Alleged file sharers hail from all over the world, but college campuses remain primary targets for record industries as they target illegal downloaders. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has heightened its attack on the youth of America in recent weeks by suing 68 individuals on college campuses for sharing music files. MSU is a hot spot for record labels looking to bust computer users for illegal possession of music files. Students are easy prey — we use a campus-wide server and our speedy Internet connections facilitate fast downloading. Angry corporations now consider colleges the root of the music downloading epidemic. But how can students differentiate between files that can get them arrested and files that can simply introduce them to a new genre of music?
[fein] Amid all this controversy, there is a way to obtain music online without fear of a court battle and staggering fines. In cyberspace, legally downloadable MP3s actually exist. Up-and-coming bands utilize this service to promote their music and accumulate a wider fan base.
Kevin Fein is a guitarist for Lavonne Vanschron, an East Lansing-based band. He explained new groups often post MP3s on a Web site to gain exposure. “Basically, your options as a brand-new band are either give away your music to get people to hear you or sell your music to your friends who hear you anyway, with that being the end of the road,” Fein said.
For a band to survive, Fein explained, each album needs to be treated as a product. Only after building a large and supportive fan base can a band fund bigger projects. Internet downloads allow local bands to achieve this success.
There are many myths about how to dance around the delicate boundaries of file sharing. In the past, users thought if a file did not have a copyright notice, then the file was not, in fact, copyrighted. But laws now state users cannot assume files do not fall under copyright. Apparently, the RIAA is not going to lose a case based on a technicality.
Margaret Vroman, an adjunct associate for the MSU College of Law and assistant city attorney for the city of Lansing, specializes in cyberlaw and the enforcement of intellectual property rights. According to Vroman, the act of file sharing is not illegal, but taking unauthorized copyright information is. Vroman said anything with a creative tangible form is legally copyrighted. For instance, if a songwriter composes a single line of music, those notes becomes his property in that context.
File sharing is a dangerous game to play against music executives with deep pockets and a thirst for collegiate blood. Sharing unauthorized music can result in large financial burdens and even jail time. Try saving your limited student wealth to buy a CD and support your artist of choice. But if you absolutely cannot resist the urge to download, scour the ‘Net for obscure bands who actually want you to pick up their music for free.

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