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L.A. Beat

… And you’re calling me a crook? The ups and downs of downloading

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A few of my friends give me a hard time sometimes, regarding the fact that I download music onto my computer, and then make my own albums and collections on CD, even going so far as to putting three albums from one artist onto one disc - my own condensed and homemade greatest-hits package. They will pressure me to admit that it is stealing, that the artists are making no money because of people like me, and that I am missing out on the artistic and graphic elements of the albums that I listen to.

  The only thing I can do is nod and smile, accepting their criticism and hoping that they'll shut up - before I return to my computer to continue making my discs.
The fact is, I know it is wrong and I know their argument has merit. However, in Lethbridge it is difficult to find albums by the artists I like.

If I liked Britney Spears and Nickelback, I would head right over to Future Shop or HMV.
Scratch that - I would go to Wal-Mart, where they seem to sell albums by big name artists for like seven dollars.  Which makes me wonder - if I buy the new Foo Fighters album at Wal-Mart for $7, how much money does Dave Grohl actually make?
 Is it one dollar? Two dollars?  I would bet it's more like 15 cents.
Now don't get me wrong - I like the Foo Fighters. I've seen them live twice, shelling out big bucks to giants like Ticketmaster.  
However, when it comes to a band like the Shout Out Louds, who hail from Stockholm, Sweden, I can't find them at Wal-Mart and I can't go see them live.

Yet I like them. I could pop in to my favourite little store downtown, Blueprint Entertainment, where my buddy Mike could special order their CDs in for me, but he'd be forced to charge me $23 per album, just to make a dollar profit off the deal for his store, covering shipping and handling charges and the like.
Therefore, I wait. I own all their albums, even if they're not official.

I listen to them, I play them for others, and I recommend them when people ask me what's new and what's good. And I think that has to be enough,  at least until I find their albums somewhere for a reasonable amount and can then replace my homemade versions, which I then give to someone else to enjoy.

There are some interesting things going on in the world of file sharing and online music this year. Download sites are being sued and shut down, people who operate them are being fined and imprisoned, and users like me who download songs for enjoyment are being sued for millions of dollars, which they most likely don't have, otherwise they would have been buying the albums in the first place. 


Here in Canada, nobody seems quite sure what to do about it all. We are considered to be a safe haven for online villainy of sorts, with outdated legislation and a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy.  
We have really come a long way from 1996, with Metallica suing Napster and accidentally losing legions of old fans in the process.  Moreover, our government is starting to feel the heat. Prime Minister Harper’s office is under growing pressure from the European Union and the United States for Canada to update our Copyright Act. They are saying that we have promised to reform our policy, but we haven't, and now they are threatening our entertainment trade relations.

Here in Canada, at the moment the rules basically state that anyone who compresses CD music to an MP3 format for his or her own use is actually breaking the law. But this contradicts our modern ways, in which we have an insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest at our fingertips instantly. So instead, we have increased the sales taxes on items like blank CDs, blank DVDs, iPods and MP3 players; and a portion of these taxes is supposed to go back to the artist. Meanwhile, artists like Radiohead and Trent Reznor have cracked open whole new ways of marketing their material and everyone seems to be sitting back and waiting to see what happens.

Nevertheless, on a more personal bent, I am a music lover. I truly do respect musicians and creative people, and I wish they could make a lot of money. But what is an album worth? Is it worth seven dollars at Wal-Mart? $26 for special order at Blueprint? How much? 

And then I think about this weekend.
 This weekend was full of live music - I saw nine bands perform this week and I bought five of their albums at their shows. I bought one t-shirt, three entry passes to get in and a whole lot of beer. It was an expensive weekend, but it was a whole lot of fun. I have gotten to dance to their music, shake their hands, pat them on the back and have real conversations with them. I will see them again the next time they come through town, and I'll be sure to spread good word of mouth promoting their next visit.
In the meantime, I will be listening to their albums, playing them for friends, and playing them on the radio for others to experience.

 I won't be posting them on the Internet for millions to hear, but what do I do if someone asks me if I can make a copy of a disc for them?  Do I ask the band's permission first? Do I tell them, "too bad, you weren't there, you missed out, you're S.O.L." and make them wait for the band to return? Do I go ahead and rip the disc, but give explicit instructions that they cannot make a copy of the copy?  It is seriously a big fuzzy gray area.

Meanwhile I am all set to go see Tom Petty in Calgary and Tool in Edmonton; shows that are going to cost me hundreds of dollars; and I get called a criminal. You know what feels criminal to me? It's places like Wal-Mart undermining artist rights and selling new music for pennies. It's places like Ticketmaster that have a monopoly on big name artist shows. It's sites like iTunes that somehow arbitrarily deem this song worth two dollars and that one worth fifty cents.  It's government arms that imprison or fine music lovers just for utilizing their knowledge and passion to continue loving music.

You may notice that I've raised a lot of theoretical issues in this little rant.  I've posed many questions while providing very few answers, and I doubt that answers are coming. It is human nature to be selfish. It is modern nature to be impatient. It is the nature of politics to appease the people while protecting the system. It is in the nature of business to turn a profit off of supply meeting demand.  Moreover, it is my nature to love music, to support it, embrace it and surround myself with it - any way that I can. But I sure do hope to find some Shout Out Loud’s albums sometime, somewhere, on sale for some reasonable price. At which point I will turn around and give you my homemade discs. In the meantime, I recommend you check them out - maybe on a website somewhere. Check out this link on new copyright legislation being proposed.

—By Chris Hibbard, music lover, special to L.A. Beat
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