Is All File Sharing a Crime?
Amidst college students opting for 'slap-on-the-wrist'
settlements from the RIAA and Michael Robertson's lamenting
the "multiple attempts to limit consumers' rights via DRM
(digital rights management) technology" since his tenure at
MP3.com ("These are schemes which add "big brother"
restrictions to what you can do with your own music
library"), I thought I'd share a short email exchange I had
with Bruce Iglauer from Alligator Records.
The discussion was in response to my April 30th editorial
"Music Industry Uses IM To Warn Pirates" where I wondered
what are a "significant numbers of copyrighted songs," which
would trigger copyright warning messages sent by the RIAA,
was anyway: "Should we expect a friendly 'warning' for
sharing 10 files? 50? 100? How about 50 files, but they're
from just 4 albums? And who's to ensure that individuals are
not harassed for exerting their fair use rights by
overzealous copyright holders?"
Bruce - "You ask a good question. The law defines petty
larceny and grand larceny. But both are crimes. How many
files is too many? From a legal point of view, you can't be
a little bit pregnant. All file sharing is illegal, which I
think you would agree on.
"The law works by prosecuting blatant criminals and hoping
the prosecutions will discourage petty criminals. That
sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Legally, all file
sharers should be prosecuted. Practically, they won't. I
suppose the answer is to start with the biggest you can find
and work downwards until the message is clear. If it were
up to me, I would prosecute some big ones and some small
ones, just to make the legal point."
My follow up query - "If I understand you correctly, sharing
my music files from my laptop here in Paris to my desktop
in NY is a prosecutable act? What about music professionals
that use p2p for professional purposes, such as a Jazz
pianist researching various renditions of a specific
Bruce's repose - "Are you asking me if I think that if you
possess a legitimate file, you should be able to send it to
yourself? Yes, I'm fine with that, as long as you either
paid for it or have it with the owner's permission. Of
course, you could create an MP3 file, attach it to an email,
and send it to yourself without making it available to
"I suppose somebody could use p2p for some kind of research,
though it seems a remarkably haphazard way to do that, as
vs. for example going to the BMA and ASCAP web sites and
searching for all recorded versions."
"So, do I think that 1% of p2p might be for legitimate use?
Yes, and probably 1% of burglar tools are used by the police
for people who are breaking into their own cars because they
forgot their car keys. But possession of burglar tools is
illegal even if you don't commit a burglary."
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