The latest hit against supposed online music piracy came into effect last week when last year’s Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA) was used to indict two guys who leaked Ryan Adams’s Jacksonville City Nights on a fansite. Hey – keeping up with the prolific semi-junkie/momentary Lohan beau’s release schedule can get expensive. The duo responsible for the leak now face up to 11 years in prison for an infraction against a section of FECA that prohibits the online distribution of intellectual property before the material’s official release, even though there’s no real evidence that web leaks negatively affect record sales if the product is half decent. (In a seeming contradiction, the act also contains a section exempting devices that automatically censor DVDs for content parents might deem inappropriate. So much for the “intellectual” part.)

Roshan Reddy

While bloggers who release copyrighted material are more susceptible to prosecution under FECA than your average pinko file sharer, we commie bastards (in the eyes of the Recording Industry Association of America and Sen. Orrin Hatch, FECA’s champion) should know what’s happening on the other side of this controversy. You’d think that if RIAA’s targeting of students at this and other universities wasn’t going to scare us straight, FECA might scare our suppliers enough to derail the whole operation.

After all, Joe McCarthy’s list of 205 suspected Communists was enough to throw the country into a paranoid frenzy over red infiltration. But this is 2006: Most users of file-sharing programs are young; as RIAA figured out, many of us are naive, insulated college students wreaking supposed havoc on record sales. We’re also armed with laptops with tons of storage space and the cash to pay our high-speed Comcast bill (but not enough, apparently, to shell out for the new Kanye album).

But our most powerful weapon is our apathy toward this organization’s self-professed authority. The futility of RIAA’s efforts to thwart file sharing through prosecution of both individuals and file-sharing networks makes this glaringly obvious.

Buying an Audacity membership instead of mooching the service or donating money to the creators of your favorite peer-to-peer client might help them out and give you the warm fuzzies. It seems, however, that the most effective way to confound the RIAA’s scheme (and royally piss them off at the same time) is just to download anyway.

Despite the cavalier attitude that many students have in common when it comes to file sharing, most people I know will still purchase the albums of quality artists, either via iTunes or the old-fashioned way – you know, the way that involves real, actual pieces of plastic and human contact. At the same time, they’d just as soon burn a CD for a friend as download an album’s worth of recommendations; isn’t file sharing the same as copied discs, just with a little extra distance and no middle-media?

The insatiable need for free, easy-to-access music – not just whatever tripe the Black Eyed Peas or Kelly Clarkson are pushing this week – is even stronger now that mainstream radio is redefining the phrase “sleazy and pathetic.” Unless you live within broadcast range of a college radio station (cheers, WCBN!), peer-to-peer clients and MP3 blogs have become the best way to test out new, interesting or hard-to-find music. Downloading music is even more consumerist than buying it; we can get all the files our greedy hearts desire. We’ve just found a better way: File sharing is an endless, free supply that meets our rabid demands.

As long as the Internet (or the super-fast, elite Internet2) exists, music fans and tech geeks everywhere will always find a way to trade files online. Even if I choose not to download music without buying it afterward (with the exception of material created by artists who are dead or undeserving – Michael Jackson shouldn’t get a dime because I want to replace my 10-year-old Beatles discs), I still want file sharing to exist. The predicted demise of quality indie labels and acts hasn’t happened, probably because their listeners care enough to support them and the online exposure does more good than harm.

Think back to when you were a Napster-happy 15-year-old, tying up the phone line all damn day so you could get the Pixies b-sides and unreleased Weezer tracks that you couldn’t always afford to buy from your local indie record shop. Fast forward a few years: You eventually paid for Surfer Rosa and all the rest; you giddily bought a ticket to the reunion tour; you coughed up for a hoodie and an on-the-spot live recording at the merch table. There’s a way to make file sharing responsible, and it’s on our own terms, not the federal government’s or the RIAA’s.

If you’re part of the RIAA and would like to prosecute Jones for her admitted file sharing, e-mail her at almajo@umich.edu.

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