MP3 See, MP3 Do
August 16, 2006 9:04 PM   Subscribe

What advice -- reasonably accurate, simple, and not absurdly out of sync with the real world -- do you offer your children about sharing music?

I am aware of past AskMe debates on CD mailing, home taping, etc., some of which have turned on contested assertions about what is legal and what is not. While this is clearly relevant to my question, I am more acutely interested in how one boils this down for the use of a pre-teen who is understandably interested in how he can share music with his friends. FWIW, my understanding is that he has the right to copy to his MP3 player, to a computer, or to burned CDs those songs he himself owns by virtue of a purchased CD or MP3 (subject to whatever technical limits may be imposed by the delivery mechanism, like the ITunes store or the more fiendish CDs that are sometimes sold), but that if he does not own the underlying CD or MP3, he is essentially out of luck (save for heroic interpretations of fair use that rarely bear scrutiny). That is, the rights turn on ownership of the original licensed material, and if that doesn't belong to him, he should not properly be copying it.

I am happy to be convinced to the contrary, but on any view, what advice have others found to be prudent and sustainable? What rules do you think his peers are being taught? Thanks!

P.S. Though this may seem absurd, it is not even clear to me what I can say about his use of CDs that I myself own. Can one fairly say that a CD is mutually owned, so that all may copy it? If so, are CD collectives or clubs of many members tenable?
posted by Clyde Mnestra to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you take music from a performer today without paying for it, then what incentive does a performer have to create more like it?

If you like the music of that performer and want him to produce more of it, then you should buy his music rather than taking it for free. Then he has an incentive to make more of it for you to listen to tomorrow.

[I deliberately phrased it the way I did because I wanted to completely avoid questions of "stealing" and "ownership" and copyright. The idea is to make a case that it is in his own narrow self interest to spend the money to buy his own copy.]
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:36 PM on August 16, 2006

If you yourself own it and he's your kid, I'd say he can copy your CDs, especially if he's living in your house.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:41 PM on August 16, 2006

Assuming you're in the US, buying a cd or a song online means the right to listen to it on the device bought. Owning the physical object (the cd) does not grant you any additional rights. The RIAA has even claimed that copying songs to your ipod or backing up a cd is not fair use. Whether or not copying music for personal use falls under fair use, it is illegal to distribute music in any fashion to another party. The rights do "turn on ownership of the original licensed material" but the the creator of the material has these rights (not the 'owner' of a cd).

The above is a (possibly pedantic) legal interpretation. Realistically, your child will not be sued for making mix tapes or putting music on his ipod, something I believe reasonable people can agree is acceptable. Additionally, I don't believe there's been a single lawsuit targetting music downloading (they've all targetted "music sharing"), so even this can be done safely if care is used. Telling your son to do this would depend on your own political views.

For the actual phrasing of the advice, I'd personally follow Steve C. Den Baste's advice and also try to make your child think about the impact of his actions. If he copies an entire cd for a friend, that friend probably won't go out and buy the cd himself. If he copies one or two songs for someone who's never heard the band, he could be sparking interest.
posted by null terminated at 9:44 PM on August 16, 2006

This is a great question, and I'm very eager to see the answers (my daughter is only 5, but she's already purchased an album on iTunes when my wife and I weren't looking).

When I was a teen (pre-P2P days) my friends and I traded tapes & CDs like mad, copying (to cassette only), making mixes, trading, lending, etc. I believe at one point when I was "dubbing" a friend's CD my mother or father said something along the lines of, "You should know that is technically illegal," explained the whole "Home Taping Is Killing Music" thing, and then let me go about my business.

Of course, back then I could have copied all of the music all of my friends owned, and there was no chance the RIAA would bust down the door and arrest my Dad, so I guess it is a different set of circumstances today. Normally I would say teach your kid the law (to the best of your understanding -- maybe a teachable moment here on searching the Internet for reliable sources), and explain your view of the morality of the issue, and then trust them to make their own decision. That said, I would also make sure that you know exactly what they are doing on the computer, whether P2P, gaming, or chatting, but that's just a general parenting thing these days.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:47 PM on August 16, 2006

If the goal is to give an artist incentive to make more music, buying a CD - a $17 purchase that will probably result in the artist getting nothing in return (because they have to use what miniscule royalty they get from every CD sale to pay their record company back for the studio time, marketing of the record, payola to radio stations, etc., as explained wonderfully here by Nirvana producer Steve Albini) - is a very poor way to do it.

The $1-of-each-CD-goes-to-the-artist thing seems to be pretty widely known; what do you say to the kid if he responds with this?

Depending on how pre-teen your kid is, maybe now's a good time to do some research and actually talk with him or her about this, and explore the issues surrounding the recording industry, copyright, etc.? You know your son or daughter better than I do, so you're much better equipped to answer that for yourself, but this seems like it could be a great opportunity to spur his or her thinking about this.
posted by joshuaconner at 9:50 PM on August 16, 2006

I'm pro-copyright and not anti-RIAA, but I find something very disturbing about the way you talk about this stuff. Let your kid experiment with music - sharing/burning/whatever - and you should only step in if it gets out of hand (selling CDs, setting up a production line, etc).

I'd outline the legal issues, but this is totally not stuff you should be worrying about.
posted by cillit bang at 9:53 PM on August 16, 2006

The $1-of-each-CD-goes-to-the-artist thing seems to be pretty widely known

This is not the case with all bands and labels, and is not a good generalization. That Steve Albini article is old and doesn't apply to everyone.

That said, I think it's more ethically okay to download an album that you don't buy if you see the band in concert. And it's best to buy the CD from them there, anyway.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:06 PM on August 16, 2006

On second thought, I agree with cillit bang.
posted by joshuaconner at 10:10 PM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: I don't want to interrupt; these are all very helpful. But, briefly:

(1) I agree that both that artistic incentivization is one way to explain a norm to my son that otherwise would not make sense, but the incentives story is not self-evident, and seems in any event quite malleable -- I'd worry that leaving him with that as the guide might be a cop-out. Besides, I doubt that he or I are entitled to form an independent view of the incentives that ought be adopted. As I might respond to him, while it could be that the theft of a penny candy might ultimately redound to the shopkeeper's benefit, as she might be better served by building a market for legitimate sales by providing free samples, it isn't for us to make that choice.

(2) I think I'm sympathetic to cillit bang's response, if only because I sometimes find parental micro-management absurd. But this is a question that's been posed to me, asked (so far as I can tell) out of a desire to know what is right, albeit with a preference for a permissive answer. Is this still "very disturbing"? Could be, but it would be helpful to hear a little more about why -- I'm genuinely curious.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:17 PM on August 16, 2006

Also, it would depend on what country you are in.
Dont forget that the USA is pretty much at the end of the spectrum.
posted by Iax at 10:23 PM on August 16, 2006

I would say that the majority of internet users have pirated things for their own personal use knowingly or unknowingly. The copyright laws in the US are so out of step with the intent of the founding fathers. I can't think of a reason at all that copyright should extend past a person's death.

1. Pirating is a fact of this digital life. It's not going away.
2. If you are going to pirate examine your motives. Are you really going to just use it a few times, or are you just trying it out... (oh, and learn how to keep the RIAA off your ass)
3. If you continue to use pirated digital content, realize that you are taking food out of someones mouth and think about paying for it.
4. Explore other options. I am of the belief that in a community that produces a good, those goods (to the community) are free. So if he enjoys good games, encourage him to get in on a homebrew kind of community. Or electronic music. There are plenty of digital goods being given away freely all over the net. You just have to look.
posted by bigmusic at 10:36 PM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Hey son, if you copy that CD instead of buying it, what incentive does the performer have to create more like it?

Dad, that's Madonna. She's one of the richest women in the world. She has like four hundred and fifty million dollars in the bank! She could buy a Porsche every day from now until she dies and not run out of money. What's her motivation for making CDs NOW?

posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:38 PM on August 16, 2006 [3 favorites]

"[W]hat advice have others found to be prudent and sustainable?"

This is what I teach my children:

"Redistributing these files is illegal in some places, including where we live. Now that you know this, if you're going to do something, do it right. Here's EAC, here's LAME. -V0 is your friend. BitTorrent is a good thing, but there are tons of really terrible rips and re-encodes out there. Stick to Taiyo Yuden media, don't put K-Mart garbage in my burner, and never ask for money. Don't be a lamer."
posted by majick at 10:44 PM on August 16, 2006 [4 favorites]

Do whatever you want with music you own, change it to whatever format you like, break any copy protection that stops you from doing what you like with your music.
Same goes for the CDs you own. If you want to give him a copy to listen to in the car because you don't want your original scratched, go ahead. It's yours.

But wholesale copying of your friends collection, or splitting the cost of a CD between 3 friends and giving 3 of them burned copies is wrong.

As for what the other kids are being taught about this, I'd venture as a guess, Nothing.

You're doing the right thing by talking to your kid about this, it'll be more important in kid's lives than ours so give them the right moral grounding from the start.
posted by madajb at 12:42 AM on August 17, 2006

null terminated, please don't toe the RIAA party line. Ugh, this is a recent interpretation because the RIAA sees all the electronic devices each person owns and see dollar signs. Its the beginning of the age of paying for what you already own.

Fortunately, while the RIAA wants this to be put into law, AFAIK it has not been.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:20 AM on August 17, 2006

I think what I'd tell a kid would be:

"Don't use bittorrent, download from Usenet. Sample widely, find out what you like. Don't worry about copying and sharing music, that's free advertising. Don't share music online, however, because the RIAA is draconian. If you really need to, we'll figure out a way to do it untraceably.

"The RIAA itself steals far more from the artists than kids like you ever will. Depriving them of cash is like stealing from the Mafia. Don't worry about what they want. Find the music you like and we'll figure out how to support those artists, preferably without funding the RIAA leeches. We'll buy CDs if we can't figure out any other way to fund the artist."

"And your music sucks. Get off my lawn."

posted by Malor at 1:46 AM on August 17, 2006 [3 favorites]

[insert clever name here]: What I quoted was said in oral arguments to the Supreme Court, which means it's what the RIAA believes is the law. And, since they're the ones sending out the lawsuits, it basically is the law.
posted by null terminated at 4:45 AM on August 17, 2006

I'd say majick's right.

If you show your son how much work, skill and care can go into a really good sound recording, it'll give him a hell of a lot more respect for the music industry than it will if you just feed him a few lines of industry propaganda. So teach him to appreciate good music — and good sound quality, good production, and hell, a good live show if you're into that sort of thing.

People who really care about a scene will do what they can to support the scene. And learning that lesson will do your son much more good in the long run than merely learning to follow the letter of the law.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:19 AM on August 17, 2006

I really like what bigmusic (heh, I guess the RIAA could be called Big Music, like Big Tobacco) has said, especially the bit about examining your motives for piracy, and trying to find the good, free content that is all over the web these days.

Oh, and hilarious little one-act there, Ambrose.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:17 AM on August 17, 2006

Chances are he's only going to half-listen to you anyways, so make sure what little he hears counts:

  • Feel free to exchange a track or two with your friends, but don't go wholesale copying their entire collections, and don't let them do so with yours.
  • And for God's sake, use EAC with lame.exe --alt-preset standard and 160 kBit/s VBR, and write proper ID3 tags.

  • posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:20 AM on August 17, 2006

    I think that the RIAA copying-is-stealing "what's the incentive to make more" reasoning is lame and not likely to be impressive to a child. Kids a) have good BS detectors and b) don't have bills to pay, and therefore have a more abstract understanding of getting paid for work.

    I use intent as my guiding principle: Sharing is a good thing, and introduces us all the music that we wouldn't have otherwise heard. But when you find something through sharing music that you want, you should buy it for yourself.

    So, yes, other people can listen to my CDs at my house. Yes, I can bring CDs over to your house so that we can listen to them. Mix tapes are fair use. Making a copy of a CD for a friend is fine, but it should be considered a "trial copy" -- if they love it, they should buy their own copy and pass along the burned version to someone else who would dig it.
    posted by desuetude at 6:22 AM on August 17, 2006

    At some point, the relative obscurity of a band actually works against the p2p model. There have been plenty of CDs that I've actually bought because I couldn't find satisfactory versions on p2p services (and I'm fairly savvy).

    When has it been true that an unknown band exploded on p2p and was forced to break up because they weren't selling anything?
    posted by cowbellemoo at 6:28 AM on August 17, 2006

    Despite what the RIAA and others insist profit motivation and other visceral pleasures are not the only reason for the creation of music. Indeed I would argue that if no intellectual pleasures were derived from the creation of music, then it is no better than a pig in a nice tub of mud. There's all kinds of music created where the goal is not to maximize profit for the artists/record company. Thusly the profit motivation (why would they create music if they stopped getting rich?) is absurd. There are plenty of avenues for artists to make money, albeit not crazy MC Hammer money, but enough to where they might survive solely on the production of music.

    Then tell him how to use Usenet.
    posted by geoff. at 6:33 AM on August 17, 2006

    [insert clever name here]: What I quoted was said in oral arguments to the Supreme Court, which means it's what the RIAA believes is the law. And, since they're the ones sending out the lawsuits, it basically is the law.

    I've argued this on another thread and I'm not sure I can be bothered doing it again, but that EFF article is a bullshit extrapolation of a footnote in a largely unrelated case. What the lawyer actually said was along the lines of "Just because lots of people do something, that doesn't make it automatically legal", which I don't think anyone can argue with. At best he brought into question what the RIAA's opinion on personal copying is, but summarising that statement as "We think it's infringement" (as you did) is utterly ridiculous.

    (I can't dig up the RIAA's actual opinion, because Google is flooded with people misquoting and spinning this exact same footnote and crappy EFF article)
    posted by cillit bang at 7:30 AM on August 17, 2006

    "Kids, make sure our firewall is enabled before you open Shareaza. (Little Methy keeps disabling it when she goes to Neopets) We get hit with viruses every day ."

    "Kids, you can't send mp3s by email unless you disable the script blocker. But turn it back on when you're done."

    "Kids, we are the Robin Hoods of music. We steal from the rich and give to the needy. How will your friends ever know what good music is unless you school them? They won't be hearing it on the raido. Don't worry about conserving my blank CDs -- they are cheap. I buy them in 100-pks for a reason."
    posted by Methylviolet at 11:07 AM on August 17, 2006

    cillit bang: Here's the entire paragraph.

    Similarly, creating a back-up copy of a music CD is not a non-infringing use, for reasons similar to those the Register canvassed in detail in her 2003 determination that back-up copying of DVDs cannot be treated as noninfringing.47 2003 Rec. at 102-08. While we recognize that access controls may in some circumstances affect copying, the fact remains that there is no general exception to the reproduction right to allow back-up copying (except the limited exception in § 117 for computer programs)48 and thus no justification for allowing circumvention of access controls for this purpose.

    So, according to the RIAA, creating a backup copy of a music cd is not a non-infringing use which makes it an infringing use. Please explain how my summary of this statement was "utterly ridiculous". Unless by "utterly ridiculous" you mean "utterly correct", of course.
    posted by null terminated at 2:29 PM on August 17, 2006

    OK, I hadn't spotted that before. I'm trying to figure out why the EFF didn't quote that paragraph rather than the somewhat ambiguous footnote.

    The only thing I can think of is that it refers to making backups, not format-shifting. Format-shifting is a much bigger issue, and again, I don't know what the RIAA's opinion of it is.

    (and yes, I realise there's a big overlap, but they're still legally distinct)
    posted by cillit bang at 2:46 PM on August 17, 2006

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