Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What have they done to my song

A mother in upstate New York has been targeted by the RIAA (Recording Industry Assoc. of America) for illegal downloading of copyrighted music, according to the AP:

Santangelo says she has never downloaded a single song on her computer, but the industry didn't see it that way. The woman from Wappingers Falls, about 80 miles north of New York City, is among the more than 16,000 people who have been sued for allegedly pirating music through file-sharing computer networks.

. . .

If the downloading was done on her computer, Santangelo thinks it may have been the work of a young friend of her children. Santangelo, 43, has been described by a federal judge as "an Internet-illiterate parent, who does not know Kazaa from kazoo, and who can barely retrieve her email." Kazaa is the peer-to-peer software program used to share files.

. . .

She did not look like someone who would have downloaded songs like Incubus'"Nowhere Fast," Godsmack's "Whatever" and Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," all of which were allegedly found on her computer.

Her former lawyer, Ray Beckerman, says Santangelo doesn't really need him.

"I'm sure she's going to win," he said. "I don't see how they could win. They have no case. They have no evidence she ever did anything. They don't know how the files appeared on her computer or who put them there."

Now I'll be the first to admit that this may not exactly be the poster child case for the industry to pursue. This woman is not the prototype of the serious downloader, who then shares the music with lots of other folks via other peer-to-peer networks, or by simply burning CDs and passing them around.

She also says this:
Santangelo said her biggest issue is with Kazaa for allowing children to download music without parental permission. "I should have gotten at least an e-mail or something notifying me," she said.

Telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment from the Australia-based owner of Kazaa, Sharman Networks Ltd., were not returned.

I am sympathetic with her complaint about Kazaa, which is really a pernicious entity. But my problems with Kazaa are not the same as hers.

She also said, on TV report, words to the effect that: "My kids, didn't download all this music on my computer, which I own, and even if they did, they didn't know it was wrong."

We'll parse this gem in a moment.

Others in this tiff have a different take from the RIAA:
The David-and-Goliath nature of the case has attracted considerable attention in the Internet community. To those who defend the right to such "peer-to-peer" networks and criticize the RIAA's tactics, Santangelo is a hero.

Jon Newton, founder of an Internet site critical of the record companies, said by e-mail that with all the settlements, "The impression created is all these people have been successfully prosecuted for some as-yet undefined 'crime'. And yet not one of them has so far appeared in a court or before a judge. ... She's doing it alone. She's a courageous woman to be taking on the multibillion-dollar music industry."

Again, I sympathize with Ms. Santangelo. But then again I don't.

Imagine if her kids had been arrested shoplifting. No one would be too sympathetic in that case, as clearly the law would have been broken. But for reasons not easily understood, other forms of stealing are deemed more acceptable by some people today.

There seems to be an air of entitlement among many people today. Critics on the Far Right argue that this started in the '60s with pot smoking hippies, but I disagree. Certainly there were those in that time who felt, in a sometimes socialistic and sometimes just selfish way that "stuff" ought to be free. But I feel it really became a wide spread way of thinking during the More Me Reagan era. Regardless, we see it in many areas of society, from people who cut in line at ticket windows, who cut other drivers off, who demand that we listen to their phone calls in public places, to those who think the intellectual property and work of others is theirs to plunder at will.

I am no fan of the way record companies do business, as any regular reader of my blog knows. See here, here, here, and here for some of my further thoughts on the inner workings of the music business. But one point needs to be hammered home again and again:

Stealing is stealing.

The crime, as stated by Newton above, is hardly as-yet undefined. If someone makes copies of a book at Kinko's, then distributes these copies to friends, there are two crimes here: Theft, and Receiving Stolen Property. It's really simple. And it applies to copies of software, music, and other properties which seem to some like Christmas cookies, meant to be shared with friends. But that really is just plain silly.

Back to Ms. Santangelo's kids, who she declared were unaware that they were wrongdoing. Bullshit. They knew they were downloading copyrighted properties, they just didn't give a crap. After all, it's just music. And they were entitled to it. I mean, it's not like someone had to really work hard to create the music, then record it, mass produce the CDs, truck them to stores, arrange for corporate sponsorship for the tour (more about this to come), hire people to engineer the recordings and tune the instruments, or a thousand other tasks. All that mattered was that they wanted the music.

Heck, I want a new computer. Perhaps I can go to Ms. Santangelo's house and just take hers. Seems the same to me.