Idling behind a yellow school bus early this morning, I spotted a continuing trend among the dozen teenagers waiting at my neighborhood bus stop: about half were sporting those ubiquitous white earphone nibs attached to pocket-sized MP3 players. I couldn't help thinking of all of the other Maryland students who would be packing into dorm rooms, classrooms, and on-line chat rooms this week--the first week of school for many in Maryland--where they would reflect on a summer's worth of music downloads and new music sites discovered on the Internet. That thought peaked my curiosity, so I went in search of the latest information about music downloading to see what others are saying about how the music downloading phenomena has impacted copyright laws (and vice versa) in the U.S.
I found what I was looking for at Mark Cooper's blog at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. Last week, Mark posted the following interesting summary about music downloading:
"Less than a decade after the advent of file sharing, sales figures indicate that the recording industry sold more singles than albums and unsigned artists sold more singles than record labels. Thus, the digital communications revolution has transformed the creation and distribution of music to the benefit of both consumers and artists."
Mark's entire research article can be found at "Digital Downloading of Music: A Big Pay-Off for Consumers and Artists in the Digital Broadband Era" (it's only 7 pages long, with several revealing historical time-series charts; definitely worth a closer read).
So consumers and artist are benefiting from the availability of digital music on the Internet. Not a big surprise. To see what the record industry had to say about that, I visited the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) web site (the RIAA is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry). RIAA has apparently kicked off the new school year by sending out its seventh round of pre-litigation letters to universities across the U.S. alleging unlawful music downloads on university networks (58 universities were targeted in this round of letters; click here to see if your university is among those reportedly receiving pre-litigation notice). RIAA's web site states the following about the letters:
"Each pre-litigation settlement letter informs the school of a forthcoming copyright infringement suit against one of its students or personnel and requests that university administrators forward that letter to the appropriate network user."
The reason for the letters? According to RIAA's web site,
"[a] survey by Student Monitor from last year found that more than half of college students download music and movies illegally. According to market research firm NPD, college students alone accounted for more than 1.3 billion illegal music downloads in 2006."
I wonder who sponsored the Student Monitor and NPD research firms to arrive at those figures? In any case, to get a balanced perspective, I visited Eric Bangeman's blog post entitled "Digital Freedom Campaign to organize students against RIAA abuse," posted last April, which summarizes and frames the music downloading issues from another view point.
Finally, I visited the University of Maryland web site to see what's happening at a local level. On July 26, 2007, the University issued an announcement entitled Ruckus Digital Music and Entertainment Network Now Available at the University of Maryland. The Ruckus arrangement is apparently Maryland's attempt to "address illegal peer-to-peer file sharing" by University students. The service is not free, of course. If you're a student at Maryland and have used the new music downloading service, send me your comments concerning whether your believe it has or will curtail illegal digital music sharing over campus networks.
So there you have it: a brief spattering of news about music downloading and copyright issues. Note: in all fairness to students, who may begrudge being singled out in this post, they are obviously not the only group that downloads music and/or shares music files over the Internet.