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THE MORNING BUZZ: File Trading Is Like Fair Use to Many

14 Oct, 2002 By: Stephanie Prange

Recently, one of the local progressive rock stations in the Los Angeles area, KROQ, interviewed a lawyer who represented artists in their case against Napster. Likened jokingly to Darth Vader and other nefarious characters by the hosts, the attorney defended his court action against a sea of file-trading aficionados that included not only listeners who called in, but one of the show hosts as well. Mind you, this is the same station that exhorts listeners in CD give-away promotions to "win it before you can steal it."

What increasingly became clear in listening to the interview is that many young listeners consider file-trading fair use. That's the fancy legal term that much of this business is based on. It's also what allows viewers to record shows off television and make mix music tapes and CDs for themselves.

While the attorney only half-jokingly called listeners "thieves" and "file-stealers," kids who file trade don't think they are anything of the sort. Many made the argument that what they are doing doesn't affect CD sales at all - that, in fact, they buy more CDs because file-trading has piqued their interest in new music. They blamed the record labels and their overpriced, lousy product for the slowdown in audio sales. They also noted that the music companies have been slow to offer a pay alternative to free file-trading. The attorney rather eloquently rebutted that it's hard to compete with free.

Whether or not any of this is true is somewhat beside my point. What is interesting to me is the perception among many is that file-trading is not stealing. They consider it harmless, and several studies have in fact backed that up, finding that file-trading has minimal, no effect or even a positive effect on music buying habits. File-trading, to them, is like taping a show off television or making a mix tape. To them, it's fair use.

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