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People: Consumers or Users
Kyle Williams
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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With the technological world changing so fast around us, certain copyright owners are beginning to worry. Due to the increasingly fast pace of computers and other such equipment having the ability to download and share information such as: music, movies, programs, etc., these companies are afraid that they will quickly lose a major profit. Mike Godwin is the "Chief Correspondent for IP Worldwide and a columnist for American Lawyer magazine" (172), as well as a technology-defending author. In his article "Hollywood vs. the Internet," he explores whether these downloadable devices are just beginning, or coming to an end for society. Many copyright corporations, film studios, and other profitable organizations, as well as the government are trying to outlaw equipment used in the process of downloading material for free. However, the government should not order that computers be set up with the capability to stop the use of free downloads.

Aside from many stern warnings directed to the operators of these computers receiving free downloads, the government has had several ideas to terminate the use of free downloading. One of which is installing a "watermark," an anti-duplication digital chip, into television signals that either allow or forbid the system to copy available data (Godwin 174). This concept has not yet been utilized, but has been talked about quite frequently. A proposition that has actually been tried by the government to stop these downloads is to encrypt songs on certain popular peer-to-peer file sharing programs. When these songs are encrypted, instead of music and words being played when a song starts, they have been replaced with an awful screeching sound. But with hundreds of different peer-to-peer file sharing programs, "the problem is: students quickly find other illegal download sites that the firewalls aren't yet programmed to block. And so many thousands of students share or sell illegal downloads that authorities can't realistically crack down on all of them" (Galuszka 25). While it seems like a good idea to encrypt all the downloadable songs with very unpleasant noises, or make computers incapable of downloading certain material, for the government to interfere with the use of a personal computer would be non-democratic. If the government were to force people either to pay a fee to have access to enter certain web sites or not grant access at all is ridiculous because it would give the government that much more control. If the government was given that kind of control no one knows what kind of manipulation might come next. Once the government was inside a person's home, it would be very difficult for that person to maintain control of their household and the manner in which it operates. If the government gained control of someone's computer, what would it take over next? Perhaps after the government controls peoples' computers they will take over the television and bug the phone line! For the government to get this kind of control will be irrevocable if people allow the government to alter the first amendment, which is freedom of speech. Though, music companies and some music artists are afraid they will lose money, the government cannot intervene and take away this freedom of access.

However, not all companies are trying to outlaw free downloading, there are some companies including computer manufactures and Internet companies who see this era as a window of opportunity to advertise and make large profits on their sales products. And while it might appear that some record companies are losing millions in CD sales, "it is interesting to note that while it has been argued in court and in print that Napster will take sales away from the record companies, the sales of music CDs have actually increased since mid-1999" (Clyde 41). A good example of someone who thinks very differently about this downloading idea is Matthew Gerson of Universal Music Group, who says, "We know that if we build a safe, consumer-friendly site…that music fans want, it will flourish. My hunch is that fans will have no trouble paying for the music that they love and compensating the artists who bring it to them" (qtd. in Godwin 176).

Other companies such as "Microsoft, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard" share this view. "Yet if you ask them what they think of the Content Faction's agenda for the digital world, you invariably get something similar to the position expressed by Emory Simon of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a group that includes the Tech Faction's major players: 'We are strongly antipiracy, but we think mandating these protections is an abysmally stupid idea'" (qtd. in Godwin 175).

Companies who carry copyright claims see people as support, consumers who buy their products and provide them with a profit. Still other computer companies, the Internet, etc. consider people to be users, people who use their products and put money into their pocket. These computer companies relish in the fact that computers are set up with the ability to download music, movies, and games because it encourages these users to buy their products in turn give them more money. For instance, why would someone go buy a CD for fifteen dollars when they could download and copy one for free? These CDs allow someone not only to copy a whole CD, but pick and choose from the songs they like and free up space on the same CD for other favorite songs from other artists.

Napster, like many other music-sharing programs, allows users to download music or other files from each other's computers free of charge, completely sidestepping copyright and patent-pending laws. Napster, crazily enough, was constructed by an 18-year-old college kid named Shawn Fanning. Napster was just one of many music-sharing computer programs. Others have been created; however, Napster was the first to introduce the idea of peer-to-peer sharing. "Karl Taro Greenfeld's assessment that 'legal issues aside, Fanning's program already ranks amongst the greatest Internet applications ever, up there with e-mail…' There were almost 30 million Napster users by the end of the year 2000" (Clyde 40).

"According to the study, in the worst case scenario it might take 5,000 downloads to reduce the sales of an album by a single copy, which even then would not account for the drastic drop in sales experienced by the music industry. Researchers have even found that for albums with sales over 600,000 copies, every 150 downloads actually increases sales by one copy." (O'Rourke 9). Freedom is one thing that this country bases itself on. It is one thing that drives all Americans. The first amendment is that Congress cannot make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise. Nor can they or cut the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a resolution to their complaints. This amendment is utilized more by the media and copyright companies than anyone else, which ironically are the people who continue to fight that this privilege be taken away. The government has no right to meddle in the private business on a person's home. Officials are elected by the people to make decisions that the people cannot make alone. However, there is a line that must be drawn so that this democratic country does not become a communistic country, but where should it be drawn? If that line is not drawn outside of the home, imagine what will happen once the government gets inside. Should the line be drawn at the telephone or television? For the government to regulate what is or is not downloaded from the Internet is just a small step from a democracy to communism. The government controlling what people watch on the television or say on the phone is a lot further from where society is now. But once the government has control of the little things it will be impossible for people to enjoy the liberties this country is rooted upon, such as the first amendment.

Although some companies fear for their own well being they cannot restrict people's freedoms by telling them what they can or cannot do with their own equipment. If the government imposes uncontestable laws on society, this freedom will hurriedly fade away. In all reality, this battle between the music industry, artists, record companies, and everyday people, is not about freedom of downloading free music from the Internet. It is a struggle between society and the government for good to overcome bad; justice to overcome injustice. It is a fight for the freedom of speech to mean just that. The freedom to do anything, say anything, and go anywhere (physically, spiritually, and mentally) not be taken away by a government demanding control. Whether society agrees or disagrees on whether it is right to download software for free is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether people are ready to give complete control to the government or are ready and willing to fight for freedoms that are being threatened.

Works Cited

Clyde, Anne. "Bobby Approves-Web Accessibility For the Print Disabled." Teacher Librarian June 2001: 40.

Galuszka, Peter. "The War over Internet Piracy." Black Issues in Higher Education 11 March 2004: 24.

Godwin, Mike. "Hollywood vs. the Internet." Speculations. Ed. Jason Landrum, Matthew Wynn Sivils, and Constance Squires. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. Dubuque, IA, 2003. 173-178.

O'Rourke, Morgan. "Setbacks in the Music Piracy War." Risk Management June 2004: 9

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