Letter: Listen up, iTunes

(U-WIRE) MEDFORD, Mass. – The music market, for the last several years, has exhibited a severe inefficiency. Illegal downloading of songs has become second nature to people of all ages, but particularly for students as Internet technology has advanced and diffused throughout American culture.

Record producers are now trying to plug their leaky consumer base by intimidation, through apparently random lawsuits against a small number of illegal downloaders.

Unquestionably, the recording industry holds the moral high ground. It is impossible to argue that illegally downloading music is not stealing. But in order to come to an equitable and effective solution to the problem now facing record producers, and to return the music market to a sane and healthy state, the morality of the situation must be ignored in favor or utility.

In the past music consumers generally behaved as oil or automobile consumers did. They bought records, and later tapes and CDs, even though the prices were high relative to production costs. This changed in the mid-1990s, with the rise and increased popularity of the Internet. The effect was similar to what would happen if oil suddenly became available illegally through a very common household appliance, such as a toaster oven. The music market started leaking consumers and the industry started losing money.

The response of the record industry was to become outraged and demand that people stop stealing its product. This is fair, but ineffective. Until the record industry decides that suing the majority of illegal downloaders is more important than not spending all its money on lawyers, people will still download illegally. The trick is to minimize consumers’ deviant behavior by decreasing their interest in stealing music.

The war can be fought on two fronts. First, the RIAA’s lawsuits should be concentrated on the most blatant violators.

The second front in the war on illegal downloading should be fought by the RIAA at home. Record producers need to increase consumers’ interest in buying music legally. This means either adding features that are unavailable illegally, or simply lowering prices to the point at which a majority of consumers will no longer risk prosecution. Innovative online applications such as iTunes can play a large role on this front, but they must be willing to drastically lower prices and offer features that legitimately impress the average consumer into paying for their product.

While any solution to the illegal downloading problem will be incomplete and complicated, a successful strategy will not include small-scale, random lawsuits and an overpriced product. Innovation, proper legal aim and a willingness to accept a somewhat lower profit margin will be central to restoring American musical morality.

Staff Editorial

Tufts Daily (Tufts U.)