PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

Ryan Hume:Copy and burn: ‘a pirate’s life for me’

Aarrggghh, mateys! ‘Tis a sad day for those pirates sailing the silicon seas in search of that latest Britney Spears download or the new cuts from the upcoming Radiohead album. Aye, the virtual sea can truly be a devastating mistress, and there are record companies out there that just don’t respect the pirate’s wish for free musical accompaniment to boisterous bouts of spiced rum and plank-walking parties.

No, today’s modern pirate just isn’t satisfied with a gut-wrenching chorus of Yo-ho, Yo-HO! any longer. They want to spin on their peg legs and get freaky to Pink’s “Get This Party Started” or get rowdy during the extended solo on a bootlegged live version of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” while playing air guitar on a disgruntled parrot. And strangely enough, they have the audacity to want to do this all for FREE!

Yet there is an organization out there – as vile as the King of England – that wants to put a stop to music piracy at any cost. This organization is known as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It has recently been developing technologies that will invade the privacy of millions of Americans’ home computers, which could result in, if they are able to proceed, perhaps the largest destruction of virtual privacy since the most infamous of government organizations was created last year, the dread Total Information Awareness Network.

The RIAA and the major recording companies it represents have been ill-prepared for the technological advancements of the Internet and until recently had continued to conduct their business in the time-honored venues of radio, the music video, promotion and hard copies.

Only in the last few years have record companies made the leap to hold music-sharing companies accountable for the piracy of individuals who use their services. This has become a lot like trying to sue Maxell just because people make mix tapes with their product. After the landmark court decision of Napster’s fate failed to run the file-sharing giant into symbolic ruin as an example of file-sharing networks, the RIAA has taken to legally threatening individuals as well as companies with prosecution as a game plan to undermine piracy. This has had little effect, if any.

In March, the RIAA sent out letters to 300 companies warning them of legal repercussions if they did not crack down on their employees’ music sharing. Of the companies targeted, only 35 percent of them were technologically based; the other companies were health-care firms, manufacturers and other various industries. What these messages imply is a call for corporations to internally undermine the privacy of their employees or be possibly held accountable by the record industry. And while these threats of legal prosecution have been wholly unsuccessful for the industry, the threat of prosecution has still been its greatest weapon in fighting online piracy.

The IFPI, an industry group, claims that music piracy costs the recording industry $4.3 billion annually, yet other industry experts, not directly associated with the RIAA, have reported that there is no direct evidence linking file-sharing to a decline in record sales. Either way, it is apparent to all involved that stopping music piracy is at the top of the list of the record industry’s priorities.

As of now, it has tried to undermine piracy by spreading fake music files across file-sharing networks such as KaZaA and Morpheus, a tactic known as “spoofing.” Yet these results have also been largely unsuccessful as a deterrent and are seen more as an expensive annoyance.

The industry now has put millions into developing new software that attacks the computers of people who download copyrighted materials. These “freeze” programs freeze the computer that has downloaded a file, sometimes for up to eight hours, while displaying a message about how music piracy is illegal. The only reason these programs have not yet been put to use is because they are illegal as well.

It would seem the fight against music piracy is causing the industry to become pirates themselves. They are walking a fine line right now between protecting their products and infuriating the public that consumes them. And if they are not careful, they may just find a plank at the end of their walk. They are even alienating other big businesses by singling them out with letters.

In fact, Verizon, the communications behemoth, is involved in a lawsuit right now with the RIAA trying to protect the names of people who have downloaded copyrighted music files on their Internet service providers. In the world of Total Information Awareness, privacy is among one of the leading issues in a society that becomes more and more technologically dependent by the day, and the recording industry is challenging the privacy of its consumers in lieu of creating a viable marketplace in this new world order.

The bottom line is clear: They have chosen fear as a business practice because they have failed to creatively adapt to the changing modern media. And while the days of music piracy and privacy may be limited, as for now, music pirates may rejoice at the inability of the industry’s attempts to squash an idea that was firmly planted in all of us as early as kindergarten – sharing – by praising their debauchery in a rousing chorus of: ‘Tis a Pirate’s Life for Me!