By Jackie Rilla
There are always two sides to a story, no matter what the issue may be. The same goes for free music downloading programs such as Limewire and others. Many will argue that using it is legal, others will say that it is illegal. But what really makes it illegal or legal is how you use it.
Not too long ago, Napster got busted and shut down for illegally letting users download music. Since then, people have found loopholes to avoid it being illegal. Limewire is legal in a sense that it is o.k. to share files. Congress hasn’t passed a law that makes that illegal (yet), but if you allow someone to download copyrighted music, that’s when it becomes illegal. The software is also legal, which is why Limewire hasn’t been shut down. The people providing the software are making their money off the people that pay to use the software. Those people are the ones making money off it, not the artists.
Although authorities will not go after everyone who downloads music, they will go after the people who are supplying it for people to download. There are ways around that though, e.g. you bring your computer in for repairs and the technician sees Limewire on it, that worker then has to by law report that to his or her boss, and you as the computer owner can get fined. Since artists have started to fight back against their loss in sales, people have been punished with up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines. A repeated offense could land you in prison for up to six years.
When you use Limewire, you have the choice to pay or not pay. When you pay for it, it doesn’t make it any more legal, because the artists aren’t seeing any of that money.
Different countries have different laws regarding free music downloading. In the U.S., it is illegal to copy copyrighted music. In Canada, it is legal to download copyrighted music, but illegal to upload it. Obviously, the reason why there is such a debate over free music downloading is because of the money lost to artists and the record companies. In fact, the average loss is about 20 percent in sales since 1999. They are losing so much money because instead of buying a CD, people can just go online and download the CD. You can also download multiple songs to make a mix, when you would normally go out and buy multiple CDs. Online music users will argue against this by saying that there hasn’t been much for “new releases” from the artists over the past years, another contributing factor to the decrease in sales.
Artists aren’t the only ones affected from file sharing and downloading. It also affects the industry, musicians, sound technicians, recording studios, and music stores.
On the other hand, there is software available that allows you to download music legally. An example of this is i-Tunes. I-Tunes has over 150 million songs you can choose from and you pay 99 cents a song. This is perfectly legal, but the majority of software out there like Limewire makes it illegal to download music, because it is free and the money you are spending to use it isn’t going to benefit the artists. Although the chances of someone just downloading songs for their own personal use getting caught aren’t that great, it is still illegal and unethical. The suppliers of all this illegal music for download are the ones that have a better chance of getting caught.
Most users don’t care about getting caught because they don’t think that it can happen to them. This is why I don’t think free music downloading is going to stop anytime soon. In fact, I think it's just going to get more popular as time goes on. People, especially the younger generation, have learned to rely on downloading. They download music onto their MP3 players or i-Pods. They burn mixes to listen to in their cars. Almost everyone I know has some type of software to download music that they use almost everyday.
I do not see a solution for this problem, because there are always people who will find certain loopholes to keep using the software, and even if it does get shut down, then another program will come along.
From a teenager's point of view, I don’t see it as a problem. For an older person though, someone who didn't grow up having free music downloading available, it is a problem. Other than fining people who misuse the software, I really don’t see any other way to enforce penalties because of how many people use it illegally.
I think free music downloading is going to become one of those things that everyone does, such as using a cell phone or being on MySpace.
Editor's note: Jackie spent her summer break as an intern here at WorkshopLive. She wants to go to law school, so I asked her to write about the legal aspects of downloading music for free.