Illegal music downloading is the newest media hype in America, and it is raising some very serious issues. Taken individually, the issues make it seem as if the record companies are being violated left and right, and they are spending a lot of money to support that view. This is a very narrow view; taken in context the recording industry is not being victimized nearly as much as they would like you to think.
An interesting parallel to illegal music downloading is the “War on Drugs” America is supposedly waging. Billions of tax dollars have been spent to fight this war, with minimal effect on the illegal drug trade. Just walking across campus, one can eavesdrop on dozens of conversations about students using drugs or “pot parties” to happen that evening. The same is true for prostitution. No matter how many policemen are hired, no matter how many tax dollars are squandered, it will always be available to anyone who wants the service.
If the United States took its “War on Drugs” seriously, they would load up a couple planes with incendiary bombs and set fire to drug-producing countries. The idea of bombing a country for the misdeeds of a small part of the population is not exactly without precedent, and besides, it’s not like the United States government needs a reason to make smoking craters wherever they darn well please.
If the United States was smart about the “War on Drugs”, they would drop the whole notion of war and start legalizing drugs. The idea is not as horrible as it sounds at first. If the government legalized say, marijuana, then they could control it. There would be standards for purity and safe places to buy. Trying to get your weed from One-Eyed Larry in an alley somewhere, you never know what he’s put in it, or if the shadow lurking around the corner is going to pull a knife and try and take it from you. But no matter what the government decides to do, One-Eyed Larry is still going to be in that alley. The illegal drug trade is not going away, no matter how much money is tossed at it.
The same is true for the illegal music trade. The recording industry can sue as many people as they want, music downloading sites and programs are not going away, so they had better learn to deal with it. The first step would be to think of it as a competitor. Contrary to popular belief, the Internet does not give people instant access to whatever music they want. The process of finding and downloading a single song can take days, especially if you have a slow connection. Even then, you can never be sure of the quality of what you are downloading. The benefits are clear, though. You get most everything you want, nothing you don’t and you never have to pay a dime.
If the record companies actually cared about their customers, they would be willing to provide a product that could compete with home downloading. The average music CD costs about $13 and you get about 10 songs. One of those songs you like, which is why you bought the CD in the first place, and the rest are just filler. The average home-burnt CD carries seventeen or eighteen songs, all of which the person enjoys, and costs about $2 plus the time spent finding the songs, downloading them, converting them into the proper form and burning them to the CD.
All things considered, it is a lot easier to go out and buy a CD. But people do not want to pay so much money for only one good song when they can spend a little time and a lot less money to produce a far superior product. Once the recording industry decides to stop being lazy and start being competitive, everyone will be a lot happier. But until then, this opinion columnist is just going to sit back and laugh as America slowly but surely brings the recording industry to its knees.