But isn't it against the law?

By Scott Rosenberg

By Salon Staff
Published August 9, 2000 7:47PM (EDT)

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Scott Rosenberg has captured the no-way-out dilemma facing the recording industry as it wages its doomed campaign against digital music technology. I suspect the majority of Napster users are indeed "law-abiding citizens" who see MP3 trading as a chance to flick a metaphorical middle finger at monster entertainment conglomerates who have been cynically gouging them for years.

I'm one of those. And no, I don't feel even a fleeting twinge of criminality when I use Napster to download some favorite tune from another user's computer. If I were to rationalize my actions at all (which I really feel no need to), my argument would go like this:

1. Intellectual property law (generally) allows people to duplicate copyrighted material for their own use and enjoyment.

2. When I download a tune with Napster, I'm merely obtaining a "legal" copy of material from a CD that someone has paid for, and has in turn generously decided to make available to others over the Net.

3. Ergo, I'm not breaking any laws, ethical or otherwise. I'm simply taking up the offer of a considerate stranger to share his legal copy of a tune.

This reasoning wouldn't bamboozle the Supreme Court, I suppose. But it works for me. And for at least 20 million other people as well, it seems.

If I could buy the same music in a comparably convenient way, at a price that seemed even remotely reasonable, I would. Until then it's Napster or its equivalents for this music fan.

-- Brent Eades

You can't "share" what you don't own.

As an independent musician (who hates the labels more than you ever could -- but that's a side issue), I can share my music with the public, and I've had 15 top-10 genre hits.

But it seems to me that I can't "share" a Metallica or Dr. Dre track with you because I don't own those tracks and don't have that legal right. I could -- if I had it -- provide you with a copy I'd ripped from a CD. (It was a "fair use" copy as long as I used it for personal use, but as soon as I provide it to a third party it becomes pirated material.) Much worse, I could register those bootleg tracks on Napster and make them available to as many people as can download them around the clock.

I suggest substituting "software application" or "novel" for "music." Perhaps you simply can't imagine that the musician is a member of society just like you ... but he or she is and they have the same right to control their property as anyone else.

-- TK Major

Napster is a theft engine, plain and simple. It may be inevitable that soon most music will be downloaded from the Web, but that doesn't mean that it's therefore right or legal that strangers should be enabled in wholesale theft of intellectual property. Rosenberg says "It doesn't feel like theft." Since when were the thief's feelings relevant? Hitler "felt" like he was doing the world a service by murdering 6 million Jews -- should we consider that before we judge him? An extreme comparison, but a valid one.

Those who make their living from their intellectual property are entitled to do so, just as Rosenberg is.

-- Jim Cherry

Salon Staff

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