Arresting Kids for Downloading Music; the Recording Industry Is Blaming Illegally Downloaded Music for Its Declining CD Sales and Is Threatening to Make Teen and Preteen Music Pirates Walk the Plank

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Byline: Timothy W. Maier, INSIGHT

Since Napster exploded on the music scene with the new millennium, allowing consumers to download copyrighted music for free, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been attacking the file-sharing networks and knocking them down like bowling pins. Other copycat Napster-type sites have folded or given up because the cost of litigation is too expensive to keep operating. Still others, such as Grokster, the parent company of Kazaa and Streamcast, continue legally to provide equipment for the new breed of buccaneers patrolling the Internet for recorded booty.

Indeed, while these pirates don't sail under the skull and crossbones, and few of them are even old enough to drive, they have captured from the Internet a treasure chest of stolen music. They in turn bootleg millions of tunes to their fellow pirates the downloader who with the click of a mouse can obtain a recording of anything from the Beatles to the latest rap hit by Eminem.

And Peter Pan is having great fun pretending to be Capt. Hook even as the recording industry morphs into Ming the Merciless. Engaged in a war against children, RIAA has gone so far as to bust a 12-year-old pirate who "illegally" downloaded 1,000 songs, and forced a struggling mother to pay $2,000 for alleged illegal downloading by one of her children an act of the sort the recording industry claims has led to the loss of billions of dollars in lost revenues. RIAA justifies its hard line by claiming CD sales are faltering because 2.6 billion files are being copied "illegally" and shared each month.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which has supported RIAA's litigation tactics, claims its industry also is being hurt by Hook's pirates. More than 600,000 movies allegedly are being copied illegally worldwide each day, leading only to a handful of criminal prosecutions, says MPAA attorney Fritz Attaway. In a recent federal case, Kerry Gonzalez, 25, was convicted in New Jersey for stealing a preview copy of The Hulk and posting it online before the film's release. He faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. "We don't want to scare everybody, but there are consequences for illegal behavior," Attaway warns potential mischief-makers.

But these Draconian tactics could backfire into a public-relations nightmare, say entertainment specialists. After being sued and fined last year, one angry mother lashed out. "We are hardly in a position to pay the price to the recording industry as their sacrificial lamb," she said. "We feel victimized and angry, but mostly we feel hurt. We are good, honest, hardworking people. My husband works two jobs and I work one. We have never stolen anything, and to be touted as thieves is the ultimate insult."

Under the law, ignorance is not a defense. Chicago entertainment lawyer Peter Strand says parents need to educate themselves. "Kids are committing a crime when they burn copies of their purchased CDs for their friends, burn CDs from [those belonging to] their friends, or download music from Kazaa or other peer-to-peer file-sharing systems," he says. "It's the Internet equivalent of shoplifting."

A Maryland mother who admits her teen-ager downloads music responds, "Oh, come on! That's an unfair comparison." She notes that as kids many parents committed the same alleged crime by making a copy of an LP record with a cassette recorder and sharing it with friends. RIAA certainly didn't make a federal case of it then, so why are kids today being sued for downloading digital music to an MP3 player? Perhaps because in this digital age, with the click of a mouse anyone can download millions of songs at once, whereas the intrusive labor to record a song on a cassette tended to keep the bootlegger from making millions of cassette copies.

"Such pirating now is so pervasive that record sales have been in decline. It has had an immediate impact, and it's devastating to the industry," says New York entertainment and copyright attorney Michael Friedman. …


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