By going to court, the major record labels are showing a united front against music piracy. But the bootlegging of songs online isn't universally reviled by the thousands of people who make their living in the $14-billion U.S. recording industry.
To the chief executive of a rap music label, every pirated song means less money in his pocket. To the bass player in an independent band, however, file-sharing networks provide far more exposure than traditional outlets, such as radio. And to the musician who tours with acts such as Beck and Sheryl Crow, the popularity of Kazaa, Morpheus and other online networks ought to persuade the record labels to embrace the Net to reach customers.
A sampling of what rank and file members of the industry had to say:
Bass player for Earlimart, an independent band
People today have new expectations about being able to browse music before they buy. If people are downloading our music, we look at it as a positive thing. For us, it just seems to be a promotional tool. If anything, it's helping us at this point.
Maybe my opinion will change when our record sales start to have a more direct effect on our personal incomes.
At this point, I like the fact that people can listen before they buy the product. Not everyone has the disposable income to go out and buy everything.
I still believe that if a band is really good -- if you're writing great songs and you work real hard and tour like crazy -- people will buy your record and that's going to help your income.
We put a lot of art into our work. Our record is an enhanced CD with videos on it. That's not something you can download, at least not yet. So we hope that's an incentive for people to own the record.
My reservations about downloading is really an aesthetic one. Imagine if Pink Floyd's "The Wall" came out now. There's this whole idea of concept records, the idea of a record that has a beginning, a middle and an end. There are some records that should be listened to that way. If people download individual tracks, they miss out on the artistry that goes into making the whole.
Chief Executive of 2 Real Entertainment, a rap label
I've been writing songs since I was in a talent show in fourth grade. That was back in '84 or '85. It was a way to have a conversation with people in the streets, a way to reach out with words. And it got me paid.
I don't download music at all, but bootlegging's been around forever. I know a lot of the kids don't understand it. They don't understand that whole publishing thing. That's what you eat off of, because you don't make huge money when you sign up with the labels. It's the other things that help you get paid. It's the clothing lines and the producing and the publishing. It's the songwriting and the licensing you get from that.
The kids don't see that. I have college kids come up to me all the time, saying, "Hey! I've got this hot bootleg mix CD with your music on it." What he doesn't figure out is he's taking food off my table. They sell the tapes for $10 a pop.
At first, I got mad. Now, I roll with it and use the tapes as a promotional avenue. I go down to the studio once or twice a month, and knock out three to four songs that will just be for these mix tapes. One of these mix tapes might get the word of mouth going, and that's good for me.
Co-owner, Amoeba Music stores, Berkeley
For our business, it's been as equally helpful as hurtful. If people [who use file-sharing services] are listening to things they otherwise wouldn't listen to, it's great for us.
People who are into music need a way to discover artists, because the radio isn't a very good way to do that. File sharing can be helpful in educating the public.
I'm 46 years old. People [from] my generation have been alienated from the music world. Nothing is played on the radio for us. We have no way of finding out what's new and cool. NPR maybe breaks about one or two interesting things a year that percolate through my generation. But there are so few examples of that.
Stealing -- I'm certainly not a proponent of that. Everyone loses out, especially the artists.
But the music industry long ago should have developed a system to help listeners learn about music so they can look up artists and hear what they sound like. Then they can go out and buy what they're interested in.
As far as Amoeba goes, we're doing OK, because people come here to find the unusual stuff, the broad catalog.
It's the chain stores that are hurt by this. People who listen to pop are more likely to shop at chain stores, and they're more likely to take it off the Internet. No one wants to spend $20 to get one song.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
Band member, co-founder of Jellyfish and TV Eyes
Session and tour musician for Beck, Blink 182, Sheryl Crow
The world of recorded media is changing at lightning speeds, and nobody knows what to do about it.
I am on the fence right now about this whole thing. I see where it can be a powerful tool for promoting small and medium artists. On the other hand, all the artists are being ripped off to a degree.
But it's the medium-sized bands and smaller acts that suffer the most from piracy. That scene relies incredibly on sharing and word of mouth.
It's not the Limp Bizkits and the Metallicas. Sure, they can argue losses on paper. So what does that mean? They can't buy their sixth Mercedes?
I make a lot of my living through session work. Many of the bands that I work with are so big that piracy doesn't affect them. The multi-platinum acts still hire me. I don't see them hurting.
But I'm painfully aware and sad about the current state of the business.
We've all been living with the old design where bands sign up with record labels, and musicians end up losing control. In my opinion, that model has ripped off more from musicians [than piracy].
Why not try something else? What have I got to lose by jumping in and experimenting with doing a selected release on a few Web sites?
There has to be some kind of alternative that omits the recording labels so the artist becomes the salesman for his wares. And the Internet could be the vehicle by which he can do that.
Concert promoter and musician manager
Co-creator of the "Roc Tha Mic" concert tour with rap artists
Jay-Z and 50 Cent
I think this tactic is not going to stand up in court. Someone in Omaha, Neb., is going to get sued and go to jail because they swapped a Linkin Park song? They'll sue, the RIAA will sue, everyone will sue, and it'll all come down to being one big scare tactic. Maybe people will learn something. We can only hope.
Look, there's not a direct tie between the health of concert promoting and downloading on the Internet. If an act's popular, and a song's popular, people are going to download it.
If there's a connection, it's small. The big thing is making sure an act's not overexposed on TV or anywhere else. For us, in concerts, the big thing we deal with is keeping the mystique of an act going.
As live performances on TV shows, and behind-the-scenes and [MTV's] "Cribs" and stuff go up and up, an act's giving more than their music. They're giving bits of themselves away. They're making themselves a lot more accessible to the public now than they did years ago.
The more access you provide to the public, the less there is of the magic of seeing them live and in front of your face. The whole phenomenon of concerts is that you get to see an act live. But if you see them "live" on TV, what's the draw? What's the point?
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The fight over online music includes a range of industries and interests.
Title: Chairman and chief executive, Roxio Inc.
Position: Pro-digital music technology
Stake: Runs a legal music service and sells CD-burning software
"Anything that Roxio will do in this space will be respectful of artist rights and will be working toward a commercial solution."
Fred von Lohmann
Title: Senior intellectual property attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Position: Pro-file-sharing technology
Stake: Advocates civil liberties online
"The American public has really spoken on this, and the idea of suing them all into submission is a dead loser."
Title: Singer, songwriter
Position: Pro-file sharing
Stake: Sells songs and collects royalties
"The Internet, and downloading, are here to stay.... Anyone who thinks otherwise should prepare themselves to end up on the slag heap of history."
Title: Chairman, National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers
Stake: Sells CDs
"Without exception, we believe artists have the right to be compensated. For that to happen, their work must be protected."
Title: Chief executive, Motion Picture Assn. of America
Stake: Sells movies
"It is not sharing. It's stealing."
Title: President, Grokster
Position: Pro-file sharing
Stake: Runs a file-sharing network
"We're a massive distribution arm. It's very powerful, and we happen to have their customers."
Title: President, Recording Industry Assn. of America
Position: Anti-file sharing, anti-piracy
Stake: Sells recorded music
"The seriousness of this problem requires us to act quickly and send a loud and clear message that this kind of activity is illegal and has consequences."
Title: Vice president, general counsel, Verizon Communications Inc.
Position: Believes RIAA subpoenas violate privacy rights, endanger anonymous speech and threaten public safety by giving a powerful tool to stalkers and other abusers
Stake: Company sells Internet access
"Anyone can claim to be a copyright holder, and anyone can use this process to obtain your identity, whether you've infringed a copyright or not."
Title: Chairman, Sony Corp.
Position: Pro-technology and anti-piracy
Stake: Sells computers, CD burners, digital music players, music and movies
"They have to change their mind-set away from selling albums and think about selling singles over the Internet for as cheap as possible -- even 20 cents or 10 cents -- and encourage file sharing so they can also get micro-payments for these files. The music industry has to reinvent itself; we can no longer control distribution the way we used to."
Title: Chief executive, Apple Computer Inc.
Stake: Sells computers, digital music players and downloadable songs
"People keep their music collections on their computers. They want to burn CDs and to put their music on portable players. Why shop at a record store?"
Title: Chairman, Microsoft Corp.
Position: Pro-technology, anti-piracy
Stake: Sells software and digital media technology
"It reminds me of the early days of the PC industry. The hobbyist clubs would get together and swap the software, and I wrote an open letter -- this was back in 1975 -- saying, 'Gee, come on, you guys, license some of this stuff. It would sure help in terms of invention and new software coming along.' Well, I didn't write that letter in the most politic form...."
Source: Times research
Los Angeles Times
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Digital: The musical
A short history of digital music:
Spring 1983: The compact disc goes on sale in the United States, ushering in the digital music age April 1993: Specifications for MP3 are published as part of an industry standard June 1994: Aerosmith song furtherHead Firstfrom becomes the first full-length commercial entertainment product released for downloading April 1997: Nullsoft releases Winamp, the first popular MP3 player for Windows computers October 1998: Digital Millennium Copyright Act becomes law, giving copyright holders new tools to battle online piracy May 1999: Napster debuts, introducing peer-to-peer file sharing to the masses December 1999: Recording Industry Assn. of America sues Napster Inc. for copyright infringement April 2000: Metallica sues Napster, USC and others, alleging copyright infringement July 2000: U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel orders Napster to stop unauthorized copying of songs, but appeals court puts the ruling on hold February 2001: 9th Circuit appeals panel rules against Napster March 2001: First copy-protected CD is released in the U.S. July 2001: Napster service shuts down October 2001: RIAA and the Motion Picture Assn. of America sue Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster for copyright infringement December 2001: Listen.com launches the Rhapsody online music service June 2002: Napster files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection April 2003: Apple Computer Inc. launches iTunes Music Store April 2003: RIAA sues four college students for running Napster-like networks. All four settle in May April 2003: Federal judge rules that Morpheus and Grokster weren't responsible for piracy committed by their programs' users Monday: Record labels sue 261 file sharers
Source: Times research