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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 14, 2003

Music file-sharer crackdown is spotlighting ethics issues

• Share music illegally? Get a clean slate

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

What's your take?

Whether it comes to downloading the Planet Smashers or the Smashing Pumpkins, this is a current ethical dilemma.

Parents and young people are wrestling with the ethics of downloading.

Is file-sharing right? Wrong? A gray area?

Tell us, what do you think about the music piracy debate?

E-mail us or call: 525-8035.

Please include your name (full name, please), age and a daytime phone number.

Lisette Blumhardt found a way to discuss the ethics of downloading music with teenagers.

The attorney, who lives in Kailua, has kids, teenagers more savvy about Grogster or KaZaA than she is; and her husband is the director of educational media at Honolulu Community College.

When Blumhardt talks about the issue with her youngest, 16-year old Mark, a junior at Saint Louis School, she brings up the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

"These are people making a living selling their intellectual property," she said. "They have a right to be paid for their work. If people are taking it for free, why should they do it? And if you were a musician, creator, author, how would YOU feel?"

Her husband, Jon, takes a more blunt approach when it comes to stopping illegal file-sharing, joking, "Chop their hands off and pull the plug!"

Many parents are likely checking out the family computers after 261 record industry lawsuits were lodged last week in an effort to curb file-sharing, including by minors.

Sylvia Torres of New York, whose 12-year-old daughter Brianna Lahara had more than 1,000 copyrighted music tracks on the family's computer to share with other downloaders, agreed

Tuesday to pay $2,000 to settle the suit a day after the case was filed, according to news reports.

"We understand now that file-sharing the music was illegal," Torres said in a statement issued by the Recording Industry Association of America. "You can be sure Brianna won't be doing it anymore."

The industry's serious about discouraging downloading. The RIAA began sending out 1,600 subpoenas to Internet service providers in June, demanding the identities of customers who illegally share copyrighted songs.

But will the latest crackdown convince Americans, teens and grownups alike, that downloading is wrong?

There's evidence that Internet music piracy is widespread. A study by NPD Group, which tracks customer trends, found that more than two out of three U.S. households with Internet access had a least one digital music file on their computer while more than half had at least 50 songs. And 8 percent said they had 1,000 or more songs.

"The problem with the Internet is, the information is touted as free, as if it's one big library," said Lisette Blumhardt. "People don't think of it as stealing one's intellectual property."

Blumhardt said it's difficult to make the concept clear, in an age where technology has made plagiarism so easy.

Deayonn Barquis has an idea that compromises between a ban on file-sharing and the no-limits, free listening that's going on: Set up downloaded music with a time-date on it. When someone downloads a song, they're able to listen to it for a short amount of time, but after the time-date expires, you have to buy it.

However, the 27-year-old IT systems manager who lives in Mililani said the recording industry is only reaping what it sowed.

"The original intentions (of downloading music) were to promote non-known artists," he said, adding that, "Once the Pandora's box opened it up, they don't like what they got."

• • •

Share music illegally? Get a clean slate

According to the Associated Press, the RIAA is offering an amnesty program for people who admit they illegally share music, promising not to sue them in exchange for their admission and pledge to delete the songs off their computers. The offer does not apply to people who already are targets of legal action.

However, some defense lawyers have objected to the amnesty provisions, warning that song publishers and other organizations not represented by the RIAA won't be constrained by the group's promise not to sue.

For information on the amnesty program, check RIAA's Web site: www.riaa.com, where the Clean Slate amnesty form is. (Participants are expected to fill out the form, have it notarized and send it in with a copy of a photo ID to protect themselves from future suits by RIAA.)