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2008-02-06

Free your mind: the legality of free music

There is a scene in The Matrix where Neo, skeptical of Morpheus' attempts to teach him about the ways of the Matrix, says "I know what you're trying to do." Morpheus responds, "I am trying to free your mind, but I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it." Moments later, both men are standing on top of a tall building, and Morpheus turns to Neo and says "You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind." With that, he takes off running and leaps into the air, landing neatly on top of the building across the street.

I've been spending some time on Yahoo! Answers lately, answering questions about free music and where and how to download it. I figure that with all the free music I have been able to find, I should be able to help others find it as well. After all, that is the purpose of this blog, but not everyone knows about this blog yet. I was also hoping that I might be able to find links to more free music resources that have been posted by others. What I found instead was shocking, sad, and more than a little disturbing.

In short, there are people who believe that downloading music for free is 100%, absolutely, unconditionally illegal. Not just a few people, either - there are a lot of people posting the same basic sentiment there. At first I just chalked this attitude up to ignorance. After all, all the websites I link to on this blog were found either through my own deliberate searching, recommendations from friends, family members, and kind strangers, or in chance posts and articles that I managed to happen across in my daily internet browsing; in short, I either had to work to find them, or they were brought to me by mere happenstance. If a person doesn't deliberately go out in search of free music, or if they're not lucky enough to have it recommended to them somehow, they're not going to know about it.

Then I started thinking about this a little more deeply. Sure, it is ignorance that would cause someone to say something like that; fortunately, ignorance is something that is easily cured by education. But what is the root cause of such ignorance? After thinking about it, I am left with two unfortunate conclusions:

1. Some or all of these people have been scared by the RIAA's campaigns of misinformation and are trying to help others not to make the "mistake" of downloading music for free and therefore running the risk of being prosecuted.
2. Some or all of these people are members of the RIAA, just doing their best to spread misinformation.

Okay. RIAA, misinformation, prosecution? At this point, I think it's a safe bet that you fall into one of two camps: either you are nodding your head (literally or figuratively) in agreement, or you are thinking something along the lines of "This guy just lost me. What is he talking about?" In either case, I hope you will keep reading and bear with me.

First of all, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). According to its website (which I will not link to here, as you won't find any free music there), it is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Its members are the record companies that create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States. Unfortunately for the RIAA, the growth of the Internet over the last decade and a bit has made the RIAA increasingly irrelevant as people have found easier ways to obtain music and artists have found easier ways to distribute their music. Unfortunately for everyone else, the RIAA has responded to this paradigm shift not by changing their business model and trying to adapt to a changing marketplace, but by burying its head in the sand and pretending that nothing has changed... oh yeah, and filing lawsuits against individuals that download and share music. Looking at the FAQ on their website sickened me, as they really seem to believe that the way forward is by going back, and, of course, by filing lawsuits against people.

Naturally, some people are going to become scared by such actions. If they hear of other people like them getting sued, then what's to prevent the RIAA for coming after them as well? Downloading music must therefore be wrong, and everyone needs to be informed of this; a site like Yahoo! Answers would be a great place to let people know about the trouble they can get into by downloading music. That covers my first conclusion above.

As for the second conclusion, like I said, the RIAA's website is pretty sickening. We are dealing with an organization here who feels that the best way to prevent illegal sharing of copyrighted material is to sue the very people who could otherwise provide them with free publicity by spreading the word about the artists that they claim to represent. Is it really much of a stretch to think that they have employees whose sole job is to go online and spread misinformation in order to scare people into doing the right thing (with "right" being defined as whatever can bring them the most money)? I don't think so.

Wow, I think I am beginning to sound a little paranoid here. But remember, just because you aren't paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you. Also, I think I should perhaps clarify my stance a little here. I'm not saying that I think it's okay to freely distribute music that ought to be paid for. That's not something that I do myself, and I would not encourage anyone else to do it. But I also realize that there is nothing inherently illegal about downloading music for free, and until recently, I thought that something like this was common knowledge; it's just that one has to be careful about what they are downloading and ask themselves why it is free. Has anyone involved in the creation of said music authorized it to be downloaded for free? If so, then download away and tell everyone you know about it; if not, then perhaps it's not meant to be downloaded for free. Such a question is not always easily answered, and that is exactly where this blog comes in - any music that I link to from this blog is legally available for free because the artists who created the music have chosen to release it that way.

So go to Jamendo. Go to We7. Go to the Internet Archive. Check out the rest of the posts in this blog. Download some free music. Listen to it. If you like what you hear, support the artist in your own way: buy their CDs, buy some of their merchandise, make a donation to them, tell your friends, family, and anyone else about them, buy a ticket to their concert the next time they are playing near you; in short, do whatever you feel is appropriate and within your own budget to support deserving artists. But don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't get music for free, or that doing so is unconditionally wrong.

Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. Fight ignorance with knowledge. Free your mind. I've shown you the door, and I've even gone a step further and opened it for you. Whether you walk through it or not is up to you. I'm already on the other side, and I like the way it sounds over here.

URLs:
http://answers.yahoo.com/
http://www.jamendo.com/
http://www.we7.com/ (may no longer have free downloads depending on where you live) 
http://www.archive.org/details/etree (Live Music Archive)
http://www.archive.org/details/netlabels (Netlabels)

3 comments:

Bowie said...

Great blog Jeff. I've been using Jamendo for a while, but I never even heard of We7 or any of the others until I saw an answer you posted on Yahoo Answers (also where I found out about your blog).

I know what you mean, Jeff, about most people answering in ignorance to the very common "Where can I download music for free legally?" questions. I've been trying to point them in the right direction as well, and usually my answer is shot down with criticism by the other posters (I'm sure you've dealt with the same).

However, it is nice to see that another freed soul is out there and kicking around and spreading the good word. People will never know if we don't tell them.
I'll definitely be back to your blog, and I'll let people know about it as well. Would you mind if I posted Totally Free Music's link in some of my answers on Yahoo Answers? Thanks for this very informative blog! =)

-Benny from Yahoo Answers, but my real name is Bowie =)

Jeff said...

Thank you for all the kind words, Bowie. It's always nice to have allies in this fight against ignorance/RIAA propaganda. I was just shocked at how widespread it was when I first started regularly checking Yahoo Answers, which was what lead to me making such an uncharacteristic post.

Whenever I make a run through Yahoo Answers, I make sure to give a thumbs down to any ignorant responses, and a thumbs up to anyone who knows the truth about legal, free music. I don't know if that actually has much of an effect, but hopefully if enough people start doing that, then people will start to get the message.

I would love it if you post a link to Totally Free Music on Yahoo Answers. Thank you for wanting to spread the word about it! I'll see you around, both here and on Yahoo Answers.

Jeff

soundwolf said...

Nice page mate. I really don't see much in the way of pay for, digitally distributed music in the future. The world will be a better place, when all music is truly free.

cheers