We built this campus on (pirated) rock#039;n#039;roll

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

Our View: The legislation displays an antiquated view of the music industry,Illegal downloaders and controversy hounds the world over: now is the time to celebrate. The epic tussle over file-sharing has arrived right at our doorstep.

On one side is the righteously indignant music industry, with the big, bad Recording Industry Association of America behind them. On the other are the righteously indignant music lovers, with, well, Radiohead backing them up.

And now this knock-down, drag-out is playing out in its most contentious arena yet: college campuses.

As reported in this week's Beacon, the federal government is attempting to create an act that would give it the power to withhold funding from schools that do not curb illegal file sharing on their campuses. These funds include the Pell Grant, which provide funds to low-income students, the Perkins Loan, a low-interest loan, and the Stafford Loan.

This is the latest chapter in a saga that will, barring some catastrophic change, likely continue for decades to come.

But there are two irrefutable facts buried under this mountain of legal twaddle, and if everyone involved could acknowledge them, perhaps the discussion would be a little more civil.

Those facts are, first, that the digital sharing of copyrighted material will always be illegal; and second, that fans will always digitally share copyrighted material, regardless of the law.

The government is offering colleges a software package to help them curb illegal downloads. It monitors file transfers across college network space, in the hopes of discouraging illegal sharing.

This attempt at a remedy shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the progress of technology. The evolution of the digital world is just as irrepressible as the Eagles' musical career.

No matter what kinds of roadblocks are thrown up, illegal downloaders will find a way to do their deed. Computer nerds will be a step ahead of any legislation the government can conceive.

If the RIAA understood this, it would realize that suing the savings out of housewives and debt-riddled college students will do no good. The association is still operating under the same principles it had when it was founded in 1952, a full 35 years before CDs became the dominant medium for new music.

Take, for instance, the case of Nicholas Paternoster, of Clarksville, Tenn. According to knoxnews.com, the RIAA sued him in March for offering six songs on the popular sharing program Kazaa. The government sees him as a shoplifter. They treated Paternoster as if this was 1952, and he had walked into the local five-and-dime, and stolen an LP.

The RIAA needs to move beyond scare tactics and intimidation. But how to deal with people like Paternoster, who have broken laws, but certainly haven't earned a trip to debtor's prison?

For the simplest of answers, we need look no further than the current music industry standard: iTunes. Apple values songs at 99 cents a shot.

For Paternoster's six songs, he should pay back what he's "stolen": $5.94. Music is a tremendous commodity in America today, and thieves should certainly be required to pay for their crimes. But it's time to learn the difference between shoplifters and hardened criminals.