One of the major musical arguments of the past decade and a half has been the topic of music downloading. It all started in 1999 with the arrival of Nabster,a website that introduced the idea of file sharing to the world. It was a major innovation and phenomenon until the Recording Industry Association Of America,better known as the RIAA, cracked down on Nabster and the site became defunct. When it returned it was now a site for “legal” music downloading-read:MP3 downloads that were charged for. Other P2P sites,as many file sharing options became available such as Kazaa,Limewire and Soulseek as well as file storage engines such as Rapidshare and Mediafire. One such file storage engines,Megaupload met a fate worse than Nabster when the RIAA investigated the site’s owners,accused them of enormous fraud and money laundering scandals and had them completely shut down.
There exists today so much recorded music around the world that one person could possibly listen to even a quarter of it in their entire lifetime. In fact,my own father asked me a similar question this afternoon. A good deal of this music,much of which could create innovative new ideas for a still somewhat stagnant recording industry,remains forever out of print and often traded heavily on P2P sites. Yet this is constantly considered to be piracy,the term coined by the RIAA and it’s supporters,for those who dowloads music illegally. The question becomes if this music is criminal to download on a computer for free,why isn’t more of it in print of people to purchase willingly at record stores,Ebay or Amazon.com? I’ll address this issue by talking about another controversial music recording issue I personally experienced,in another time.
During my adolescence both my father and I had a double deck cassette recorders. It doesn’t seem so long ago now,but at that time the only music sharing going on would’ve been if a co-worker loaned you CD,tape or a vinyl LP or (such as was the case with me) a person you were friendly with at a local record store would do the same. Both my father and I,lifelong music lovers,would be loaned some excellent hard to find music which we would dub onto cassette tape to listen to whenever we wanted. It was perfectly normal. Even people who worked in record stores proudly flaunted that they did the same. Blank cassette tapes were readily available everywhere from audio/electronics stores to the local pharmacy. But turns out we were all wrong too. Magazine articles and even warnings on the tapes themselves described recording in this manner as being criminally unlawful. And that made millions of American’s essentially criminals in that context.
By the time the new millennium arrived,and before P2P downloading really began to take off we entered the phase of recordable digital media-from stand alone CD burners that now actually recorded on blank CD’s rather than tape on cassette as well as the advent of the ipod and MP3 players. During this time,America entered into an economic slump. Every week during 2003 through about 2007 I’d hear a story somewhere about how the recording industry was “near total collapse” and major record store chains were closing down almost wholesale. During this time,there suddenly began a massive assault on musical file sharing of all kinds on computer that continues to the present day. First the RIAA attempted “copy controlling” new CD’s,which proved a disaster when the software used caused major damage to computer CD ripping devices Eventually legal actions were taken such as the SOPA/PIPA bill last year,which ultimately ended with the demise of Megaupload. And still to this day,actions both physical and legal are constantly considered and re-considered to stop free online musical file sharing and downloading.
As far as I’m concerned,the issue of online music downloading today is the same issue as recording music on blank cassettes was in the final two decades of the last century. It all has to do with the freedom and availability of music. Strictly in terms of the availability of recorded music,there are major gaps especially in terms of the genre. When I browse websites such as Amazon or Rateyourmusic it’s more than clear that many albums in the jazz,R&B,funk,soul and many varieties of world music are either lightly reissued or never re-issued at all. The only real chances anyone would have of hearing these recordings would be to spend hundreds on ebay or Amazon for used copies (if available) or download them from P2p file sharing sites. So there are several channels that present the music lover with a difficulty of availability. That is,unless your a highly popular band that either is reissued or (if it’s new music) distributed consistently. Even for me,ordering something in my musical sphere of interest from the local record store has become extremely difficult.
One way to look at all this is downloading/file sharing actually amounts to the opposite of privacy-as downloading the music of an artists whose albums have been deleted seemingly forever would send an important message to the music industry to reissue this music so those who wanted it could pay money to buy it-perhaps with bonus songs and well written liner notes. The opposite viewpoint is it’s just bootlegging-the word piracy used mostly as a scare tactic. Basically what all of this comes down to is freedom of the internet. Freedom to share art of any sort for people to enjoy and,at the very best,possibly inspire them to make their day just a little bit better and more fulfilled. Also this brings the mind my own freedom to realize the sad irony behind all of this. That in the aftermath of tragedies such as the Newton Connecticut school shootings,so many people seem to be intent on protecting the rights of anyone to possess an item whose only function is to kill,yet a lot of those very same people support limitations on the free distribution of impossible to find music for those who feel it would inspire them to do good and peaceful things. So in terms of life and art,just what levels of freedom do human beings really tend to support?