The time-consuming process of browsing the internet for cheaper alternatives to iTunes and Amazon might be worth it to the cash-strapped student, but only until the recording industry finds out.
Internet users have been subject to lawsuits by businesses such as the Recording Industry Association of America for years, made even more serious by recent threats of anti-piracy legislation. But Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Eva Galperin suggests that there is little need to pass these new types of restrictive acts.
“The government already has the tools it says it needs to fight piracy,” said Galperin. “DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) has a take-down-and-put-back-up procedure.”
A take-down-and-put-back procedure is when the government would take the site down, remove the pirated material and then put the site back up.
On top of DMCA procedures, individual organizations, such as SF State and other college campuses, have their own policies. Before logging on to campus servers, SF State students are made aware that sharing copyrighted material could result in fines up to $250,000 per offense, or even five years in prison.
“I buy from iTunes because here at school they say that you’re not supposed to download and you could get in huge trouble for it. So I don’t want to chance it,” said Ashley Slomowitz, a criminal justice student who lives on campus at SF State.
Though Slomowitz said she abides by campus policy, she is no stranger to alternative means of obtaining music.
“My dad had a program called Audio Galaxy before it was illegal, and Napster was still running at the time, so we downloaded music through that,” she recalled. “I think because it was made illegal after the fact, it made it harder to sort of break away from that.”
Some students say the consequences of illegal file sharing is the only thing keeping them from rampant downloading.
“If there’s a song I like enough and I want it on my iPod, I buy it because I want to support the artist so they can keep making more music,” said Slomowitz, who is a fan of sites like Spotify, which offers free, legal music streaming.
Slomowitz’s stance reflects SF State media law Associate Professor Miriam Smith’s belief that people “inherently want to do the right thing.”
“We’ve made media a business,” said Smith. “Maybe media should never be more than a nonprofit business.”
According to Smith, it is the resistance of record companies and Hollywood to break away from old business models and consider more accessible and affordable options for consumers that has brought about these blanket-solutions for copyright infringement.
“They want to lock law in to preserve their business models,” said Galperin. “Artists have moved on.”
Still, many artists haven’t gone independent, and students who can’t afford a $12.99 album or a $50 DVD set turn to file sharing. It’s easy to forget, though, that internet users are being watched. Galperin explained that these businesses search BitTorrent for their content. Users’ information can then be subpoenaed and a notice is sent to the IP’s billing address.
Briana Barker, a Cal State Northridge student, found herself in such a situation a few years ago, when she visited her cousin at UC Santa Barbara and illegally downloaded music from a site called Ares while logged into her cousin’s account on campus.
“They contacted (my cousin) and said they would fine $750 per song I had,” said Barker, who had accumulated thousands of songs through file sharing. “We did some research and settled in court for $3,000.”
While Barker admits it was a bad mistake on her part, Galperin and the EFF see this as a larger problem of businesses seeking people out and shaking them down for money. Because of this, Galperin suggests encrypting your IP address to ensure your internet privacy.
Smith also suggests students simply quit their file sharing habit.
“Be aware that people are watching,” said Smith. “Just realize that we do need to pay our artists for what they give us.”