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unfortunately not a distinction the courts have been interested in. ;)

Sean Captain

Good point about "stealing." I think what you refer to is more like "borrowing," and that seems perfectly legit. Where I mentioned "stealing" it was in the context of permanently acquiring the music, not of sampling it to see if it's worth buying.


A few additional points:

1. If you're ripping to MP3, use the LAME codec. On the PC side, most of the popular ripping software (eg., CD-EX) has LAME support built in. Users of iTunes on the Mac can download the iTunes-LAME plugin from BlackTree (www.blacktree.com); it works side-by-side with iTunes and is simple to use. It takes longer to rip a CD to LAME MP3, but the sound quality is noticeably better at every bit rate.

2. While I would never buy DRM-protected music as long as non-DRM-protected music (ie, CDs) is still available, I might pony up for a subscription service like Rhapsody or Napster as a way to hear a release before buying it on CD. However, the subscription services out there do not offer music from the artists I want to hear. For me, Usenet is a far better subscription model: I can pay $12 a month to a news service and find and hear the artists and albums I'm interested in; if I like what I hear, I buy it on CD.

3. The previous point suggests another: The debate around "stealing" music is too narrow. In the scenario I just described, I "stole" music in order to hear it before buying it. Yet, "stealing" that music also led to a sale that would not have occurred had the "theft" not taken place. Put another way: Band X has a new CD out. I read a review of Band X's CD on WeLoveMusic.com and think I might like Band X. I can either spend around $15 (anybody paying $20 for a CD is shopping at the wrong places) and hope that WeLoveMusic.com's reviewer was accurate, or I can download the CD from Usenet and hear for myself. If I don't like it, I delete it and move on. If I do like it, I either order the CD online or (more likely) buy it from a local store. Either way, an instance of "stealing" music has resulted in a sale of Band X's CD that would probably not have occurred otherwise. Before you think this sort of thing is unlikely, the scenario plays itself out on a weekly basis with me and many people I know. I buy between one and five CDs a week -- CDs I would not otherwise buy -- as a direct result of having heard the music first on Usenet (or through a small file-sharing group I participate in).

4. Lossless audio formats: Some online music stores are starting to sell music files encoded in CD-quality file types like FLAC (a limited subset of Bleep.com's offerings are in FLAC) and Lossless WMA (the new MusicGiants.com service). I hope this trend continues, as I won't pay for compressed music when that music is available in uncompressed form on CD. Probably it will as large-volume storage becomes cheaper and broadband network speeds increase (lossless audio files are larger and take longer to download). Unfortunately, the big music services are likely to sell proprietary lossless file types like Apple Lossless or Lossless WMA (Microsoft's version), which, as Sean points out, locks the user into a particular platform (be it a Mac and an iPod, or a Windows PC and, well, some other player) indefinitely. My hope is that individual labels begin selling FLACs or files encoded in some other non-proprietary lossless format (WavPack, Monkey's Audio, etc. -- there are plenty out there). This is likely to be an indie-music phenomenon; I don't see the major labels doing this without a fundamental about-face in its attitude toward music consumers.

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