Why You Should Download Legal Music Instead
I decided to write this article after a friend told me in
all sincerity that the money she paid to purchase Kazaa went to
compensate the artists whose music she downloaded. She had no
idea she was violating anyone's copyright.
I figure that most peer-to-peer file traders, while
probably aware they are violating copyrights, aren't much more
clued in than my friend. While I have your attention I feel
I should also explain some of the legal and historical issues
around copyright, and suggest steps you can take to make
file sharing legal.
If you don't think that violating copyright by downloading
music with filesharing programs like
could get you in serious trouble,
then you need to read
RIAA Obtains Subpoenas Against File Swappers and
House Bill to Make File-Sharing an Automatic Felony.
The RIAA is using the
Millenium Copyright Act to
force internet service providers to turn over the names of
file traders. They can determine your internet protocol
address by connecting with your peer-to-peer client
over the Internet. Using your
IP address and the time you were connected, the ISP can
determine your name. If the RIAA finds you this way,
they will sue you.
When you are the defendant in a civil lawsuit, you don't have
the protection against self-incrimination that the U.S.
Constitution grants criminal defendants. You will be
required to give a
deposition, in which the party suing you will be able to
ask you anything they want, while you will be required to
give truthful answers under oath. In addition, your friends
may be subpoenaed and compelled to testify as witnesses against
In civil lawsuits,
there is a process called
that allows the party
suing you to use the force of law to require you to turn over
any evidence they ask for. In particular, they can seize your
computer and forensically examine your hard drive (so that they
might even recover files you've deleted), read any logs of
email you've saved, obtain your telephone records from your
phone company and obtain the log files from your ISP as well as the
log files from any Web sites you've ever visited.
The RIAA has had limited success at suing the publishers of
file sharing software. Some systems, like Gnutella, are so
decentralized that there is little hope of finding anyone to sue.
So now they are coming after the individual file traders
- meaning you. The
article above says the RIAA has already obtained subpoenas
against 871 file traders, and will likely have obtained many
more by the time you read this. They are asking for $150,000
in damages from each file trader for each song whose copyright
they have violated. What will they use the money for? Suing
more file traders, of course.
If you lose one of these lawsuits, the only recourse you will
have will be to declare bankruptcy. If you're a juvenile, your
parents will have to declare bankruptcy.
While simple copyright infringement is a civil offense where
the copyright holder's only recourse is to sue you, especially
egregious offenses are already
criminal violations for which
enforcement authorities will arrest, prosecute and imprison you.
Remember the FBI warning you always see at the beginning of
movie videos? It is common for large-scale software pirates to
be arrested. File traders are next in line.
You can avoid all of these problems by enjoying music from the
tens of thousands of talented musicians who offer legal downloads
of their music. And you can
tell the RIAA to kiss your ass.
A Sampler of Artists
Here are links to a few more individual artists:
How Will Artists Earn Money?
You may ask how musicians are able to earn money if they offer
free music downloads. The simple answer is that they will make
money as they always have, by selling recordings, playing live
concerts, and selling such merchandise as T-shirts.
While one might be satisfied by listening to downloaded music,
many people report that they often purchase a band's CD after
hearing their downloads. I can easily tell that compact disc
recordings sound better than most MP3 files, and it's nice to
have a labeled CD, package and liner notes.
There are some who advocate that all music ought to be
freely available and sharable, and suggest that musicians
be supported through tips. Only a small fraction of those
who download a given song need to contribute for most artists
to make a comfortable living.
The Street Performer Protocol is one method proposed for
paying for many kinds of works, not just music. The non-profit
tips from fans and distributes it to musicians with very
The Problem of Finding the Best Music
It's difficult to find music that's actually
worth listening to. Although many bands offer music on their
websites, there's no real way to tell if it's any good without
actually downloading it.
The labels do serve the (somewhat)
legitimate purpose of picking out the good from the bad. But
we can do that ourselves with legal downloads by using
collaborative filtering, for example by downloading
our music with iRATE radio, which you'll find at
iRATE radio is a collaborative filtering client/server mp3
player/downloader. The iRATE server has a large database of
music. You rate the tracks and it uses your ratings and other
peoples to guess what you'll like. The tracks are downloaded
from Web sites which allow free downloads of their music.
As of July 2003, the iRATE server has
46,000 tracks registered.
Here are some
The way iRATE works is that it downloads a few tracks at random
at first. It downloads them directly from the artists' Web sites
after finding them in its database. (The author of iRATE is careful
to register only legal downloads.) After you listen to and rate
the tracks, your ratings are sent back to the server where
it uses statistical analysis to correllate your ratings
with the ratings given by other users. If you like the same kind
of music I do, then iRATE will send you all the same music I like.
Conversely, if you hate my music, iRATE won't send you the
music I like.
One nice thing about iRATE is that you can set it to download
continuously while playing, so you always have fresh music without
having to go hunt for it. You just have to click a button from time
to time to rate new songs.
iRATE radio is a cross-platform program, with
natively compiled clients presently
for Windows and Linux. There is a Java WebStart client that
works on Mac OS X and likely on other platforms that support Java.
The music iRATE downloads to your hard drive
will sound better and better the longer
you use it. iRATE's statistical analysis is more effective when more
people use it, so be sure to tell all your friends.
iRATE radio is a young project which welcomes contributions from
java developers. Anyone at all can help out significantly by testing
the development snapshots and reporting bugs.
Graphically talented people may enjoy entering
Web Sites for Legal Downloads
There are a number of music hosting services that allow one to
find many free downloads all in one place. Be aware though that the
fact that a website provides a file for download doesn't imply the
file is licensed for sharing.
Probably the best known site for downloading MP3s is
genre index. Click the link. You will be quite
astounded at how many genres there are.
website usability is atrocious,
and their streaming audio seems to be buggy - I can't get it to
work in either Explorer or Mozilla. To get an MP3 file to
download to your hard drive, you have to register, which I'm
sure will result in unwanted email. May I suggest
registering with a throwaway email address from
The Open Directory Project has
Bands and Artists and
Styles indices. Not all the artists offer downloads, but
the site says they list 48,000 artists and I imagine many of
them offer downloads.
Musicians Directory lists the websites for many artists and
provides preview samples for many of them.
There are better sites for hosting MP3s than MP3.com. Some of
them allow you to buy the band's CD from the same page as
the MP3 download. Among them are:
If you prefer the higher quality, quicker to download and patent-free
Ogg Vorbis files you can find several
here. From the
Ogg Vorbis General FAQ:
Ogg Vorbis is a new audio compression format. It is roughly
comparable to other formats used to store and play digital music,
such as MP3, VQF, AAC, and other digital audio formats. It is
different from these other formats because it is completely free,
open, and unpatented.
(The Ogg Vorbis format was created because
the owners of the MP3 patent
forbid the free creation and distribution of Open Source MP3 encoders.)
Ogg Vorbis players
are available for many platforms - WinAmp will play them on Windows.
VLC Media Player is a
cross-platform player that works on Windows, Linux, BeOS, BSD, QNX,
Mac OS X. iTunes on Mac OS X supports Ogg now. There are open source
Linux ogg players and encoders, even an open source fixed-point decoder
for embedded applications.
Also for embedded applications, there is also an electronic
a low power Ogg Vorbis decoder chip, so that we are sure to soon have
inexpensive portable Ogg Vorbis players.
There are also peer-to-peer applications for distributing legal music.
In some cases they use digital signatures to ensure the legitimacy of the
Furthur Network and
BitTorrents: zip files containing 60 to 100 MP3s apiece, available
here. You will need to install the BitTorrent client to download
Unfortunately, musicians are often not very good Web site designers, so
poor usability is a significant obstacle to getting music directly from
artists' Web sites. If you're a musician, and you'd like to know how you
can improve your site design so more people will download your music, please
read my article
If Indie Musicians Wanted Their Music Heard....
Paid Subscription Services
At first I was reluctant to even mention paid music subscription services,
not so much because I object to paying for music, but because of the
problem of digital rights management, or copy protection. I consider
DRM a nuisance best to be avoided, and didn't want to contribute to the
problem by urging anyone to take advantage of the services that use
However, there are paid subscription services that don't use DRM,
and there are those for which the DRM is not onerous. The advantage of
these services is that one can obtain music from artists who don't offer
it for free, so you're likely to find music from more well-known bands
than by taking advantage of the completely free downloads.
A reader named
Hal C. F. Astell who
reviewed my drafts urged me to mention
EMusic. The files EMusic
provides are standard MP3 files, free of any copy protection. You can
copy them to any computer or MP3 player, burn them to any CD and back
them up without fear of losing any kind of authorization key.
EMusic also has a very active
I understand it is a nice community to be part of.
If you use a subscription service that employs digital rights management,
you should choose one that offers you these capabilities at a minimum:
- The ability to play your downloads on your home CD player and in your car
- The ability to back up your downloads and authorization key to secure
- The ability to play your downloads on a portable player that takes
- The ability to play your music on a computer running any operating system
- Continued access to your music in the event the subscription service
goes out of business or the vendor decides to stop supporting it
One should have all of these capabilities simultanously; many digital
rights management systems transfer the authorization key as one moves the
music files from one device to another. For example, one could not play one's
music on one's computer and portable player simultaneously.
The only DRM-based subscription service I know of that satisfies a significant
number of these criteria is Apple's
iTunes Music Store.
is presently available only for U.S. residents who use Macintosh computers,
it is expected that eventually it will be offerred more widely, and may
be available for Windows as well.
The digital rights management that iTunes uses is sometimes referred to as
"soft DRM" to indicate that most users don't find it objectionable.
One can play the music on up to three computers as well as
an Apple iPod portable player, and burn standard audio CDs.
The iTunes Music Store has done well so far. Users praise it, and a
large number of downloads have been purchased in the short time since it
went online. The AAC audio file format used by iTunes is more compact and
sounds better than MP3. The iTunes Music Store
is likely to be a long term success.
However, iTunes doesn't solve the problem that
very little of the money from the sale of their music.
Competing services that rely on much stricter copy protection have
not been so successful. The launch of
a disaster largely due to the way the DRM prevented
anyone from actually being able to listen to their music unimpeded.
While the major record labels have been criticized for failing to
take advantage of the potent marketing opportunity presented by the
Internet and the MP3 audio format, it is now taking small steps
towards selling the music downloads that fans want. The labels
should be applauded for
While the labels are rightly criticized for requiring copy protection
of their content, we should take heart from the history of the early
personal computer software industry.
At one time the copy protection
for many PC programs was quite severe, employing such strategies as
floppy disks pierced with laser holes or applications that could only
be run from boot disks provided by the publisher. But eventually
protection subsided in importance because software purchasers simply
purchased competing, non-protected products rather than deal with
copy protection. The compromise for many products
has been to just require a simple serial
The soft DRM employed by the iTunes Music Store is a similar
compromise. We can expect the labels to experiment with subscription
services that employ a variety of copy protection techniques until one
is found that is profitable to the recording industry while being
unobjectionable to the purchaser.
Change the Law
Sixty million Americans use peer-to-peer applications to trade files.
That's more people than voted for George Bush. If we work together, we
can shake up the government so profoundly that sharing music - anyone's
music - is no longer illegal.
Many, many millions more people share music
around the world - if your country is democratic, you can change your
laws too. If your country is not democratic, I can certainly appreciate
the difficulty you're in. But
if you have courage,
political change is
still possible, although more costly, but worthwhile for reasons a lot
more significant than making it legal to swap music.
If you don't think this can happen, consider Slashdot user
Illegal becomes legal if YOU change it, in which he points out
that that although it was once illegal to be homosexual throughout
the United States, the gay community worked together
to fight sodomy laws.
Through their efforts, state after state repealed their laws until
the Supreme Court of the United States recently
ruled the last sodomy laws unconstitutional.
If the gay community can fight
millenia of hatred until they can live without fear of criminal
you can overturn the copyright laws. If you don't think you have the
political power, consider that there aren't as many homosexual people
in the U.S. as there are file traders.
In the United States, copyright is not a Constitutional right, like
freedom of speech. The
Constitution grants Congress the power to create copyright, but doesn't
require it to do so. From
Article I, Section 8 of
The Constitution of the United States of America:
The Congress shall have power to...
promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for
limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their
respective writings and discoveries;
No form of "intellectual property", also including
patents, trade secrets and trademarks are a "natural right".
The concept of intellectual property has not existed for very long in
history at all. (While trade secrets have existed throughout history,
it is only recently that they have enjoyed any sort of
Our founding fathers didn't grant Congress permission to make copyright
legal because they felt is was any sort of natural right. They did it
because they thought it would be a useful thing to do to stimulate
the economy of a young nation: "To promote the
progress of science and useful arts". Copyright and patents encourage
authors, artists or inventors to openly publish their works by giving them
a temporary monopoly. In return for this grant of monopoly, the work is
supposed to eventually go into the public domain, so all may benefit from
copying it. Let me make it explicit:
The purpose of both copyright and patents
is to make it worthwhile for authors and inventors
to release their writing, music and inventions to the
public domain, rather than keeping them secret.
But that's not the situation today. Because the copyright on Mickey
Mouse was due to expire in 2004, Walt Disney lobbied Congress
aid of prodigous campaign "donations") to pass the
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, extending the copyright
term to ninety-five
years, not just for new works, but for works that were copyrighted before
the act was passed. The law applied even to work about to pass into the
public domain, so Congress rode to Disney's rescue to keep Steamboat
(If any of Mickey Mouse's cartoons ever entered the public domain, it
would not have diluted Disney's trademark on the character, but it would have
made it possible for others to use Mickey Mouse in ways that did not
dilute the trademark.)
With the current ninety-five year copyright term, you cannot
expect that you will live to see a copyrighted work created today
ever go into the public domain. The creators of copyrighted works are
up their end of the bargain that the framers of the Constitution offerred them.
Because the copyright term was extended even for works whose copyrights
were about to expire, no reasonable person can consider that the requirement that
copyright be granted for "limited times" has been obeyed by Congress.
A brilliant young law professor named
Lawrence Lessig, who has
an understanding of technology issues quite unusual for an attorney, led
a lawsuit to overturn the Sonny Bono Act.
The closely watched Eldred v. Ashcroft case
quickly reached the Supreme Court. Yet in an astonishing rejection of
the Court ruled against Lessig. Read
the Court's opinion. (Supreme Court opinions are often surprisingly
readable for legal documents - it's worth your while to take a look.)
Sucks, don't it? What can you do about it? Well, let me tell you:
- Speak Out
The pen is mightier than the sword.
-- Edward Bulwer-Lytton
If there's something going on that you don't think is right, you ought to
say something about it. Say it to anyone who will listen, and wherever
anyone will let you speak or write. Do your very best
to say it as well and as convincingly as you can. It helps to
speak your mind repeatedly,
honing your message with each try.
Practice, practice, practice:
The ancient Greek statesman
Demosthenes had a speech
impediment so he was not able to speak convincingly. To overcome this, he
went down to the beach, put stones in his mouth and shouted his speeches at
the roaring waves until he could make himself understood.
Do you think I wrote this article
well? You don't think I just sat down and wrote it, do you? No, I put
time and effort into it. At first my message evolved from a
and after the idea began to gel in my mind, I sat down to write the first
draft, posted it
on my website, then
asked for help.
After revising it,
I asked for help again. It took time, a lot of work, and many revisions to
write this article as well as I have. That's what you need to do if you want
to speak or write convincingly.
You may find helpful discussion points among
the winners of
the WIPOUT intellectual property counter-essay contest, which was held in
response to a
World Intellectual Property Organization
student essay contest which asked the question "What does intellectual
Property mean to you in your daily life?" The WIPOUT winners page
the competitive aspect of our contest was always secondary to the
purpose of giving a platform to the voices who disagree with the constant
expansion of Intellectual Property protection: these voices are very
rarely given the opportunity to speak.
Check out Robert Nagle's
piece on why music can be
shared. It comes with some tips on how to share music.
There may be times you find that your speech is unwelcome, that you are
ashamed of what you have to say, or you face unpleasant consequences
for saying it. To give you
courage, I ask you to read these words to live by: John J. Chapman's speech
Make a Bonfire of Your
Reputations. His words ring out as powerfully today as they did
one hundred three years ago.
If you are so convinced that your vote doesn't count that you don't
even vote, then you have already lost. The only way your vote doesn't count
is if you don't cast it. You should be aware that a strategy candidates
frequently use it to convince their opponent's supporters that their votes are
pointless, so that they don't bother to go to the polls at all. Keeping
voters at home is
one of the objectives of negative campaign ads.
If I'm not able to convince you to vote, you might ask Al Gore why
he thinks your vote counts.
Of course you must be of legal age to vote. However, anyone can
do the other things in this list.
- Write to Your Elected Representatives
Your legislators do pay attention to the letters they receive.
I'm sure if all sixty million American file traders wrote a letter to each
of their Senators, their House Representative and the President, and pointed
out that their vote hinged on the action they took regarding file sharing and
copyright, substantial action would be taken.
Don't bother emailing them. They all get so much spam they have long
since stopped paying attention to email. If you don't want to write them,
you can call them on the telephone or send a fax, but because of the investment
in time it takes a constituent to write a letter, politicians pay more
attention to snail mail.
U.S. residents can find the addresses of their representatives at
During election seasons, also write to each of the candidates who are
running to represent you to explain to them how they can win your vote.
- Donate Money to Political Campaigns
Politicians who are opposed to entrenched corporate interests have
a hard time raising money to pay for the advertising and travel expenses
required to tell voters their message. While you may not have the money
to give that, say, Disney does, there are far more of you than there are
big corporations. If all sixty million American file traders each donated
the price of a compact disc to a politician, and included a cover letter
explaining why you were donating the money, Congress might become
considerably less responsive to the corporations.
- Support Campaign Finance Reform
After you're done writing your letters to your congresscritters about
file sharing, write another letter urging them to support campaign finance
The reason Congress is in the pockets of those entrenched corporate
interests I mentioned above is because the big corporations bribe the
politicians. Let me be blunt - there is no other word for what they do
but bribery, and don't let your representatives claim they're not on the
take if they accept corporate campaign donations. As evidence of this,
consider that many corporations donate comparable amounts of money to
both the Republican and Democratic parties. Businesses
don't do that to affect
the outcome of elections. They do that to ensure that
both parties, regardless
of who wins any elections, represent
the interests of the business.
Personally, I find it unfathomable that corporations are allowed to
make campaign donations at all. No one but an individual, natural person
ought to be allowed to do that.
The root of this problem lies in some established legal precedent
which makes a corporation the legal equivalent of a person, so that
corporations, and not just the people who work for or invest in them,
are now granted the same Constitutional rights as living human beings.
I think that the threat corporations pose to our fragile democracy could
be eliminated by adding an amendment something like the following to
A corporation is not a person. No one but a natural person may donate
money to a political candidate, political party or elected official.
The solutions to many of the difficult problems our country faces
would be solved by eliminating the political influence of corporations.
If the power of corporations is allowed to continue to grow unchecked,
the threat to our nation will one day be as great as it was in the
days of the Civil War.
- Join the Electronic Frontier
The EFF is the nation's premier technology law civil rights organization.
They have been at the forefront of legal battles to declare the
Digital Millenium Copyright Act unconstitutional, to have computer program
source code declared constitutionally protected free speech, and to preserve
the right to be anonymous. They were instrumental in the legalization of
export of cryptographic software to other countries from the U.S.A.
They are also working to defend both the publishers and users of
peer-to-peer filesharing software from the RIAA lawsuits, as you can see
from their Let the Music Play
campaign. For example,
they successfully defended Streamcast from the RIAA's lawsuit
against them for publishing Morpheus.
If you do nothing else, join the EFF. It costs a lot of money to fight
a lawsuit. They need your support to do it.
I assert that it's worth your while to join EFF even if you don't live
in the United States, for the simple reason that it will help to stop
the United States from pressuring other countries to adopt ill-advised
laws like extensions of copyright terms,
or adoption of their own versions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Martin Luther King said:
one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
King practiced civil disobedience to give such civil rights as the right to
vote to black Americans.
Mahatma Gandhi practiced civil
disobedience to free his country from British colonial rule and found the
modern nation of India.
Civil disobedience means the nonviolent refusal to obey the law.
While both King and Gandhi succeeded in
fomenting revolution, they did it without firing a shot. King said,
"Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral
force which makes for social transformation."
Civil disobedience serves several purposes:
Because any protests are nonviolent,
the ferocity of the backlash of the state
and the corporations against the peaceful protesters will eventually shame
the oppressors into giving in to the protesters demands. Thus it is
important for protestors to have unquestionably upright moral standing.
Civil disobedience is especially important in the United States (and
countries with similar legal systems) because the Supreme Court does not give
advisory opinions. That is, you cannot simply ask the Court to
strike down an unjust law. Instead, you must actually violate the law,
get arrested or sued for your crime, then defend yourself in court until
your appeals reach the Supreme Court. If you can convince the Court
that the law is unconstitutional, the law will be struck down.
It's a risky strategy - you might lose, and spend years in jail. You
will unquestionably spend years fighting expensive and exhausting legal
battles. But the payoff is quite valuable - neither Congress nor the
President can overrule the Supreme Court. The Court can reverse itself,
but this is very rare.
Another purpose civil disobedience serves is to make society so
ungovernable that the authorities must give in to restore order. That was
the case with the Vietnam War, where such acts of civil disobedience as
burning draft cards and massive street protests so galvanized public
opposition to the war that the United States Government was finally forced
I'm not saying that if you think the law sucks, you should use p2p
so you can get yourself some free tunes. I'm saying that if you feel the
law is so unjust that you're willing to risk your freedom to change it,
then share files and be prepared to carry on your fight by facing the
Invite the RIAA to your door.
Individual acts of civil disobedience don't have to be violations of
the law that spend years winding their way through the courts. Simple
street protests will do. For example, you could email ten thousand of
your closest friends and ask them to meet you at the headquarters of a
major record label. Or you could ask a million of your buddies to march
on Washington with you, or the capital of another country.
police arrest you for blocking traffic, or gathering without a permit,
don't fight back - that would be violent. Instead, resist nonviolently,
by letting your body go limp, so they have to drag you off like a sack
of potatoes. Ten thousand limp protestors being dragged away by the police
are sure to get attention to their cause, or at least make their city
ungovernable for the day.
Particularly helpful would be to install an unsecured 802.11 Wireless
Access Point on your network so
anyone in your neighborhood can share files with complete anonymity.
Some have suggested that it's inappropriate of me to invoke
King's memory in defense of peer to peer file sharing. They make the
reasonable argument that one cannot compare a life-and-death struggle
for basic human rights to an effort to get music without having to pay
My purpose is not
simply to enable people to listen for free,
but to enlist the aid of a group of people who have so far been
inactive politically, yet who are potentially very powerful
because of their considerable numbers. I feel that politically
empowering the file traders will solve other, more significant
problems as well.
As I said previously, I feel that the awesome political power
possessed by the large corporations is the greatest challenge my
nation faces. I think it is fair to say the United States is no
longer a democracy, at least not effectively so. The ability of
the corporations and the fabulously wealthy
to purchase the favors of the politicians, and the
politicians' abilities to mold public opinion with advertisements
paid for by those donations concentrates my nation's political power
in the hands of a very few people - a very few unelected, mostly
In addition, the news media in the United States is owned
primarily by a few large corporations who have so far
demonstrated little pretense of unbiased reporting. Reports
of any events are cast in a light that is favorable to the
corporations, while news that doesn't support the corporate
interest is not reported at all.
Reforming or even eliminating copyright is an effective
first step to take towards returning power to the hands of the average voter.
How much political power would AOL Time Warner or Disney have if
there were no longer any legal foundation for intellectual property?
Renegade Networks - The Grapevine Manifesto, Stephen Blackheath
makes the case that the power of today's corporations stems not from
their ability to manufacture useful products but from their intellectual
When you boil it all down, what they basically own is a
large pile of intellectual property, and stack of cash
up to the ceiling to defend it with. Cash + ownership
of brand name + ownership of technology = Power.
The fact that people aren't already dying in the streets in the
struggle against the corporations and their intellectual property is
not because the struggle is not one worth dying for, but because most
people have not yet awakened to the problem.
To practice civil disobedience is not a choice to be made lightly.
It carries tremendous risks. Tremendous rewards too: it's the sort of
thing that gets you into history books. But while King and Gandhi will forever be
revered as champions of peace and justice, they both met the same
awful fate: assassination.
Should Copyright Even Exist?
There are many people, notably the
Free Software Foundation's
Richard Stallman, who feel that the
chief benefit of computers is that they enable digital information to
be copied completely faithfully and without significant
cost. They feel that such
copying, which was not possible before computers were invented, is of such
great potential benefit to society that it outweighs any benefit that might
arise from our founding father's legalization of copyright to "promote the
useful arts and sciences".
Stallman (or RMS as he prefers to be called) is a masterful computer
programmer, and began his effort to eliminate copyright by turning copyright
on its head with the creation of "copyleft" - software licenses that not
only allow copying, but require it. The most well-known such copyleft license
is the GNU General Public
License. The GPL is the license used for the Linux operating system
kernel and many of the programs that run on it.
Stallman calls copylefted computer software
"Free" is meant as in "freedom", not "without monetary charge".
problem with the English language is that we use the word "free" to represent
two distinctly different concepts. Spanish doesn't have this problem, where
"Free Software" is translated as "Software Libre" rather than "software gratis".
There are "Free Documentation" licenses for writing as well, for example,
the GNU Free
Stallman was a lone voice crying in the wilderness when he published
The GNU Manifesto in
1985. The Free Software movement has grown to the point that there are now
over fifteen thousand
programs that are licensed with the GNU GPL listed at
Microsoft, the world's largest software company, and whose Windows operating
system runs on 90% of the world's desktop computers,
has named Linux as its number two risk (second only to the
To understand why Stallman's philosophy is relevant to this
discussion, apply his
software ideas to digital music. It is easy to argue that the primary
value of digital music is that it can be copied completely faithfully,
and without cost, by computers. One could even say that the benefit
to society of the computer's ability to copy music this way far outweighs
any benefit to society of giving creators the temporary benefit of
There are, in fact, "Free Music" licenses, such as the
Open Audio License. You can find music licensed under the OAL
at the Open Music Registry.
The Creative Commons
licenses can also be used for music. You can find some at
Get Content page.
Lest you think that musicians would stop creating without copyright,
consider that making and hearing music is a basic human need. Many
musicians could no more give up playing or singing than they could breathing.
Music has existed in human culture for tens of thousands of years, as
long as we've been able to sing or play primitive drums. Nearly all of
the great classical composers devoted their lifetimes
to their art without
benefit of copyright. I see no reason to believe that any less music
would be played if copyright were repealed entirely.
I discuss this in more detail in my article
Technology and the Death of Copyright.
While copyright in its current form has
outlived its usefulness to society, I don't think it ought to be
eliminated entirely. I think the copyright term of
fourteen years provided
by the United States' first Copyright Act is about right. That would allow
artists and writers to profit from their work, while
the shorter term would allow you to legally
share music from your favorite bands of your younger days while you are
still able to enjoy them.
What You Can Do To Help
If you feel as I do that what I have to say here is important for
others to understand, then I ask you to please help get the word out.
You can do that by linking to this article from your weblog or
website, posting the URL to online community message boards, and
emailing the URL to anyone else who you feel might benefit from
Even better would be to copy this entire article to your
own website or weblog, or to a message board, under the terms of
legal notice below. The version of this article
http://www.goingware.com/tips/legal-downloads.html is almost
entirely self-contained and uses only simple markup to enable
easier copying. It may be updated from time to time.
If you are fluent in a language other than English, please
consider translating this article. That would help out your
countrymen who don't read English. I feel that my discussion of
U.S. history and law are relevant even to people in other countries
because of the global reach of the RIAA as well as the pressure
that the United States puts on other countries to harmonize their
laws with misguided U.S. ones.
I have already received an offer to translate this article
The Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license I have
chosen for this work doesn't permit derivative works. Unfortunately
is a derivative work. I chose the NoDerivs option because so much
of this article is an expression of my deeply held personal opinions.
However, if you contact me at
I can grant you a separate license to do a translation.
You are probably able to tell that, while I recommend against sharing
copyrighted music, I have no love for the Recording Industry Association
of America. I feel that way not just because of their legal harrassment of
those who publish and use file sharing software, but because the major
record labels who make up the RIAA rip off the musicians who
are signed with them. They're ripping you off too, every time you buy a CD.
When compact discs first appeared, they were much more expensive than
vinyl LPs because there were only a couple of factories in the world that
could manufacture them. The equipment to make CDs was very expensive, and
the factories' production was very
limited, so the cost was justified. But years
later, although the cost of pressing a "glass master" compact disc has
dropped to a few cents, the retail price of CDs has not dropped at all.
The RIAA sheds crocodile tears over the way the file traders rip off the
musicians, but you should pay no heed to this. The musicians don't get
as much money from compact disc sales as the RIAA would have you believe.
In no case does the musician make significant money this way -
on the average,
make 41 cents per CD, but do not get to keep even that until they
have paid back their advance, as well as the marketing and promotion of their
album. Someone just starting
out may make nothing at all. The record stores only earn a couple
dollars per CD. Instead, the record labels reap enormous profits.
The chief benefit of signing with a label is that the resulting
publicity enables attracting more fans to live performances.
Even big-name bands aren't able to just sit
back and collect royalties from compact disc sales. They make their living
the same way garage bands do, by living on the road - a hard, lonely life -
and playing live concerts.
That's why a number of top artists have announced their support for file
sharing. Offerring music downloads
is at least as effective at attracting fans to
concerts as compact disc sales, quite possibly more so.
Many top artists would love to make legal
downloads of their music available on their Web sites. The reason they
don't is that their record labels won't allow them to.
Allowing musicians to sell their music directly to fans, via direct
sales of compact discs that the bands pay to have manufactured themselves,
as well as live performances advertised through file downloads,
is the greatest threat to the record labels' continued existence. They
don't fear the loss of revenue that results from people downloading
MP3s instead of buying compact discs.
They fear the loss of their control. They fear being cut out of
the picture entirely. And personally, I think we would all be better off
if the major record labels were eliminated.
If we all downloaded legal music, we would no longer have to deal with
the menace of the RIAA and the tedium of
ClearChannel. There would be
greater hope for the legions of unsigned musicians, many of whom are
hardworking, talented people who live on the fringe economically, sometimes
desperately so, so they can devote themselves to their music.
Our lives would also be richer for it.
Copyright (C) 2003 Michael D. Crawford. All Rights Reserved.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs
License. To view a copy of this license, visit
or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way,
Stanford, California 94305, USA.