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One Less Thing To For a Parent to Worry About…Or is it?
by Diane S. Kendall, 1/08/09

I believe a lot of parents have given up enforcing a ban on downloading “free” music off the Internet, including illegal file sharing with their kids and with good reason. It is just too complicated to figure out what’s free, what’s not, what came from a friend, etc. Of course with Amazon and now Apple selling their music with no digital rights management software attached , unlimited copying seems to be not far behind. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is also giving up to some extent and is halting their lawsuit campaign against individuals as of December. This campaign which seemed to garner more bad press than culprits, never was very successful anyway with the proceeds going to pay for more lawsuits instead of to the artists the RIAA claims to protect. Instead the RIAA has made agreements with Internet Service Providers (ISP) who will send out notes to customers to cease and desist file sharing or risk having their service cut off if they do not.

But let’s be honest. How many parents really followed all the rules themselves when it came to downloading music off the web? After all it is not just kids who think that everything on the Internet is for free anyway, right? Even parents themselves, who go to find a piece of music to add to a home video or a slide show, experience the same issues their kids do. There just isn’t that much free music out there that is suitable for these types of projects. Unless you want to take the time to write your own music in a program like GarageBand , it is so easy to fall into the “Well I am going to do it just this one time” excuse.

The “Just this one time” or “I didn’t know it was illegal” or “But it is just pictures of my baby ” excuse has been used so many times on YouTube that the company finally negotiated with big music companies like Universal Music, Sony and EMI Music, and promised a share of the advertising revenues that appeared on those pages to offset the copyright violation. Of course there is always the argument about Fair Use – the use of a small portion of a song or video in a not-for-profit way that does no harm to the copyright holder. There are many more complicated definitions of Fair Use but that is what it essentially boils down to.

Is illegally copying music off the Internet something parents don’t need to worry about anymore? It sounds like the RIAA is still going to make sure that no one is going to extremes in its partnership with ISPs. But if all you are going to get is a cease and desist notice from you ISP if your kid (or you) has gone hog wild in copying music illegally that doesn’t sound too bad? Hey, just let them worry about. You just stop, right, if you get that kind of notice and then the whole thing goes away? No problem. The old “do it until you get caught at it game,” eh?

While I am glad to hear that RIAA is going to stop suing kids, grandparents and even dead people for copyright infringement, I think as a parent there are still a couple of things to worry about.

First, we all need to remember that when you acquire a piece of music online and even pay for it on Amazon or iTunes, you still have no rights to use it for a performance. So just because your child has a song on his or her iPod that the dance troupe thinks is just the thing for the spring performance coming up does not mean you can use that music without making an arrangement with the copyright holder. It may have come to you “digital rights free,” but it does not mean that you are able to use that music anyway you want, especially if you are going to make any money off of it, even if it is for a great cause.

Second, if you thought having a child who wanted to become a performer – a singer, songwriter, musician, actor, etc. – was kind of risky now, think about the future of the performing arts. Other than concert performances, no one has come up with an alternative revenue method quite yet for performers who used to make most of their money off of CD sales. Of course people will continue to buy music, but even that model is dwindling. CD sales are tumbling and even Apple has a three tier structure for music. Once a song is off the hot list, it will only cost 69 cents.

Third, while I personally thought the RIAA was a bit heavy handed in how they dealt with the public over music downloading, they did take a stand. Now that they have gone to a more covert way of catching free loaders (kind of “Big Brotherish” in its own right) what is going to happen with everything else on the Internet? Is your ISP going to start spying on what you download? What about movies, books and everything else new and different that took some blood, sweat and tears to create? You have to ask yourself and your kids – can it all be for free? Or are we as a society going to pay by seeing the end of creativity as we know it.

Maybe there is something to worry about after all.

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