The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

At the root of the whole music downloading debate is whether or not such practice is illegal, or at least immoral. (Or should that be the other way around?) I'm kind of torn on the issue myself. I work in media, and I'm acutely aware of the value of intellectual property, along with its vulnerability and, therefore, need for protection. While I realize that fair use provisions are a fact of life, I'm not at all sure that those provisions include the right to copy and distribute works to a global audience, without any compensation for the creator. The X factor is convenience: Basically, as long as it's so easy to download music (and other) content for free, and transfer it to other devices via CD burners and MP3 players, people will keep doing it. At the same time, it's more convenient for many to just plunk down a twenty and buy the CD and save a lot of time.

In any case, I must say that those who cry loudest over the right to fileshare come up with some kooky justifications for it. This piece by the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association strikes me as one big excuse for shady practices. To argue that electronic information is not "real property" that can be stolen is specious reasoning. It's real, all right; it's not like all these songs came into being through spontaneous creation; people make their living doing it. It's like saying that you have the right to pluck a couple of grapes off a bunch in the grocery store, because you're just trying to decide if you like them enough to pay for the whole product.

Moving beyond music files, there is some evidence that short-term waiving of copyright rights can help build a market where none exists. Would this apply to the music issue? Hard to say.