Students continue file-sharing despite risks

Antwon Pinkston

Since 18-year-old Shawn Fanning created Napster in his Northeastern University dorm room in 1999 to facilitate music sharing with his friends, college campuses across the nation have been cradles of illegal file sharing.

Napster no longer exists, but new downloading peer-to-peer programs such as KaZaa, which currently has 165 million song files, and Grokster, WinMix and Music City are its successors.

The controversy over file swapping and sharing music over the Internet is not news, especially to college students who often enjoy high-speed dormroom connections and easy access to downloading Web sites.

The controversy is bigger and more important than paying or not paying for music. It is about power and control – music labels are losing it.

In response, the Record Industry Association of America has been taking action to reduce the downloading rate.

The RIAA has contacted 2,300 campuses to discuss illegal usage, and it has begun filing lawsuits against what it considers “major offenders” of copyright law.

In August, 21-year-old Mark Shumaker, of Orlando, Fla., pleaded guilty to infringing copyright statutes as the leader of a large file-sharing group.

He faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

In a statement, RIAA president Cary Sherman said the Shumaker case should serve as a warning to those who believe the Internet provides anonymity for criminal activities.

But freshmen Western roommates Warren Lilly and Chris Marino, both of Lexington, think that a person shouldn’t have to purchase music if they can get it for free.

The two say they have been downloading music for about five years and are not worried about the legal lawsuits.

“It’s easier access to finding music that record stores do not have,” Marino said. “I can’t find semi-local bands’ music in record stores, so when I download a song, it’s just more convenient.”

Stephen Johns, a freshman from Mt. Juliet, Tenn., said students should be allowed to download and share music.

“I don’t care about supporting the artists because they already have plenty of money,” Johns said.

Louisville freshman Erin Raley thinks differently.

“I think it’s wrong, and people are ripping the artists off,” Raley said. “I’ve never downloaded before because I’d rather buy the CD.”

The economy could have benefited Western-based rap group Nappy Roots if downloading wasn’t a problem.

Group member Saan Hughes, also known as Skinny DeVille, said that downloading costs Nappy Roots in record sales.

“We sold over a million records for our first album, but we also had over eight million hits from people downloading our album,” Hughes said. “As artists, we are getting shorted after we have spent our time and effort making music for the fans.”

Raley agrees with Hughes, and said that even though some artists have a lot of money, they have normal lives too.

“They have jobs just like our parents do and they need to support their families,” Raley said.

Hughes said that he has never illegally downloaded music, even when Nappy Roots was only receiving local recognition.

“I didn’t have a computer back then, but I still wouldn’t have done it because I still considered myself as an artist,” Hughes said.

Now that Hughes has an iMac computer, he goes to Appleitunes.com, where you can purchase songs for about 99 cents apiece.

There are other sites the record industry endorses for safe and legal downloading, such as Pressplay.com and Listen.com.

The British Phonographic Industry conducted a survey in April 2003 that asked people why they download illegally. Sixty-five percent said because it was free.

But the market research company Music Programming said 87 percent of college students who downloaded music admitted to buying the artists’ CDs after hearing the tracks on the Internet.

Still, CD sales have declined in recent years, though it’s unclear what effect file sharing has had on the drop.

As of Aug. 3, CD sales had slipped 9.4 percent from the same period in 2002, according to a report by the Yankee Group, a research and consulting firm.

“The music industry is in a bad situation right now,” Hughes said. “Because the music industry is afraid of losing control, it is afraid of giving too much choice to consumers. It is afraid that it won’t be able to dictate what, how and when people listen to music.”

Reach Antwon Pinkston at [email protected]