I’m a college student, and as a college student, I like to think I have a few relatively inalienable rights. First, I no longer have an enforced bedtime. Second, the drinking age really doesn’t apply to me. Third, I’m allowed to download all the music I want without having it weigh heavy on my conscience.

The first two are more than self-explanatory, but it is the third which is a muddier topic. Why is something which meets, by many accounts, the criteria for theft, actually a good thing for the recording industry?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we? First, let’s be clear – we at UR are not thieves. We are copyright infringers. There is a huge difference here. If we were thieves, we’d be stealing actual dollars from the artists and the Recording Industry Association of America. But we’re not.

What they’re concerned about is that we’re depriving them of potential revenue, which is, in the words of the Ladies Man, an “Untruthatude.” The favorite statistic which the RIAA quotes to support their file-sharing-deprives-artists-of-millions argument is that between 2000 and 2001, total sales fell 6.4 percent and that obviously file sharing must be to blame. There are two key statistics here.

First, the reported dollar value only fell by 2.3 percent, and second, according to Nielsen SoundScan data – the RIAA strangely stopped keeping new release data after 1999 – new releases fell by 10.6 percent. So we now have a drop in total units shipped, coupled with a drop in new releases. And even with these declines, the amount of money they made didn’t go down proportionally to the amount of product shipped.

OK, so the RIAA likes to play with numbers, but that doesn’t make file sharing right, does it? We’ll need more numbers for this. As of now, there are about 1 million songs in print, meaning that there is a record plant somewhere stamping them onto various media to be sold in stores.

This unfortunately only represents 20 percent of the total number of songs ever recorded. Therefore, there are 4 million songs which one cannot legally buy, as they aren’t even being pressed onto CD’s anymore, and downloading them is illegal because many of them are copyrighted, so hopefully you don’t actually have any desire to listen to them.

You see my point.

Furthermore – oh yes, I can and will go on – the prices are outrageous. In fact, this game was fixed. In 2002, the RIAA quietly settled a price fixing lawsuit for $67.4 million, as they were guilty of artificially keeping prices high from 1995-2000 by subsidizing advertising of music stores in exchange for the stores setting price minimums.

Prices can still easily be lower than the averages are now, as I recently purchased the new Outkast double-disc for $10.99 at Best Buy. Obviously, it was not sold at a loss, so the question begs – why can’t all CDs be this cheap?

We haven’t even gotten into the try-before-you-buy mentality of many file traders, or the fact that a lot of albums really only have one single worthy of paying for, or how many artists make the majority of their money from live concerts anyway – Jay-Z netted $100,000 a show from this summer’s Rock The Mic tour – or the fact that the lawsuits against file traders finance the RIAA directly and not the artists themselves.

Maybe some other time.

Voigt can be reached at svoigt@campustimes.org.

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