Free, But Not Worth the Price


It’s no secret that most college students download music illegally. Colleges try to make it more difficult by blocking various sites and downloading methods, but, despite what you might have heard, young people can be resourceful.

Curry College, for example, blocks all file-sharing protocols from its Internet network. But it’s laughable to think that actually stops students.

There are a number of YouTube converter sites, which allow users to turn a YouTube video into an MP3 file. Since most songs are posted on YouTube in some format (music videos, videos with lyrics, fan-made videos, etc.), it is easy to simply get any song you want from YouTube. The audio quality isn’t great, but it’s hard to complain.

The RIAA wants to scare you into buying music legally. // PHOTO BY //

The RIAA wants to scare you into buying music legally. // PHOTO FROM //

What most people do not realize, or perhaps choose to ignore, however, are the potential repercussions for this seemingly harmless and simple method of obtaining music.

A few years ago, a former Boston University student was sued for downloading a number of songs illegally. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued the student for $22,500 per song. That’s close to a full semester’s tuition at a private school like BU or Curry, all for downloading a single three- or four-minute song. Since he had downloaded 30 songs, his fine was $675,000. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that verdict last year.

To me, this was a ludicrous and heavy-handed attempt by record companies to make up for the profits they are losing. But regardless of how we may feel about the penalties, they are real. While only a couple individuals have gone to trial for downloading music illegally, there have been plenty of settlements for smaller, but still absurd, amounts. The BU graduate was offered a $5,000 settlement, but declined.

Is this going to happen to you? Probably not. The RIAA is (hopefully) too busy to find and sue every perpetrator of illegal downloading. But in light of recent events, perhaps it would be wise to find new sources of music.

There are several free or cheap options for listening to, but not downloading, music. Spotify has become huge over the past year, and has a large selection of songs. Moreover, it costs no money whatsoever. Rhapsody is a subscription-based service, but also offers a great selection to choose from. Pandora Internet Radio allows you to select a genre of music, album, artist, or song, and creates a playlist of similar songs for you to listen to.

While it is certainly tempting and seemingly reasonable to download music for free, the potential consequences greatly outweigh the risks. If you want your music to be free, turn on the radio, try one of the aforementioned programs, or just buy songs from iTunes. Paying $1.29 per song is definitely more reasonable than $22,500.

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