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The Internet is now being used in many exciting and interesting ways. The music industry, however, has come to feel that it may be being abused. There are countless web sites offering information on how to obtain contemporary music, with and without permission from the creators. Using a fairly expensive recording device, such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio portable MP3 music player, consumers are supposedly able to download unauthorized music placed on MP3 sites. There are two distinct sides to the mp3 issue. A cyberspace tug-of-war is taking place between the rights of MP3 consumers and those of musicians and record companies that desire to control any and all consumption of their product, the music. Internet piracy is being combated by groups such as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The rights of music consumers are being championed by many groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and supporters of such web sites as mp3.com. While there are a number of legal and authorized pieces of music that may be downloaded by Internet consumers, there are just as many offerings that can be considered to be "bootleg" or illegal, and are placed on the Internet by "pirates." This infringement on the rights of creators to control the reproduction and distribution of their product has incensed and angered many different groups. Their fight to retain control has resulted in a counter-argument in favor of online freedom and of expression and a battle to preserve civil liberties.
Internet piracy has been a source of much controversy as it has grown and become the new medium of communication in our generation. The Internet connects so many people with so many products and, as in all industry, not all these people and products are fair and honest. The same is true in the world of the online music industry. Some artists champion the public's right to hear and record their music in an "industry-free" atmosphere. Others fear that their art is being exploited and their rights denied. In October 1999 the IFPI announced its efforts "aimed at ridding the Internet of large amounts of pirate content and paving the way for artists and record companies to deliver music electronically and legally across the world" (IFPI, 1999). The recording industry is collaborating to try and fight this exploitation. The "IFPI estimates there are some 1 million illegal music files posted on the Internet at any given time" (IFPI, 1999).
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The IFPI also champions the efforts of musicians to promote the legal use of the Internet to distribute their music to thousands of fans and music buyers. They hope to educate the public that it is wrong to use the Internet to obtain unauthorized music through the "Action for Legal Music on the Internet" (IFPI, 1999). These groups are comprised of national and international music stars that not only fight piracy but also create an environment on the Internet that will benefit artists as well as the consumer.
Web sites such as MP3.com and groups like the EFF, in reaction to the anti-piracy movement, are fighting back against the proposed actions of record companies and their supporters. They champion online freedom and reject all means of Internet control. The "thought-provoking essays" found on mp3.com consist mostly of very biased and severe commentaries on the absolute rights of Internet consumers. MP3.com does, however, publish important essays by the recording and music industry in an attempt to keep this an objective forum of information. An article written after the RIAA lost its bid to "prevent consumers from using MP3 music players", describes this decision as a "fatal blow" and a "crushing defeat in its bid to maintain dominance and limit consumer freedoms with music on computers and the Internet" (Gross, 1999). The author of this commentary, as well as countless other supporters of the MP3 revolution, feel very strongly that to prevent their access to whatever is uploaded onto the Internet is an infringement on their rights as individuals. Therein lies the controversy. The industry's rights are being unlawfully infringed upon by the actions of these consumers.
The Internet based record industry has been growing steadily since it began and "Internet-ordered CDs more than tripled to $132 million -- just over 1% of the U.S. recorded-music market" (IFPI, 1999). Combining the number of CD's sold, with the 1 million illegal Internet music files, it is easy to see that this is rapidly growing industry. The fight going on between the two sides is therefore an important one. There is a great desire to create a thriving online music industry. The recording and technology industries are building conditions for a successful industry through the Secure Digital Music Industry (SDMI). The over 120 companies and organizations are developing "an open, interoperable architecture and specification for playing, storing, and distributing digital music" (IFPI, 1999).
There is another interesting argument to be considered in this argument. Bob Starrett authored an interesting editorial about "The MP3 Download Threat." He essentially mocks the severity of the threat perceived by record companies and their industry through his exploration of the MP3 world on the Internet. He tried to download music files from the Internet, on legal, authorized sites, as well as illegal, bootleg music. He discovered it to be a "bullshit experience" (Starret, 1999). Starret was completely unsuccessful in obtaining any music that he desired. He was, however, successful in obtaining one song and the sound quality was "really bad." He ended his piece by heading off to the record store to purchase the CD. So the issue is a very valid and important one but, currently, exactly how accessible are these illegal, as well as legal music, files on the Internet?
Archambault, Derek J. "MP3 Piracy Survey" http://www.mp3.com/news/236.html. MP3.com. 1999.
Gross, Robin D. "Court Upholds Right To Digital Music." http://www.mp3.com/news283.html MP3.com. 1999.
International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. "Music Industry Announces A Global Crackdown on Internet Pirates." MP3.com. 1999. http://www.mp3.com/news/412.html
Starret, Bob. "The MP3 Download Threat." http://www.mp3.com/news/250.html MP3.com. 17 May 1999.