The Art of Downloading

Ah, freshman year at KU. The millennium was still all kinds of new, I had gleefully moved far away from home and to the dorms. It wasn't quite the cleanest or most ideal living situation, but had T1 internet connections. Having grown up in small town where DSL wasn't available until 2006 and cable internet still does not exist, I literally had no idea that the internet came that fast. It totally ruled.

Until those early dorm days, Napster had been like a rumor to me. After a quick tutorial, I jumped right in. At first I looked for live sets from my favorite bands. After conquering that I went for rare imports or EPs I couldn't get my hands on through regular means.

Then I let open the floodgates. If I saw a music video I was even just lukewarm about, I downloaded the song. If I had a random song stuck in my head, I downloaded it. If I thought the song was funny or vaguely catchy or dancey or anything for that matter, I downloaded... and downloaded, and downloaded.

I eventually found myself with a hard drive full of mp3s and wav files that all in all were well, completely random. I rarely got complete albums, though I'd always been a fan of the album format and the process of acquainting myself with an artist. And not only did I have a Britney song on my computer-I had several-I had a host of other total crap I would never have been caught dead actually purchasing.

Then one day after months of free and profuse downloadery, my Napster account just stopped working. I could access and play my music, but the downloading feature was not available. I remember being really frustrated-what was I supposed to do? It's not like they had customer support.

Shortly thereafter I received a letter in the mail-a cease and desist from the RIAA. I had in my possession at least one downloaded song by an artist of some note and I was to delete the file immediately per the insistence of the artist's estate. I don't remember any talk of fines or punishment for what I had already done, just a vague line about "further action" should I choose not to clear my hard drive of the offending file(s).

The name of said artist: Roy Orbison. Seriously?! Of all the random file I had accumulated:

I erased the files with no heaviness in my heart and expected within a day or two for my account to be reinstated, but to my utter frustration and then ultimately, apathy, it never was. About the time I received my letter, the news was becoming peppered with stories of a few unfortunate college students who had actually been sued by the RIAA for their downloading. It was sorta spooky, but to me it just seemed way too difficult to get all of the people using file sharing programs, right?

What actually got me to stop rampantly downloading was a virus, courtesy of KaZaa, another now-defunct file sharing program. RIP, sweet Dell laptop. But it took another couple of years for me to really get it-even though I hadn't done it for years, I suddenly realized that downloading music actually was bona fide stealing from people I wanted to support. Theft! I don't know why it hadn't really occurred to me before-I'd definitely heard that it was and had probably even thought about it. Maybe I was thoughtless because it was too easy or that I didn't really care for the type of stuff I was downloading. Or maybe Lars from Metallica was to blame-his prickish zealotry had almost made me want to steal major label music.

So, for all this stumping I'm doing, I have to admit I'm downloading again. This time around, I'm trying to be responsible about it. I keep it minimal, and if I don't like what I have, I delete it. If I like it, I honestly try to buy it. Or better yet, buy it at a show. I don't think file sharing can be stopped, though I can hardly blame copyright owners for trying to do so. If anything, the scare tactics and bullying are probably not the best way to go about it.


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