live need not matter for what music you can buy. In theory, anyone with an internet connection can have the same access to music. Yet the record industry is still enforcing national borders, in an effort to stop illegal file-sharing. Is a college student who downloads mp3s a greedy thief or an informed activist? Is file-sharing bringing the music industry down, or are record labels and music retailers to blame?

In summer 2006, a copyright bill was drafted in France, requiring music downloads to be compatible with all portable digital music players. Apple sent an e-mail statement to Bloomberg, saying this would result in “state-sponsored piracy”.

Music on CD can be transferred to a computer and then played and distributed in several formats. Mp3-files, one of the most popular formats among illegal downloads, are compatible with most media players. Legal downloads from Apple are only compatible with iPods and the iTunes computer media player.

France amended the draft, so that copyright holders could still set compatibility standards. Had France forced Apple to make its downloads compatible with other music players, iTunes Music Store France would have closed down, regardless of what the artists wanted, according to the BBC.

The music industry likens illegal file-sharing to shoplifting CDs. When you shoplift a CD, you get the same product without paying for it. When you download illegally instead of legally, you might get a better product without paying for it.

Following the shut-down of popular torrent-based file-sharing site Oink on October 23rd 2007, Rob1, a blogger who has worked within the music industry, wrote what his commentators labelled “the bible of file-sharing”. He encouraged music fans to stop buying music from major labels in order to force a change in the way music is distributed. Rob called Oink: “the most complete and most efficient music distribution model the world has ever known” and wrote: “If the music industry had found a way to capitalize on the power, devotion, and innovation of its own fans the way Oink did, it would be thriving right now instead of withering.”

People who download music illegally, claim that they can't afford to fill an iPod at the 99 cents per song rate that iTunes is offering legally, and that if they like a band after listening to their music for free, they will find a way to support them. According to promusic.org's guidelines to online music: “(...) there is no general right or exception that lets you copy before you buy without permission, for the obvious reason that once something is copied it probably won't be bought.” The question is, would it have been bought if it were not copied?

Sara2, a 20-year-old American student at the American University of Paris, says she would never pay 99 cents for the songs she downloads illegally today. She has been downloading music since 1999, but she still buys CDs. She will typically get recommendations from music blogs, download some songs, and then buy the album if she likes the music.

Moving to Paris has made this more difficult. “There is nowhere I can get music here in Paris,” she says “A lot of the stuff I want is obscure - albums you can barely find in the US and definitely not in Paris.”

Natalie3, another 20-year-old American student at AUP, says: “I used to buy albums in high school, but now that I'm in France, I'm not going to spend the equivalent of 20 dollars on a CD. But music keeps me going, so I either stop going, or a friend sends me songs over the internet.” While she does not believe in downloading music through torrents and file-sharing sites, she exchanges zip files of albums with her friends.

She likes to spend money on her favorite band Radiohead, who released their latest album In Rainbows as a download and allowed fans to set their own price. “I think artists can get their music out online legally – MySpace or allowing downloading from your site.” she says, “But the real CD came with stickers.”

Both girls say that allowing fans to download, is good publicity for a band. However, Radiohead could not have sold their album this way if they were controlled by a label, and their music is not available on iTunes.

Sara plans on working in the music industry, and she says: “It's all about politics. An artist can be totally trash, but if they're marketed toward the right demographic, the label will still support them.”

Despite having a friend in the States who was sued for 5000 dollars for file-sharing, Sara is not worried about getting caught. “Should I be?” she asks. In France, privacy laws are much stricter than in the States, and they have generally prevailed over copyright laws. Although AUP has a policy against file-sharing, Ali Rahimi, director of Information Technology Services at AUP, says that the university respects students' privacy. Firewalls on the AUP network make downloading to student's laptops while on the school network difficult, but Sara knows how.

Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails frontman and music producer, admitted to New York Magazine that he was an Oink member and that “If OiNK cost anything, I would certainly have paid, but there isn't the equivalent of that in the retail space right now.” While many file-sharers have agreed with him through blogs and forums, Natalie says: “I don't want the CD to disappear. I believe in album artwork, and I believe in the crisp smell of the CD when you open it for the first time, the sound of the case when you open it, and wondering whether or not there are lyrics. I want that to keep happening.”

1Known online only by his first name.

2Named has been changed.

3Name has been changed.

Posted by Julie at April 26, 2009 12:29 PM

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