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Stolen notes

By Scott Andrew Schulz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 13, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Scott Andrew Schulz

What does it mean to commit a crime? Does it entail breaking the law? Can it be justified in some circumstances?

Most of us strongly believe we are being ripped off each day. The price of food is too high, tuition is ridiculous, and who can even afford to go out anymore? It feels like we are working harder to make less money that is, generally, of little value.

We survive on coupon books, grocery cards, and newspaper inserts, while entertaining ourselves at home with the latest Meredith Baxter made-for-television movie. If it's free, we'll take it.

Until now, one of our unique culture's major obsessions was not free. In fact, it was downright expensive.

It is not an exaggeration to state that every college student is in love with his or her music. We listen to it day and night, during class, in the shower, while we travel - virtually everywhere.

But each of us realizes how costly this infatuation is. A compact disc sells at an average cost of about $15 nowadays. If you still live in the mid-1980s and prefer the freedom to rewind, cassettes still demand about $8 apiece.

Like you, I live on a budget of $50 a month. That allows me to purchase maybe three new CDs, while allotting $5 for food. Yes, there's a reason I'm so skinny.

Leave it to technology to change life as we know and appreciate it. The latest invention to sweep the country is known as the mp3. Basically, you can now download CD-quality music right off the Internet and play it through your computer speakers. People can also upload their CDs onto the Internet for others to download. Even better, the computer-savvy have also found a way to put downloaded songs onto recordable CDs, making their own music mixes that can be played on any CD player.

Once you know how to do it, it's not difficult. In fact, it is so easy that people become downright addicted to hoarding hundreds of songs that they would never pay for, but would like to listen to every now and then.

I know someone with nearly 700 mp3s. The guy could practically run his own radio station by setting his mp3 player on "shuffle" each morning. And his collection continues to grow.

As available and inexpensive as mp3s are, should we allow them to exist? Are they truly lawful?

Some would say the answer to these questions is a resounding "yes." The music industry has taken advantage of us for decades, charging us prices that are far too high. Developing new technologies, such as the mp3, gives consumers an edge that never existed in the past.

This might seem like a good argument on its surface, but on the ethical level, the use of mp3s is wrong. Sure, record companies have used and abused us over the years, charging us unbelievable prices for the right to enjoy our favorite music. But, when you use mp3s, you aren't just robbing the greedy record companies, you are also stealing from the recording artists themselves.

Not all singers and bands are swimming in money. In actuality, the great majority of artists are not wealthy, depending on the sales of their recordings to support their careers, and allow them to continue to write the music we love.

As a former disc jockey, I know that most artists only make about $1.25 for each of their CDs sold. Considering this, is it right to punish the artists for the selfish practices of their corporate representatives?

More important, however, is the crime at hand. When you take the work of an artist into your home without payment, you are stealing. No one deserves to listen to the music produced by recording artists if they do not compensate that artist to some degree. Maybe the law, as we know it, is not yet able to prove that technologies such as the mp3 break established copyright laws. But, you, yourself, should recognize that the exploitation of artists is clearly not just.

Continue to enjoy the benefits of music in your life, but be sure to respect and rightfully compensate the talent that shapes such music, ignoring the unethical standard being established all around you.