Media piracy: there are no pirates here

Copyright infringement. File sharing. Software piracy. These buzz words all point at the hot topic of illegal data downloading and sharing. Not to mention, they haunt me in my sleep. Based on the legal attention being afforded this issue, obviously piracy is a problem for someone, but for whom? And why? As a music-savvy college student, there are two reasons why I would want to download music. Just split my description in two parts: for one, I love music. All kinds of music, every genre, from Celtic tunes to jazz to hip-hop to punk rock. What better way to search for new music and expand upon my collection than file-share with my friends or download music from the Internet? It’s not like I can go out and buy all of it. That brings me to my second personal desire for downloading: I’m a college student. And every typical college student is burdened with the same predicament in that we have little or no money not already being saved for gas or beer. Sure, part of me would love to run out and buy hundreds of little plastic discs that I’ll lose or scratch or ruin with the coffee that jumped out of my travel mug on the car ride back home. That sounds like the best use of my meager resources. Do you realize how much money CDs cost? And DVDs are more expensive than music! The price of any media disc makes me think twice of buying even the most anticipated album or movie of the year. So if you love music or movies or software, but perhaps you aren’t a relatively poor college kid, why is there such a general concern about file-sharing? You may not have realized, but there are two main reasons why all media types are being exchanged among peers. One of the most popular reasons why piracy is used is the exact means by which an individual gets the media. Sharing music, software, games and movies with friends is one of the best ways to introduce them to new sights and sounds. Spreading the media amongst peers is a fantastic way to popularize it and almost serves as free advertising for the artist. And the added bonus comes if the recipient really loves the media, fostering a like for the artist and a desire to hear or see more. Reason number two is directly linked to number one. Artists argue that downloading hurts sales because people who may have regularly spent their money at a store will no longer spend any money if they have access to that media for free. Interestingly though, some people download in order to boycott the low sales cut artists receive back from the retail store and the production company. These downloaders claim they will save their money and spend it instead on live concert tickets, where the artists make the majority of their revenue, anyway. Ethical dilemmas are written all over the idea of copyright infringement, and, despite lawsuits against data downloading/sharing services like Napster and Kazaa, legislation is still being introduced as a means of curbing piracy. The No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act) was passed in 1997 and provides for criminal prosecution for any individual found guilty of violating copyrights. Penalties include up to a $250,000 fine or up to five years in prison. Wait a second, hard time? Our authorities are actually ethically comfortable locking away a fifteen year old kid that copied the new Jay-Z album for his buddy?! That’s right folks. Over the past few years, a number of cases have been heard and tried regarding mostly younger students and their downloaded data. And it’s true; you can spend time in the slammer for copying that DVD you rented from the movie store. But does that make sense? Despite copyrighted intellectual property, shouldn’t most data be free? Our government says no. Regardless of the intangible nature of Internet music or software files, you could suffer severe consequences for hitting that download button. This idea angers critics the most. The question hangs on their lips if sharing a file with a peer would be considered “stealing,” just like walking out of the store with the actual album shoved under your jacket. “Theft” or “stealing” are slightly misleading terms. You aren’t taking the software away from someone else; in most cases, the song or movie or game is being copied and distributed, and the majority of the time, it’s not for profit or personal gain. Therefore, is it all really stealing? Or is it more like sampling? I don’t understand the significance of these anti-piracy campaigns, legislation, and dumb movie previews. The problem with the loss in movie sales isn’t the bootleg copies being sold in New York; the problem is that no one spends quality family time anymore, resulting in a decrease in attendance during the week. Music sales aren’t hurting that badly, but if they are, it’s because music is getting way too expensive, and law-abiding citizens resort to buying used albums off, severely cutting the revenue producers and artists receive. I imagine file-sharing is only a problem because we’re making it a problem. If downloading was allowed and copyrights loosened, I don’t think many of us would suffer. And so what if our big movie and music stars can’t buy additional huge cars-consider that a push for a cleaner environment. And so to anti-piracy campaigns, I beg the question, “What’s the point?”