The piracy solution?

Before the Napster MP3 swapping network was shut down by the U.S. government, you could always get in a debate about the ethics of downloading free music from the Internet.

Back then you could find people who could actually defend the practice, suggesting that bands benefited from the exposure and that record company execs were just bunch of fat cats anyway, middle men wedging themselves between the music and the music fans. People also defended it by saying that they only used the services to sample and discover music, and went out to buy the CDs of the bands they liked.

A lot has changed since then. Canadian chain Sam The Record Man went out of business this summer because sales were down. HMV stores are closing in some areas, and other chains are only holding on by their fingernails. Sales were down more than 20 per cent for the recording industry in 2001.

These days I can’t seem to find anyone who will justify their right to download free music off of the Internet with the same fervor as before.

Most people know its wrong, but still they say that as long as these services are available they’ll continue to log on. They also believe that there’s so much digital music floating around the Web already that it would be impossible for the government or the music industry to stop the practice of downloading free music.

They have a point. When Napster was shut down, people turned around and subscribed to other services like LimeWire (, KaAaA (, and Morpheus ( When Morpheus was temporarily forced to shut down in late February, people jumped onto Gnutella ( ) without batting an eye.

Since the music industry and government can only target these services one at a time, it stands to reason that for every service that is shut down another five will rise up to take their place.

While things will likely get better for the music industry before they get better, relief is in sight in the form of a U.S. law making its way through the senate that would prevent computers and other electronic devices from playing unauthorized music, movies or other copyrighted material.

Don’t underestimate how determined some companies are to put an end to unchecked online file swapping. Software companies are losing more than $12 billion a year to software piracy. The music industry is easily losing tens of billions of dollars if you combine lost sales with the value of pirated material. Hollywood, which is only beginning to feel the pinch as entire movies are beginning to appear on the Internet before they’re even out of the theatres, could lose big.

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