Look at this damn THIEF! (A few thoughts on file sharing.)

According the record industry, I’m a thief and a blight upon society. Why? Because I have occasionally used peer-to-peer file sharing programs.

I tried Napster in its heyday, but found Limewire years ago and have used it exclusively ever since. I also visit Dimeadozen with some frequency, where I can find all sorts of live performances, all in the lossless FLAC format for maximum quality.

When I first tried Napster, I felt a little soiled, it just did not seem right. All that music for nothing? Even though I had grown up trading cassettes with friends, there were always three factors present that were missing with Napster: 1) I knew the people I was trading with, and we spent hours talking music, debating guitar players, dissing lame “sell-outs: 2) the trades were exactly that, TRADES, in that I would let friends tape albums of mine and they would let me tape albums of theirs; and 3) it was WORK, taping was a real-time operation, so one hour of music took one hour to record, plus the vinyl record had to be cleaned, the noise reduction selected (Dolby B or C?), the tape bias set (high bias, metal?), and given that everything took so long, reading material was of high importance, so album artwork got scrutinized. Oh, and all tapes had to be properly labeled (artist, album, bias, noise reduction) and all tracks written in tiny type on the cassette label. But Napster? Well, all you had to do was point and click.

Limewire wasn’t much different from Napster, but I quickly discovered a key difference: Limewire contained bootlegs! Man, I have found so many killer performances on Lime, and most all of the performances I have downloaded are not available on any official release. More important, I make it a rule not to steal music I can buy and actually want. Sure, I have downloaded many a track to “try before I buy”, but if I like what I hear, I am off to Amazon.

So, am I truly a thief and societal blight? I don’t see it that way at all. 90% of the music on my computer (all in lossless!) also sits under my bed on CDs, CDs I purchased. In fact, a recent study, pointed out to my by my friend Dave Tutin and again by blogger Boby Owsinksi, reveal that I am not at all unusual, for according to the study:

“…those who admit to illegally downloading music spent an average of $125 a year on music  – that's $54 more than those who claim that they never download music dishonestly.”

If the survey is right, then going after illegal downloaders is to go after music’s biggest fans and customers. So, what of the occasional downloader? I dunno. I guess my attitude is this: people can get music for free, and from now on this is reality, so we need to educate people that illegal downloading is stealing and is not right. In other words, we need to extend current cultural beliefs about stealing into the musical realm. It will take time, but it can be done. Besides, what alternative do we have? Imprisoning anyone who downloads music illegally? Yeah, that’ll work. Just look at how effective our War On Drugs is.