By Robert Menta
Back in May, when Metallica collected the names of three hundred thousand Napster users to turn up the heat between that company, themselves, and the RIAA I wrote this:
"The reality is the victims at the conclusion of this passion play won't be Napster, Metallica or any of King's (Metallica's lawyer) other clients like Dr. Dre. In the end, it may be a dozen randomly selected users, people whose crime may be nothing more than being oblivious to the politics involved in downloading the music of the artists they adore, and who must now trade tuition for legal fees.
Needless to say, these "defendants" will likely find themselves in the unenviable position of copping a felony plea as the lesser of two evils, financial ruin being the other choice. Ultimately, they may settle for no fines or jail time, a little community service and a criminal record that will haunt them every time they fill out an employment application. As felons, they also lose the right to vote".
Napster Users. Metallica Has Your Name - MP3 Newswire (5/03/00)
A few days ago, under the direction of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), police stormed into the dormitory room of Scott Wickberg on the Oklahoma State University campus and made good on the fears I wrote about several months back.
The cops seized the personal computer and a CD recorder from the student's dorm room after university officials were notified by the RIAA, which has resumed its war on the practice of copying and trading music over the Internet with the selection of its first sacrificial lamb.
``The computer specialist feels there may be in excess of a thousand files,'' said OSU police Lt. Steve Altman . ``That could cause state felony charges to be filed for copyright infringement.''
One thousand files. Has anyone been on Napster lately? There in the chat rooms you will find many users with over two and three thousand files. One thousand files is a little more than the average Napster user has on their hard drive and despite the rhetoric that makes this student sound like Clyde Barrow, that is all he is an average user.
What is most infuriating is that no federal court has yet proclaimed the practice illegal. Yes MP3.com has lost in the state courts and Napster may lose also, but those precedents don't carry beyond the jurisdiction of California. Until the federal courts rule on this matter - a ruling that may indeed declare the act of students trading on Napster illegal - or until Congress acts to write law that pertains to the specifics of online trading, downloading songs from Napster might be nothing more than exercising ones right of 'Fair Use' as decribed by present copyright law.
But Big Music doesn't want to wait the years of appeals it's court actions against major companies will take. They want to put pressure all around. They have sent letters to venture capitalists effectively cutting off badly needed funds to Net music companies, they have sent threats to colleges and universities to shut Napster down on campus, and now they are attempting to spread fear among kids only a year or two out of high school in an all out effort to curb their collecting the music of their hero's.
Hillary Rosen, President and CEO of the RIAA, doesn't care that this kid and his family will be financially ruined if he is charged with an act that may never be declared criminal. The CEO's of the major labels don't see a human being silently denied work for the rest of his life because he has an arrest record. He is just a number to them, a faceless individual who will serve their short term needs and nothing more. They will use him without thinking twice and without concern for the burden placed on him as the "example".
Of course Big Music will counter that Wickberg is stealing from them and that the sympathy should be for their cause. But it's not Mr. Bronfman's money that goes to pay lawyers and court fees, it's his company's. As for Hillary Rosen, she collects a very large check every week for her work in terrorizing students, universities, and small business, all in the name of the music artists who will be denied the very money that the RIAA has won for them in the MP3.com settlement (see "Big Music: We will NOT share trial award with Artists" and "Courtney Love demands some MP3.com cash" ). Despite the ample rewards she reaps as an executive, she would never wish to be put in the position of personally financing her own legal trial.
The goal here for the major labels is control. Preferably complete control of Net music because that is how they protect the fifteen plus billion dollars the industry makes every year, 90% split among five companies (four if EMI and Time Warner consumate their merger). With that much money at stake these companies will give no second thought to the "insignificant" casualties that may arise.
I doubt this student considers himself insignificant.
Scott Wickberg is as of yet to be charged with any crime. Hopefully, he won't be, but he is now too convenient a tool not to use and thus is subject to the whims of the machinery the music industry has set in motion.
Copyright 2000 MP3 Newswire. All rights reserved.