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Are You a Pirate? Teens Debate the Ethics of Illegally Downloading Music Files.

February 27, 2008

MP3 players and iPods have become some of, if not the most, popular tech gadgets for teens to own.

With this booming popularity comes the dilemma of whether to pay for music that can be downloaded through programs such as iTunes, or to “illegally” download it from P2P (peer-to-peer) programs such as Limewire and Kazaa.

Steven Koll, a Cave Spring High School sophomore, buys his music from iTunes. “I choose to pay for the music so that the artists get some recognition for their work,” he said. “Otherwise, good artists may stop producing CDs.”

Koll estimates that he’s bought about 500 songs for his iPod.

Abby Broughton, a Hidden Valley High School freshman, said downloading legally is a nonissue.

“My parents pay for my music because they would rather me not do it illegally,” she said. “So it’s never been a choice for me.”

Yet Daniel Fundakowski, an IT tech at Hidden Valley, said he sees teens illegally downloading music all the time on laptops issued to students by Roanoke County Public Schools.

“Everyone likes music,” he said. “And why pay for it when you can get it for free?”

While he understands the reasons why some teens illegally download, he said anyone caught with illegal music on his school-issued laptop faces consequences. However, he said, the school system is not responsible for turning students in to the police.

Many teens agree that they don’t think about the consequences when illegally downloading music.

Daniel Arsura, a Hidden Valley freshman, never thought he would get caught with illegal music. But one day, his mom got an e-mail from his Internet provider.

“They said that they didn’t appreciate me downloading songs,” he said. “They threatened that if I didn’t delete Limewire, then they would shut down our Internet.”

It was enough, Daniel said, to learn his lesson. Now he pays for his music on iTunes.

Others feel its worth the risk to download illegally, saying that paying 99 cents for each song adds up.

“I never really feel guilty by downloading music without paying for it,” said Drew Hudson, a Cave Spring freshman. “If the artists were really in it for the music, they wouldn’t care whether we’re paying for their music or not.”

Teens said one disadvantage to iTunes is its limited database of artists and songs. Limewire, on the other hand, has a larger database and variety of material, because no one regulates what material goes on the site.

In fact, artists are losing money by having their music downloaded. The Recording Industry Association of America estimates that sales have dropped globally by 20 percent since 1999 because of illegal file-sharing networks and downloading.

As a result, the RIAA has filed lawsuits against many everyday people, from teenagers to grandparents to professors, for illegally downloading music. “When you go online and download a song,” the RIAA’s Web site states, “you are stealing.”

Local solo artist Cliff Wright said when he was in high school, the downloading craze had just begun.

“CD burners were brand new,” he said. “Napster was just becoming big, Morpheus soon followed it, and I definitely downloaded music.”

He said he stopped downloading after realizing how much work it takes to make it in the industry.

For amateurs and up-and-coming artists, the Internet can be your best friend or your enemy.

Artists such as Colbie Caillat, Sarah Bareilles and One Republic became as popular as they are now through their MySpace pages.

“I myself have lost probably around $3,000 in the past year from people downloading my music,” Wright said .

His advice: Check out your favorite bands’ MySpace page instead of downloading.

But many teenagers, and even some musicians, think otherwise about downloading. A survey done by USA Weekend Magazine showed that 54 percent of teenagers don’t think there’s anything wrong with illegally downloading music. Others said it cheats the artist, but they do it anyway.

Some musicians even support downloading. When English rock band Radiohead released “In Rainbows” in October, the album was only available on the band’s Web site. Radiohead didn’t charge for the album, but instead encouraged people to donate money. Band members said they suspect they made more money by releasing the album online and not through a recording label because 100 percent of profits went directly to the band.

So whether you think paying 99 cents for a song is crazy, or you regularly buy hundreds of songs off iTunes, remember: There may be more to downloading that one song than you think.