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It seems that whenever I turn on the TV, there's news about Napster and how they will be sued next.
There is quite a bit of gray area involved in figuring out who should be held responsible for the distribution of MP3s and really what is legal distribution and what is not.
Attorney for Napster, David Boies, stated in court that the RIAA is afraid of technology and their aggression towards Napster is merely a way for them to stifle the natural progression of the industry.
This all sounds fine and dandy, but some artists already offer their music in the form of MP3s legally. Some provide MP3 downloads for free in an attempt to promote their music while others actually wish to sell their music online in the form of MP3s. The RIAA has stated that they are actually all for this "new" means of promotion and distribution.
The RIAA claims that the real crime here is the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright music in the form of MP3s or any media for that matter. Their platform is certainly not one solely against the MP3 format.
This is a very noble stand for the RIAA to take on behalf of the artists that they represent, but then why are they suing Napster? Napster does not duplicate the music. The individuals that create MP3s from CDs are the ones duplicating the music. Also, in order to distribute a product, one must first possess it. Napster does not locally store any of the MP3s that are being downloaded through their service actually on their servers. Napster is more like a dating service. Mr. X meets Mrs. Y. Now they share MP3s. If a dating service introduces Mr. X to Mrs. Y and they go out a few times and seem to hit it off, should the dating service be sued if ten years later Mr. X drinks too much and goes ape shit on Mrs. Y?
This defense seems to have worked in the RIAA's favor in their battle against MP3.COM earlier this year, however. MP3.COM has always been the "good guy" of the MP3 industry, or has seen to it that the "good guy" image be projected. They have always either promoted new artists with MP3s or offered legal MP3s that the artists have allowed to be reproduced in the MP3 format. But alas, MP3.COM did make MP3s out of music that was not licensed to them to do so, and they did distribute them.
The act was really all quite innocent. MP3.COM had a deal with some CD vendors that would allow people to hear music that they had bought in the legal media form, and hear it anywhere in the MP3 format. The customer would buy a CD. Once they bought the CD through one of the online venders who were affiliated with MP3.COM, they could log into MY.MP3.COM and then listen to that CD in MP3 format from whatever computer they had logged in from. MP3.COM was found guilty of copyright infringement. Oops!
What's really ironic is that, despite how childish and overdramatic Metallica was concerning the whole Napster issue, at least they can be praised for pointing their fingers at the right people. Metallica found the names of individual Napster users that possessed unauthorized copies of Metallica songs. Metallica didn't authorize that any of their songs be released, duplicated or distributed in the MP3 format. Sure, Metallica didn't need to slam a crate of printed names on the steps of Napster's offices or spew the ignorant and often hypocritical rhetoric that went along with their standpoint, but they did make their point. Lars Ulrich stated that it's not the sharing or sampling of music that is the problem. The problem is simply the unauthorized copying of the music.
So whom do you shut down? If Napster is actually protected by the law, which is what they've been counting on in law suit after law suit, then the RIAA's only hope is to catch individuals in the act of converting music into MP3. To them, I say good luck. They have about as good of a chance doing that then they do catching people duplicating CDs on a CD burner or copying cassette tapes on a dual cassette deck.
The fact is, with portable MP3 players and CD players that can play CDs burned with MP3 files, there is no doubt that MP3 is the media format of the future and just as the D.A.T.s, CDs, and cassettes of the past were easy to duplicate, so will be MP3s. This the RIAA cannot stop.
I feel that responsibility falls on the individual. If you know right from wrong, you know the difference between stealing and borrowing. I find absolutely nothing wrong with downloading a few songs because you want to hear more from an artist that you know little about or hear little of. I do it all of the time. Who's Mr. Scruff? He did the song in the Volvo ad! Who did that VW Vapor ad? That was Hooverphonic! Do the Sneaker Pimps have any songs other than Six Underground? Whether the MP3 itself is legal or not in the eyes of the RIAA is really not important to me. With the RIAA's view of what MP3.COM was doing as illegal, they could also say that what I do with MP3s that I ripped from a CD and put on my Rio player is illegal as well. I did not originally buy THAT music in an MP3 format, so what gives me the right to put it on my Rio player? Nothing.
In my opinion, what you do with an MP3 is what should determine what is legal or not. Yes, it's very gray area. But I should be allowed to rip a CD into MP3 and put it on my Rio or even share it on Napster. I should be able to download and listen to these MP3s all I want. But if you consciously take that MP3 and burn it to CD and copy an album cover and some lyric sheets and then have the gall to call it a "replacement" for actually going out and buying the real deal, then you have a serious moral dilemma we need to address.