Education Feature
Downloading Copyrighted Music
By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer

"I really think that the music companies are overreacting. I still buy the same number of CDs that I would before I learned about downloading music online."
-Jonathan Morse, 18-

A couple of clicks, a few minutes to download and you've got a copyrighted music file - a song for free!

"Pretty much everyone that I know downloads music on their computer," 18-year-old Jonathan Morse says.

Millions of teen do it, but some say it's illegal.

"It's stealing from the musicians," says Noah Pine, 18.

Some say it's OK because it's so easy.

"For me, it feels like you're not stealing when you're just downloading something off the computer," 14-year-old Avi Gelfond says.

Others argue that it's OK as long as it's only one song per album.

"There's no reason to buy an entire CD for $15 to $17 for one song," says Tova Gelfond, 18.

And still others say it's OK because it only amounts to a few dollars.

"I mean, downloading a song or two of a particular artist is not going to hurt them that much," Morse says.

Experts admit that parents may be persuaded by the same arguments: Everyone's doing it, it seems harmless and it's easy.

"[But] if you believe that stealing is wrong and you allow your children to do this or do it yourself, then certainly you're not adhering to the values you're trying to teach them," says Dr. Carol Drummond, Ph.D., a psychologist.

Experts suggest that parents sit down with their children and talk about the musicians who created that song, the work the musicians put into it and how getting paid for that work is how the artists make their living.

"Because that's how kids develop a conscience. That's how they develop empathy for others and the rules and values under which they're going to operate," Dr. Drummond says.

Explain the Legal Consequences of Pirating Music

By Suki Shergill-Connolly, M.Ed.
CWK Network, Inc.

The excuses are familiar: "Everyone is doing it." "It's harmless." "It's easy."

Many parents don't think it's a big deal when their children download copyrighted music from the Internet. In fact, more than 60 million Americans obtain music illegally using "peer-to-peer" networks like Napster, Inc. But a new ruling from the U.S. District Court may be enough ammunition to make parents take a closer look at their children's online activities.

According to the court's ruling in The Recording Industry Association of America v. Verizon Internet Services, entertainment companies the right to get an individual's name, address and phone number if they have evidence he or she is using the Internet to get or pass on their copyrighted works. They can then use this information to pursue legal action against those who download or upload the illegally obtained music files.

Unfortunately, many parents and teens may not be aware of copyright infringements when it comes to the music industry. The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) definition of copyright is the protection of the original expression of an idea, whether it is expressed in the form of music, a painting or written material. A copyright is infringed when a song is made available to the public by uploading it to an Internet site for other people to download, sending it through an email or chat service or otherwise reproducing or distributing copies without authorization from the copyright owner.

What Parents Need to Know

Even with the breakup of Napster, Inc., pirating music via the Internet is still a popular pastime, as evidenced by a 2002 USA WEEKEND magazine poll of more than 60,000 U.S. teens:

  • Of the teens interviewed, 19% frequently download music, 26% occasionally download music and 55% never or rarely download music.
  • Of the teens interviewed, 54% "see nothing wrong" with downloading music from the Internet. An estimated 10% say "it cheats the artists and shouldn't be done," while 15% agree "it cheats the artists, but I still think it's OK."
  • Of the teens interviewed, 5% don't understand the issues involved in copyright infringement.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to explain to your child why downloading music without paying for it is an illegal act. Music United for Strong Internet Copyright, a network of songwriters, musicians and performers dedicated to preventing the illegal reproduction of music, suggests discussing with your child the following reasons why he or she should not download free music:

  • Stealing music is against the law. For centuries, civilized societies have granted artists, authors and other creative people the right to own and control the original work they produce, be it paintings, poems, songs or any other form of literary or artistic expression. In the United States, copyright protection is guaranteed under the Constitution as well as the Copyright Act. Recorded music is specifically protected by these laws, which means it is against the law to make unauthorized reproductions, distributions or digital transmissions of copyrighted sound recordings. The penalties for breaking these laws are stiff, particularly when digital recordings are involved. Criminal penalties for first-time offenders can be as high as five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Civil penalties can run into many thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees. The minimum penalty is $750 per song.
  • Stealing music betrays the songwriters and recording artists who create it. A lot of people who copy and distribute music illegally try to rationalize their behavior by arguing that the people who make recordings are all rich anyway, and that music should be free. For the artist, the hard work requires not only a major emotional and intellectual commitment, but also long hours, intense concentration and real financial risk. We like to talk about the imagination, soul and courage involved in creative work. But making music is also about career and financial well-being.
  • Stealing music stifles the careers of new artists and up-and-coming bands. Another rationalization for stealing music is that illegal copying is a victimless crime that really doesn't hurt anyone. Tell that to the struggling young musicians in a garage band who can't get signed because record sales are down. Or tell it to the young singer-songwriter whose career dead-ends because people would rather download his or her music for free. Making records is an expensive undertaking. So is building a career. If people aren't willing to pay for the music they love, the record companies will find it increasingly difficult to commit the kind of resources it takes to discover and develop new talent.
  • Stealing music threatens the livelihood of the thousands of working people - from recording engineers to record-store clerks - who are employed in the music industry. Songwriters and artists, whether established or up-and-coming, aren't the only people hurt by illegal copying. In the United States alone, the music industry employs some 50,000 people, and very few of them are rich rock stars. Stealing music also threatens the livelihoods of the thousands of technicians, CD-plant workers, warehousemen and other non-musicians who are employed in the music business helping to create and deliver the music you love.

Prevention on your part is key to ensuring that your child doesn't break the law by illegally downloading music. You can help your child resist the urge to steal by following these simple strategies cited by Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron:

  • Teach your child about ownership at a young age. Explain that people have a right to their own property and that it is wrong to take something that belongs to someone else, whether it's "shoplifting" from a store or downloading music from the Internet.
  • Teach your child how he or she can go about getting what he or she wants without stealing. Suggest that your child ask you for things that he or she wants, but remind him or her that you may not always say "yes." Consider offering your child the opportunity to earn the money he or she needs to purchase a new CD by doing chores around the house.
  • Be a good role model. Set a good example for your child by asking before you borrow things. If you tell your child that downloading music for free is wrong, don't let him or her catch you "borrowing" software from work to download on your personal computer.
  • Develop an open relationship with your child. Make every effort to communicate effectively with him or her. Children who are close to their parents are more likely to take on their beliefs, morals and values than children who don't have a close relationship with their parents.
  • Recognize honest behavior. Make every attempt to praise your child for being honest. The more you praise your child's honesty, the more likely he or she will continue to be honest in the future.

Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron
Music United for Strong Internet Copyright
Recording Industry Association of America
USA WEEKEND magazine