- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

The Man, as Jack Black’s thwarted guitar hero from the forthcoming “School of Rock” might put it, has taken the music, and he wants to see us in court. The Man, in this case, is a record industry that has declared war on the Web sites that allow users to download music files from one another’s computers — and is filing suit against individual users who frequent the file-sharing sites.

The Man, aka the Recording Industry Association of America, figures that the number of people file-sharing tunes around the globe is 1 billion, up from 500 million in June 2002. Meanwhile, retail giant Tower Records shuttered a series of stores as it posted a loss of nearly $25 million in the quarter that ended in January. The music-store stalwart barely squawked when CD prices jumped to an obscene $18.98 list.

Nobody at Tower wanted to talk about its dismal performance: Three calls to company headquarters in Sacramento, Calif., were not returned.

There also was no word from the nation’s most prominent music retailer when the recording industry began flinging around lawsuits as if they were Mellencamp cutouts.



Nor is much heard from the anti-record-industry factions, although they are there.

“It’s just that the record industry is owned by some of the same groups that run the media,” notes John Perry Barlow, who is taking on the RIAA over file-sharing even though he personally stands to lose royalties from the practice.

He wrote a number of songs for the Grateful Dead from 1971 to 1995 and earns enough royalties that “if I lived simply, I wouldn’t have to do anything else.” Mr. Barlow also is co-founder of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), a self-styled “protector of digital rights” and friend of the outlaw file-sharer Web sites, which include Kazaa and Grokster.

Among the group’s current causes is helping you avoid getting sued by the RIAA for file sharing, and its Web site includes instructions for avoiding detection.

Mr. Barlow is puzzled by the lack of rebellion from musicians. “The only thing I can think is that musicians are at the mercy of their managers and lawyers,” Mr. Barlow says. “They are focused on music, not the intricacies of the information economy.”

Maybe, but didn’t Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich find time to talk to Congress about the masses skimming millions from his coffers? “Well, he is a drummer,” Mr. Barlow scoffs. Another thing: “Metallica are not very smart.”

Still, the band did manage to talk Congress into believing that file-sharing was stealing and, ultimately, into taking action to close Napster, that oasis of free music, for copyright infringement.

Many bands at one time were down with the sound rather than the cash and provided mp3s on their Web sites, free for the taking. Many still exist.

However, with the RIAA trying desperately to prevent downloads “that infringe on copyright law” — even trying to link music file-sharing to child porn — major labels have for the most part eliminated the free downloads in order to force people to plunk down major bucks for the overpriced product. The Dandy Warhols’ label, Capitol, for example, has commandeered the band’s Web site, from which entire EPs used to be available for downloading.

For now, the rogue downloading sites, Kazaa and Grokster included, are still tenaciously operating as the RIAA declares war on their followers.

One point Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president for business and legal affairs at RIAA, makes, though, is that there’s nothing to stop artists from delivering their own music for free on the Internet or anywhere else.

“Some Web sites are even authorized to distribute an artist’s music,” he says. “It is entirely the choice of the copyright holder.” He adds that while smaller sites that offer free downloads are against the law, “that is not the issue that everyone is talking about. And it is the larger networks that we are trying to address.”

The Internet is loaded up with sites that for now appear to be flying under the RIAA’s radar, including:

• Audiophilez.com. It can deliver anything from Dio to Dido up to and including a brilliant music mash of Insane Clown Posse over Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” which makes the pop tart sound wickedly appealing. You can look for artists and songs alphabetically, but files come and go, so grab it when you can.

• Epitonic.com: It provides the newest releases at top quality. Sparks, Pleasure Forever, DJ Krush, Dub Narcotic Sound System.

• Mp3raid.com. This is fat with new releases and geezer rock as well — Uriah Heep and Spiritualized hanging hand in hand. It doesn’t have everything, but neither does Tower.

Check the RIAA’s offshoot Web site, musicunited.org, if you are unclear about the laws governing music.

But know this: The music industry that was built and bent on rebellion has moved on, to a world of lawyers, writs and rules.

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