Downloading music? Then go to your room!

By Sujay Kumar

Remember that classic Beatles song, “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help! You know I need someone. HELP!”? Well, if the Recording Industry has its way, soon many people may be humming the tune.

Before you drop this newspaper and try to download that song into your iTunes library, you may want to think twice.

Last week, in a landmark case, a Minnesota woman was found guilty of illegally downloading music. Charged with copying or sharing 24 songs, the woman faces $222,000 in total charges. That’s $9,250 per song.

The woman was caught when the downloading activity of her Kazaa username, “tereastarr,” was traced back to her computer. Among the songs that helped nab the downloading pirate hiding behind the veil of a single mom were Reba McEntire’s “One Honest Heart,” Godsmack’s “Spiral,” and, fittingly, Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” Yes Gloria, this time it really did.

Illegal downloads are crashing into computers at a rate 10 times greater than that of digital sales, and according to the Institute for Policy Innovation are costing the U.S. economy an estimated $12.5 billion a year. To fight this, the Record Industry Association of America has filed 20,000 lawsuits in the past four years. The lawsuit can be settled out of court, but if you choose to take it to trial you could get hammered with a fine of up to $150,000 a song.

This year, 4,000 letters have been sent out to people suspected of piracy. Many of these delinquents share a lot in common with each other. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

Close your eyes. Picture an illegal music download junkie. What’s he wearing? Nothing special. Baggy pants, baseball cap on backwards, a slightly clever faded T-shirt that has a picture of a dinosaur and the text “Never forget.” He says something ordinary like, “Yo, dude, you download the latest Baha Men CD?” Now slowly open your eyes again. Who are you picturing? That annoying guy in lecture who never shuts up? Wrong. That was YOU, the quintessential college student. Surprised? Well shame on you.

Don’t buy it? Look at your music library. Chances are you probably didn’t. Six thousand, two-hundred and sixty-five songs? That’s quite a lot of beats, wouldn’t you say? Seventeen days worth of jams, actually. What pushed you to purchase those 53 ‘N Sync songs? Come to think of it, I wasn’t aware Paula Abdul had a Halloween Hits CD. And are those the motion picture soundtracks of “Love, Actually,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “From Justin to Kelly?”

Yeah, you’ve been exposed. Now unless you have the receipts for all those digital purchases, or the CDs that those songs came from, your pirating carcass is going to jail. Or at least you’ll be fined heavily. I’d suggest deleting all the music from your hard drive, marching to your room and spending some time thinking about what you’ve done until you’re ready to talk about your illegal activities and face the swift, hard hand of the law.

Now let’s be serious. Most people would rather go to jail than experience the horrible nightmare of losing their entire music library. Chances are that when you marched to your room, you downloaded an angry power ballad to express and illustrate your rebellion against the Recording Industry.

To download or not to download, that seems to be the question. Fortunately for you music pirates, the disparity between a crime that many commit and the excessive punishment that next to none of them receive makes your decision easy.

So try not to freak out, the chances of the Recording Industry swooping down and pinpointing you for a lawsuit are very slim. Instead, take this as a very stern warning that the moment you click to download, you could be slammed mercilessly with thousands of dollars worth of fines. At worst, you’ll have a killer playlist to listen to during the trial.