The day [free] music died


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

Column by Shannon Frazer. E-mail

The days of free music are long gone, and I’m not just talking about the demise of old-school Napster.

Last week, a federal court ruled that the popular peer-to-peer music sharing sites LimeWire and Kazaa violate copyright law. The judge required the companies to disable parts of their sites by judicial injunction.

This ruling ended a five-month-long court battle between the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents all parties in the US recording industry, LimeWire and Kazaa founders and the numerous John Does out there who have been targeted for downloading music illegally.

College campuses everywhere have been particularly targeted. The college-age sector of the population is most often associated with downloading music illegally, and nowadays, record companies are requiring colleges to hand over computer domain identities to more easily pinpoint music thieves.

For instance, in 2008 the RIAA sent 407 formal pre-litigation settlement letters to 18 universities as part of a campaign to buckle down on online music theft. The strategy was and is to identify as many violators as possible, then force them to either get legal representation or greatly pay up to music industry.

For example, Yahoo! reported that Minnesota mom Jammie Thomas-Russet must pay $1.5 million, or $62,500 per song, for illegally downloading 24 songs from Kazaa, as stated in the verdict of her third trial on appeal. Thomas-Russet’s lawyers plan to appeal once more.

While I don’t envy Thomas-Russet, existing peer-to-peer sites are feeling the backlash, too. Since Best Buy bought out Napster for $121 million in 2008 and reopened as a paid subscription site, you don’t hear about it so much anymore. Did the price tag add-on and its tarnished reputation turn users away?

Based on the results of the Napster case, LimeWire’s fate seems apparent, yet the company is trying to keep its momentum. According to an Oct. 26 Associated Press article, LimeWire is working to create new software that would comply with copyright standards.

I have to ask if LimeWire’s plans to revamp are worth it. iTunes and Rhapsody have a major stake in the (legal) music downloading industry, and Pandora and Groove Shark have laid a solid foundation in the Internet radio sector. Other peer-to-peer sites have come and gone in popularity (namely, Grokster and Gnutella) and perhaps LimeWire and Kazaa will be next on that list.

One thing is for certain: Music downloaders, particularly college students using university servers, must be extra cautious how and where they acquire their music. The RIAA could be coming for you next.