Posted by: nickgerlich | October 9, 2007

A Smarter Martyr?

It all started back in the 1960s, when the cassette recorder was first introduced. Suddenly consumers could buy a recording device at a relatively low price, and be able to record music at will.

An icon was born: The Mix Tape. I think just about every guy my age has given more than one of these to a girlfriend.

Of course, the Mix Tape became the Mix CD around 2000 when CD burners started showing up on every new computer. And with the development of Napster, KaZaa, and other digital filesharing sites, “making copies” became more than just a silly line in a Saturday Night Live skit.

Music PiracyAnd that’s where the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) entered the scene. Apparently they didn’t have much of a problem with people copying their own recordings (which is legal), or even copying something from or for a friend. But when it became all too easy to download music freely from major online portals with thousands of tunes, it drew a line in the sand.

Or is that the record store?

After firing salvos for several years now, and suing thousands of people from youngsters to grandmothers, the RIAA finally had its day in court last week. And the defendant, one Jammie Thomas, was found guilty and required to cough up $220,000.

Suddenly Ms. Thomas is a martyr, and is going to play this card to the hilt. She is being held liable for making 24 songs available at KaZaa (although the original suit specified 1702 tunes). Found guilty of copyright violation, she is being hit at the rate of $9250 per song.

That’s a lot of dough for a person who makes only $36,000 per year. So she is going to appeal the verdict, playing up the idea that she is just a small David in the court of Goliath. And the RIAA is unfairly picking on her.

You know what? I think the RIAA has every right to sue the socks off her. No one made her post songs to KaZaa (the simple act of making a song available is enough to be found guilty of copyright violation). And there is hardly a person on the planet who doesn’t know that music piracy is illegal.

Undaunted, Thomas is out to disprove the court, hoping that her act of “making available” was not enough. She wants the RIAA to prove that other people actually downloaded her songs. Thomas is implicitly saying that it is “the other guy” who should be found guilty, not her.

But Thomas is an accessory to a crime at minimum, and a perpetrator at worst. And the RIAA needs to win this case in order to establish precedent and scare the bejabbers out of others who might be contemplating such nefarious activities.

I’m not being sarcastic. We’re talking about intellectual property rights here. Making songs available online as well as downloading them for your own use is a far cry from swiping a few sugar packets at a restaurant (which also isn’t right).

Here’s an idea: If you can’t afford to buy something legitimately, then you can’t have it. Period. The same goes for making it easy for other folks to steal. We may not like the price of CDs or even individual songs, but music is not an entitlement.

And that’s a tune I will continue to sing.

Dr “Burn Baby Burn” Gerlich

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