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Dear Petey

A reader from New Jersey asks:

Is limewire legal? I heard on the news that the recording companies are going after folks for downloading songs that don’t have documentation, such as ordered thru iTunes. $750 per song.

You should read my blog! :) Sharing != Stealing

Here’s the deal: Downloading is not illegal, even though the record companies would like you to believe it is. (Think about it: if downloading copyrighted material was illegal, you would not be able to go to most of the websites in the world. Nearly every web site is copyrighted, but you can’t read it without downloading that copyrighted information into your computer!)

What is illegal is making songs that you bought (which are licensed to you for your personal use) or songs that you stole (which you have no right to at all), available for downloading. That is the same as making copies of a movie or a book — even if you are giving them away, you are infringing on the owner’s “copy” right. That’s the law today. The record companies would like you to believe that it is downloading that is illegal, because when you download a song for free, they lose money. But that is not what is illegal under current law. The only people they have successfully sued are people who are “publishers”, who are making huge numbers of songs available for downloading by others.

So, Limewire (et al.) are not strictly illegal. But if you operate Limewire in its default mode, it automatically shares all the songs that you have downloaded. That’s what could get you into trouble. You can turn that sharing off, and not get into trouble; but then you become a “leech” in the Limewire community, and most people won’t share with you any more.

The simplest solution: Tell your kids to use iTunes or some equivalent legal service for purchasing their military-industrial complex endorsed pop pap. That is legal, and the songs can be shared legally on up to 5 computers, and you won’t get in trouble. Although you will have very poor taste in music.

There are lots and lots of legal downloads out there, although not of the current “Top 10”. Many of the newer bands put a lot of their concerts up for download for free. Lots of bands put up singles for free on their own web site. iTunes has a free download of the week. Salon has a “Daily Download” where they review new bands and always give one free sample. And if you want to turn your kids into “Dead Heads”, every concert the Grateful Dead ever did is available on line for free.

So, you shouldn’t have to use Limewire to build up your music collection.

[I admit that when I have a single song that I want, and it is not available as a legal download, I do fire up Limewire and look for it there. I try to get it legally first, but if the copyright holder thinks they are going to force me into buying an 18-dollar CD for one song, they are deluding themselves.]

Oh, one other reason not to use Limewire: Several of the record companies routinely “poison” Limewire by putting out files with titles that match the most popular songs. But these files are not songs at all. They are sometimes just warnings (like Madonna screeching “Don’t steal my f*cking music!” over and over), sometimes they are viruses that report back to the record company on your activity, and sometimes they are pornography with a handy web link to suck you into a porno web site… Not always, but all of these things have been reported.

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