Welcome to the future
An overview on the inner workings of the MP3 and what makes it superior to older formats
An abbreviated history on how the MP3 came to be and its impact on the Internet so far
You're on it!
A quick way to get into the world of digital music through MP3s
Some other documents you may want to check out to learn some more about MP3s
A quick biography of Jack Karlis
Waiting to explode
Recording industry, site hosts at odds

by Jack Karlis

Hey, people copy music and movies all the time. So what is all this fuss about?

Actually, the very concept is illegal because it violates good old copyright law. When you upload music to be taken by others, as you would on Napster, you have become a distributor. You can become a distributor legally, but you must first have permission from the artist and whomever else owns those rights. The problem being that many of us donít know Christina Aguilera any more personally than we do Bill Clinton.

Itís common knowledge that a bootleg is a reproduction of a song or concert that is unlicensed by the artist. You can be a bootlegger if you copy music, distribute it and keep the profit from it. If you pass a copied song or MP3 on to your friend, you got it...thatís bootlegging. If you sell it, then youíre asking for criminal prosecution. Even a copy for your own personal use in this case is still a copyright violation.

The recording industry is an absolute uproar over the MP3 phenomenon because not only is it losing money on this electronic prodigy and would stand to lose even more if the MP3 becomes more commonly used, but the actual artist receives no royalties whatsoever from an illegal copy. It also cuts out the production and manufacturing costs.

Before you make comparisons to blank audio and video tapes as well, keep two things in mind.

First, the Internet is such a dynamic medium for the message that it is changing the very way we communicate, shop, learn and our other daily functions. It is quick, efficient, mostly user-friendly and gives us the power of choice. Most importantly, however, is that for the most part, it is cheap. The cost of materials is relatively low for MP3s.

Second, blank tapes and video cassettes took a larger chunk out of the recording industry than you may think. ďThe economics of the entire system actually collapsed and was only revived by the forced implementation of an entirely new audio format,the compact disc. A tax on all blank tapes and taping mechanisms was created in accordance with the 1992 Home Recording Act to offset lost revenues incurred by those taping records and CDs for home use,Ē said online columnist Adam Powell in a recent Webmonkey article. Thatís why the recording industry is hitting the panic button.

It has enlisted the help of numerous lawyers to shut down those sites that contain unlicensed MP3s and has even formed an evil empire of the bigger companies such as Sony, BMG, EMI, Universal/Polygram and Warner-Electric-Atlantic. This concentration of power called the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is ready to strike down any of those sites that could severely damage its profit margins by holding MP3s for download. To show that they mean business, they sent out their legal compatriots on online witchhunts to seek and shut down those very sites.

In October of 1998, the RIAA filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent Diamond Multimedia from selling its Rio MP3 player. The RIAAís argument stated that even though most players are used just to play the MP3s, those same MP3s can also be uploaded back into a computer and distributed throughout the net. It was overturned of course as evidenced by the sales of the Rio now.

Not only is the RIAA ready to take these larger sites to court, but will prosecute individual users as well. It would be almost impossible for the RIAA to stop the total illegal use of MP3s although they have taken some small steps to prevent it from ever happening again. They figure that the inmates have escaped the asylum but the doors have been locked shut to prevent it from happening again.

So what can you do to protect yourself from any possible copyright infringement?

First, you should always look for fully-licensed material from the artist. These may run you as low as $.99, depending on how many songs you want. Some artists such as The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy have already taken advantage of this new source of revenue. So, instead of someone stealing just one song because the donít want to spend $15 for the whole compact disc, they can pay for the song they really want and the artist profits from it. The only party who loses out is the middle man.

Secondly, if you are going to download, ahem, ďfreeĒ material, make sure you only keep it on your hard drive for 24 hours and then remove it. Thatís as far as the law has progressed on this new dilemma.

Third, Donít be a bootlegger! Itís a civil offense punishable by a fine if you distribute music that you donít have the rights to. Itís a criminal offense to take that music to try and fatten up your bank account. You can not only end up paying a large amount of money back, but also serve jailtime.