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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Fighting the future

    Record damages won’t fix the record industry

    Used to be that the word “”pirate”” would evoke images of swashbuckling high-seas adventure on the Spanish Main. These days, thanks to a concerted effort by the recording industry to stamp out file-swapping on the Internet, you’re more likely to imagine a college student hunched over a laptop downloading the latest Daft Punk album.

    The massive dragnet of lawsuits filed by the record industry in an attempt to discourage online file sharing hasn’t done much to improve the public image of big music companies. Over the past few years, zealous record executives have embraced a shotgun legal strategy against downloading, famously seeking exorbitant punitive damages from a 10-year-old girl, a family without a computer and, most egregiously, an elderly grandmother who later turned out to be dead. But despite spending millions of dollars on legal fees and sneaky Internet detective work, and filing more than 20,000 lawsuits against accused downloaders – among them thousands of college students – the loads of litigation that have been piling up since September 2003 have unsurprisingly failed to stop technology from continuing to function, and left the industry with few legal victories. Until now.

    Last week, a federal jury ruled against a Minnesota woman accused of downloading 24 songs from the Kazaa peer-to-peer file-sharing network. The court ordered Jammie Thomas, the defendant, to pay $222,000 in damages for copyright infringement. That’s more than 9,000 times what each song would have cost had she bought them on iTunes.

    Although lawsuits against downloaders have been going on for years, this case is particularly important since it is the first major file-sharing suit to actually go to trial. Until now, record labels have built a bizarre new business model by suing the pants off their own customers and forcing them to pay settlements of a few thousand dollars by intimidating them with the possibility of a protracted and expensive legal battle. But although last week’s big win may have set a pricey precedent for music-swapping lawsuits, and will likely scare some Internet users away from illegal downloading, it is a Pyrric victory for an industry that is quickly becoming an anachronism.

    Content owners and copyright holders have resisted technological change since time immemorial, as innovation disrupts comfortable business models. The music industry tried to kill Internet radio, cassette tapes and even the player piano rather than face the challenge of adapting to new technology. Its latest crusade against creativity is another arrogant attempt to stop the inevitable. Sure, downloading music is illegal under copyright law. But the rapid growth of music sharing is less a dastardly attempt to steal from artists than a rational response to useful new technology. Unfortunately, the record industry has a different concept of the future of music.

    The Ruckus music-downloading service rolled out by UA this week is a perfect example of the record industry’s dystopian vision of digital music. Songs can be played only on a handful of locked-down industry-approved devices – excluding the ubiquitous iPod. Downloaded files are infected with “”digital rights management”” software that restricts when and how they can be played. And students don’t really own the music they download – it’s purposefully designed to expire as soon as they graduate. It may be legal, but many of the restrictions imposed by the service go well beyond the purview of copyright law, allowing files only to be used when permitted by record labels – and not when permitted by the law.

    If the music industry hopes to survive in a digital world, it’ll have to stop raising a ruckus in the courts by suing customers and learn to embrace new technology. Until then, consumers will keep sailing the pirate-prone waters of the Internet.

    OPINIONS BOARD: Editorials are determined by the Wildcat Opinions Board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Dumka, Allison Hornick, Sarah Keeler, Connor Mendenhall and Jeremiah Simmons.

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