Find out what other teens said about downloading

By Chris Lee, 16, Walnut HS
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Chris recently discovered the band The Fray by downloading its songs.

I was at my friend’s house one day watching MTV and saw a video by a band I had never heard of, Fall Out Boy. The music was different, it was rock music with a good beat. I wanted to check out the band’s other songs so I downloaded them from a shareware program called LimeWire.

Most of my friends also download and I think it is appropriate for us to call ourselves the Internet generation. I was in fourth grade when the Internet became popular, so the Internet and I matured at the same time. My older cousins introduced Napster to me before I was ever introduced to their CD collections. The reality is that our generation has other options for getting music than the record store because we grew up with the Internet, where it’s easy to get free music.

However, record companies don’t take downloading lightly—they consider it stealing. The controversy has made it difficult to figure out what is right or wrong. I think that the statement "downloading is stealing" is too broad to be accurate. If a person downloads all their music and never buys a single song, I would consider that to be stealing. But I download songs that I rarely listen to, and buy those that I do like, which is like a high-tech version of borrowing books from the library. You can discover books and read ones you wouldn’t necessarily buy. Like the library, downloading is just more convenient.

I download and buy music

I download about 100 songs a month by popular artists or new music that a friend recommends. I purchase about one album a month from iTunes, because that’s all I can afford with my allowance. With Fall Out Boy, I really liked the band and I wanted their album, From Under the Cork Tree, so I bought the CD from iTunes instead of downloading it illegally because the songs are better quality and I wanted to support the band. The album is now on my iPod, and I have listened to it so many times that I need to wait for a month before I can enjoy it again.

I understand that if teens continue to download songs, record companies won’t make as much money as they did before, but it’s not fair or correct to put all the blame on teens. CD retail sales worldwide dropped from $39.7 billion in 2000 to $31 billion last year, according to the International Federation of Phonographic Industry. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a lobbying group representing record companies, blames the decrease in revenue on illegal downloading. However, a report from a Harvard Business School professor states that file sharing does not directly affect album purchases, as the RIAA claims. Instead, other entertainment competition, such as DVDs, video games and computer games, has outperformed album sales because people feel that they are getting more bang for their buck.

The music industry is slow in a business world that is similar to Darwin’s natural selection—it is a world where the fittest, smartest and most innovative companies push weaker and slower companies out of business. Record companies should have introduced their own iTunes once Napster was in the news, but instead they tried to crush all shareware software and filed lawsuits against downloaders.

The RIAA has filed 14,800 lawsuits against individual Internet users who were suspected of downloading and distributing music online since 2003, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. A recent press release suggests that they will continue to use the same tactics to stop illegal downloading. RIAA President Cary Sherman said, "While the music companies continue to innovate and develop new digital ways to offer music to fans, we will do our part to hold illegal downloaders accountable. Prosecuting songlifting is integral to helping protect the ability of record companies to invest in the up-and-coming bands of tomorrow and level the playing field for legal online services."

The number of lawsuits is quite intimidating, but I think the RIAA’s plan has backfired because people are still downloading. According to an analyst quoted in a story in the San Jose Mercury News, twice as many people download illegally as those who download from legit sources. It’s not that I don’t care about getting sued, but lawsuits don’t motivate me to purchase music. The RIAA is fighting for what belongs to them, but teens are getting the message that the RIAA is the enemy, and they are rebelling by downloading. Why can’t we reach a compromise where both teens and music companies are satisfied?

While iTunes and other new legal music sites are becoming more popular (digital sales tripled last year to $1.1 billion, according to the International Federation of Phonographic Industry), sites that offer free music with advertising are growing too, and this is what teens want. Many sites such as MySpace and Xanga have free background music, and the sites can increase their advertising revenue when people visit them more often. Music videos can be watched for free on Yahoo! Music Launch as long as you are patient enough to watch the short advertisement before the video is played. Advertisements don’t bother teens, lawsuits do. It seems like everyone but the RIAA is actually doing something beneficial.

I believe advertising is the key for a compromise between record companies and teens. Here’s what I think record companies should do. They should let everyone download music for free, but these free downloads would have short advertisements before the song is played, and the song could be played for a limited duration or limited number of times. It would be similar to a free trial, like testing a car before you purchase it. Or you could simply "borrow" a song just as you would borrow a book from the library, and if you did not think the song was worth purchasing, the song can be returned when it expires and stops playing. Or songs can be purchased for half the price but with limitations such as playing it once a month.

Smart companies are finding solutions

Napster recently started letting people listen to songs all the way through with the limitation that they can be played only five times. Then people can purchase the song if they like it. You don’t need to trouble with illegal downloads, viruses or bad quality songs just to check out music.  

Things like what Napster is doing will encourage people to buy songs they like. If record companies did this, they could earn money through ads and decrease the amount of illegal downloads since teens will be satisfied with semi-free music.

The record companies should understand that if they are adamant on returning to the CD era, new copyright infringement technology will be created. For example, RiVo, the cousin of TiVo, records digitally broadcast music and lets its user share it on the Internet. I am willing to pay for music if record companies let me sample it first for free. I can only hope that record companies will stop creating problems and start looking for a real solution.

• If you’re interested in this article check out Karen Pinto’s article criticizing downloading as stealing from November – December 2003.