MP3: Good or Evil?

by SaskMusic

July 31, 2009 in Industry Developments

While the industry applauds Internet-related developments and their unprecedented opportunities for reaching a global audience, a majority of MP3 files on the Internet are unlicensed, and therefore illegal. MP3 sites make it possible for anyone on the Web to download individual songs or even whole albums for free. But unless the creators of these sites get permission from the individuals or companies that own the copyrights to the music, they're breaking the law.

As technology has advanced, allowing for better sound and faster downloading, so has the popularity of music sites. Thousands of sites are linked to each other, giving users easy access to thousands of pirated sound recordings. The sites often actively encourage - sometimes require - users to upload additional full-length sound recordings to the site in exchange for a download.

Home Copying

One person making one copy may not cause significant harm, but millions doing the same thing would, and does, cause extraordinary harm. The 'Net complicates the things, because a single person has the ability to trigger incalcu-lable damage. (MP3 technology facilitates faster downloading by compressing bulky sound files into manageable chunks, without losing any of the quality). Unauthorized use of sound recordings on the Internet is a growing problem which has implications worldwide,

Unauthorized MP3 sites are depriving artists, composers, authors and record companies of the right to choose the value of their creative property in a free and open market. (And depriving governments of income from sales and excise taxes which would otherwise be paid for the sale of CD's and tapes). The National Post reported, "MP3s are being used like trading cards - collected, traded & made into compilations. A lot of kids see this as a delightful way of not having to go out and spend $20 on a CD."

The Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) is participating in a global response to internet piracy that is orchestrated by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) along with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). High tech automated web crawlers search for sites on the Internet where unauthorized copies are available for download, and identify the location and site operator or service provider. CRIA takes action to secure evidence of infringement of copyright in sound recordings offered on identified sites in Canada. Written Notification is sent to the site operators, service provider or both, informing them of the infringing copies of sound recordings on the sites they host and the legal implications if they do not voluntarily cease and desist offering the illegal copies on these sites.

U.S. Developments

Since a "blank tape levy" is already in place, personal users can make analog cassettes of music from another cassette, CD, radio, etc. Digital copying of music is generally allowed with mini-disc, digital audio tape (DAT) and digital cassette recorders, and some CD recorders (CD-R recorders). Under the U.S.'s Audio Home Recording Act, the manufacturers of some digital recorders pay a small royalty to partially compensate those hurt by unauthorized copying. These devices incorporate technology to prevent what is known as serial copying (while allowed to make a copy from an original, you are not permitted to make - and compliant recorders won't record - "copies from copies"). Royalty and serial copying provisions are a big part of the compromise which allowed these devices onto the market.

DJ Compilations

On compilation albums, each song must be authorized - even if a legitimate manufacturer makes the CD. Duplicating recordings for professional DJ purposes without the authorization of the copyright owner is illegal. This includes copying a recording to analog or digital tape, CD-R, mini-disc or a computer disk/hard drive.

Why artists should be wary

It's been argued that artists who "give away" MP3 files of their music have increased sales in other areas, such as t-shirts & concert tickets. That's fine for a recognized artist, but for many indies, sales of a debut album are the only way to (global) income. Once people have downloaded MP3s of your songs, they could possibly make copies for all their friends and relatives - without paying you a penny.

Some much-hyped MP3 purchase sites, while legal, offer pretty sad returns to artists: A 1-hour CD (14 songs) sells for $17.86 (U.S.). The artists receive a total of $3.50. Plus their contract states "No royalties paid on professional or complimentary comps for promo or exploitation purposes", meaning they can make unlimited giveaway albums to promote their site, while paying you nothing.

MP3s can be downloaded and played indefinitely, without authorization or compensation to the artists. Many people see nothing wrong with downloading an occasional song or even an entire CD for their personal use, even if it's from an unauthorized (illegal) site. The challenge for the music industry - not just for major labels - is to find a method of delivery that can prevent copyright infringement online without interfering with legitimate uses or missing opportunities offered by digital technology and the Internet.

What you can do

If you want to download MP3 files, make sure you're doing so from a legally authorized site. If in doubt, check the site info or submission contracts to see if they even ask artists for permission before posting their files. You wouldn't want to log onto an MP3 site one day to find YOUR songs being sold and the site owner reaping the profits, while you're having trouble putting Kraft Dinner on the table.

MP3 offers indie artists the potential to sell their music easily and efficiently over the Web, and for music buyers to customize and instantly access their music purchases. It can be a win-win situation for both, but only if copyright owners, including indie artists, are fairly compensated for their work.

By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published April 1999.

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