So, if you haven't been paying attention, Grotte got himself an iPod a couple of months back, and he absolutely loves it: slick, compact, impressive. Even the box it came in was a sexy little package, a sort of matte-gray Rubik's Cube, with little plastic dividers and a tiny, tiny sticker on the bottom that says, \Don't Steal Music"" in that wonderful Macintosh font. This may not be particularly timely, but it's been on my mind recently, and I believe it's nevertheless very relevant.
That spurred my memory back to freshman year and my first broadband connection and the beginnings of my MP3 collection. I doubt if anyone remembers, but before filesharing applications like Napster, one had to use an FTP search engine to locate songs on people's private servers, and jump through all kinds of hoops to gain any sort of downloading access'locating an album could take hours, a process so time-consuming and laborious that sympathy for the record industry was a timewaster no one gave a second thought to.
Skip ahead four years, and chances are one can locate and download a song faster than they could find it in their CD collection. Filesharing is simple, efficient and invisible, and the ethics surrounding it are vague enough to justify a to-hell-with-it dismissal of principle that I, my roommates and, I imagine, most of the wired UW-Madison community engage in on a regular basis.
To make it worse, the general rule amongst anti-filesharing protests is that they're posed by record companies and ridiculously wealthy artists like Metallica and Bon Jovi that no one feels sorry for, and tiny industry underdogs and independent groups often champion the technology for increasing their exposure. And then there's the pithy exception: It's possible that I never would have thought enough to care if not for a simple couple of sentences from the liner notes of Neko Case's Canadian Amp: ""Not intended for MP3 Internet downloading or reproduction of any kind. This is what we do for a living. We have kids, bills and rent too. Thank you.""
And there's the question of whether filesharing really constitutes theft. No one would argue that lifting Nellyville from Exclusive is stealing, but if I like ""Dilemma"" but not enough to ever justify buying the whole album, it makes no difference from a commerce-based point of view whether I download it or not. There's no interplay between supply and demand'my computer has simply generated the right combination of ones and zeroes to make my speakers roll their Rs in an exaggerated St. Louis accent.
But, if we're all honest with ourselves, we'll have to admit that Napster and its brethren gave us albums that we might have bought, but then didn't have to, and that can be troubling to those who consider themselves otherwise moral people. I can't assume to generalize my own experience to that of many (3.5 million users logged into Kazaa as I'm writing), but I'm positive that Napster increased my net wealth spent on CDs by offering me my first taste of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and non-greatest hits Bob Dylan.
And if this were the case for every user, Napster would never have been shut down. But it was, and now it's been replaced with any number of network browsers that work as well or better, and they can't really be shut down. I would urge anyone still reading this column to exercise some responsibility, especially with groups that might conceivably have a hard time making rent. Girls with glasses will think you're sweet. You might get a hug at the next concert. And you won't go to filesharing hell, which is surely populated by people mostly less cool than you and I.