Something Old and Someone New. LRG and Napster

Shame on all of you. And you call yourselves Conservatives?

Let’s talk about what the customer can do now (without Internet technology) that is perfectly legal. I can buy a CD (or cassette) and make a copy of that CD on a cassette tape to listen to in my car. I can also make a compilation of some of my favorite cuts from different CDs and share it with my "friends."

The concession the music industry made with respect to their music copyrights was this ability to "back up" and share the physical media used to distribute the copyrightable collection of notes and arrangements of such. Actually, the music industry didn’t make this concession. It was forced on them by the courts when they tried to stop Sony in the manufacture and distribution of recording devices-Sony won, the recording industry lost. As long as I make copies and give, rather than sell the copy, I’ve not broken any rules.

This same technique may also be applied to capturing air waves (from radio and television) and storing it on a media that allows me to view it again and again, or share it with "friends." I can record MTV and watch it later or watch it with friends.

Now all of us remember when we used to do this. But why weren’t the record companies threatened? Ten years ago, we didn’t have digital music. More specifically, we didn’t have duplication equipment in our homes that was digital. The analog records and cassettes could be duplicated, but each duplication degraded the quality of the original. This meant that there were a limited number of generations that were acceptable. (I remember getting a 10th generation copy of Star Wars that was barely watchable.) The only way to obtain the same quality of the original was to purchase a legal copy.

If I buy a CD, I can copy that music on to my computer. It’s mine, I can copy it. Perfectly legal.

If I e-mail a copy of that music to my sister in California, still legal.

If I write and record a piece of music, I can give that to anyone, including my sister, friends, and strangers. I can choose to sell it if I want to, but I don’t have to sell it. Still legal.

If my sister and some of our friends start a website, and on that website we decide to share our music (both the ones we write ourselves and our purchased legal copies), still legal.

If a company starts a website where my sister and some of our friends decide to share our music, still legal, right? Wrong. What??? That is exactly what Napster did. They provided a website where people who owned legal copies of music could share with an extended group of friends. Napster wasn’t selling the music, it was providing an environment whereby legal copies of music could be shared. Napster made money by selling advertising to people who came to their website. Even their software was free.

This new medium offers the same digital quality as an original, so there was no reduction in quality in these copies, and no apparent need to purchase a legal copy. The music industry knew that this would result (or could result) in fewer CD sales.

So what and Too bad!

If I invent a new medicine that eliminates the common cold, can headache and pain reliever manufacturers sue me because I am reducing their profits? No. The litmus test of legality or appropriateness is not a whether a company will lose profits.

I’ve read other postings on GIGO that discuss this same issue, but with respect to the gun industry. You want the market to control the types of guns that are available and the ammunition available. What if I reload and then give the ammunition to someone else? Should I pay a royalty for the shell casing? The ammo manufacturers could argue that they lose money when people reload instead of buying their own. Why can’t I use my music more than once, as long as I don’t sell it?

In addition, you don’t sue the gun manufacturer if someone uses the gun illegally. How can you put a company out of business, such as Napster, for creating a vehicle whereby people can share legal copies of music? It isn’t Napster’s responsibility, or the gun manufacturer, to prevent someone from using their product illegally. You could argue that Napster made it too easy to commit a crime and that its main purpose was to provide an easy method of breaking the law. Ahem, isn’t that what guns do?

If "guns don’t kill people, people kill people," then it is also true that "if recording devices don’t copyright infringe, people copyright infringe."

What the music industry did by going after Napster was to attempt to define "friend." Can’t I as an individual decide I am a friend to the other Napster users? Is it the government’s place to define a "friend?" Should conservatives have circled the wagons at the prospect of the government or the courts controlling or defining with whom I may freely associate? Yes, of course they should have!

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