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For music consumers, the shift to the computer-file medium

For music consumers, the shift to the computer-file medium happened years ago. This is particularly true with demographics that have essentially come of age through the evolution of the personal computer, the internet and ecommerce.  Over the course of the early 21st century, “online buying was most popular among 25-34 year olds and least attractive to the 65+ seniors.

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” (Vargas, 1)  This same demographic is composed of individuals who, over more than half a decade of unrestrained music downloading access, have come to expect a number of opportunities.

Specifically, there is an immediacy to this access that transcends traditional music buying methods, with the click-and-download process bypassing the need to go to a store or wait for an online-ordered item to arrive in the mail.  Songs instantly appear on the consumer’s hard-drive and may subsequently be listened to and burnt to a Compact Disc.  With literally infinite peer-to-peer communities emerging constantly to improve the organization, presentation and reliability of such acquisition methods, users still have countless ways to find music for free.

Students  at the University of Maryland reflect this exact pattern, and have thus become part of a pattern which runs afoul of music industry needs and legal perceptions.  The proposal here will seek to resolve the impasse by researching the prospects for a partnership with legal music downloading services which will allow students to continue to download for free but under more lawful terms.

2. Introduction and Background

The University of Maryland, like all major universities and campuses across America, is faced with an interested and difficult challenge with regard to the issue of illegal music downloading.  It is a well-recognized fact that many students use the high-speed internet provided by the campus itself in order to use peer-to-peer trading programs that allow for the free downloading of pirating music, movies and other unauthorized digital items which are characterized as intellectual property.

The opportunity for students to engage in this activity represents a distinct conflict of interest for the university, which does not permit the use of its channels for the piracy of music, but which also supports the entitlement of individuals to use the computer technology at their disposal with relative freedom within the limitations of the law.  This proposal will call for a research investigation which effectively determines the best way for the university to improve the legal adherence of its students while simultaneously preserving the student body’s ability to use downloading services according to their desires.

The background history of this problem concerns the expansion of technological opportunities and a relative inability of music companies and campuses alike to remain abreast of resulting expectations amongst average music consumers such as those spotting college campuses. Even prior to the complicating arrival of internet technologies, the issue of preserving intellectual property has long been a morass of legal and philosophical entanglements for both the originators and the consumers of said property.

On the college campus and in the music industry, this issue takes particular precedence as we struggle today to find balanced ways to compensate artists, entertainers and the portals through which they are delivered to us while simultaneously serving our appetites as consumers who are not being treated well by music gatekeepers.  Bootlegging, a term used throughout history to describe all manner of counterfeiting and marketing of ill-gotten or illegal contraband, today almost automatically conjures up thoughts of the internet.

This new frontier for the exchange of intellectual properties has evolved into an abyss of piracy forums and file-sharing operations, as online discussion forums, weblogs and business reports on the subject, culled from the internet, will reveal in the resulting research project.  As we seek to devise an appropriate mode for study, we can note that there is a very clear sociological divide on how parties involved perceive the implications of this music downloading frontier.

For music retailers, who to this juncture have offered hard-copy packages of music at ever-growing industry controlled rates and in the medium defined by current industry standards, the sudden transition to a setting where this content could be acquired for free and at a bypass of conventional media and gate-keeping channels was a shocking one for which most were wholly unprepared.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the independent ability for users to develop digital exchange technology and to compile digitally stored data such as that available on purchased compact discs represented a new and desirable means of obtaining music.

In part a direct product of the evolution of information technologies and in part a natural response to a music industry where output was increasingly over-priced and diminishing in artistic quality, consumers have begun not only to expect but to actively claim a new means to acquiring music.  The new digital medium, which compresses songs into computer files called MP3s, has become the commonly accepted medium for music possession amongst consumers.  In contrast, the industry is struggling only now to catch up.  The proposal here will seek to devise a university approach that inherently acknowledges this gap, and attempts to play a mediating role in bringing only presently emerging paid file-sharing programs into contact with student populations.

Key terms which will be considered in the proposal are those of ‘file-sharing,’ ‘intellectual property,’ and ‘online piracy.’

3. Proposed Program or Plan of Work

In the current online file-sharing context, everyday university students have essentially become bootleggers, according to legal research and assertion by both the music industry and the United States Congress.  These are sources which appear to favor the music industry institutions, but in actuality, take a narrow perspective that is damaging to compromise for all parties.  The program proposed here will be informed by a desire to overcome this hindrance to cooperation through a carefully constructed mediation whereby the university determines the best possible way to initiate an ability for students to continue to download music for free without sacrificing a relationship to industry and law.

Namely, this process of information gathering and research examination will require a consultation with the music industry in particular.   The music trade, represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has insisted that downloading communities are costing the industry millions of dollars in declining sales.  Since the inception of the Napster online music swapping forum in popular culture, there is a broad awareness and exploitation of new and limitless internet resources for the acquisition of free music, with millions of American students logging on everyday to take part in the newly proliferated field of bootlegging.

If one is to take the music industry as a case study of the changing nature of commerce with the integration of internet technology, there may be evidence to suggest that the retail approaches traditionally taken by many industries may be subject to extinction.  This is a fact that informs the focus of the study on the best way to court involvement of many music industry players to participate in campus programs designed to streamline downloading opportunities for students.

Data gathering will be conducted through a close consultation with such pay sites as Rhapsody and iTunes, which offer users the opportunity to pay either subscription fees or monthly charges.  The University will investigate the potential for partnership with such services, making one or multiple downloading sites accessible to students as a part of the university enrollment package.

The research process will therefore be structured around a correlation between the apparent downloading practices of students, which can be considered by way of a thorough literature review on current university piracy patterns, and the various terms upon which music industry players are willing to participate in programs which increase user access across university settings.  One expected challenge in this research process is the likelihood that gatekeeper based file downloading programs will not offer a sufficient alternative to many students who already enjoy the benefits of peer to peer trading.  This is an issue which inclines us to enter the proposal with an intent to evaluate and promote the distinct benefits of legal downloading where both options are available to individuals at no cost.

4. Qualifications and Experience

The process of developing this experimental research process will primarily be based upon the dispatching of university personnel to effectively navigate the marketing aspects which are likely to take a center stage in the resolution of mutually beneficial programs for industry players and students.  Likewise, one who is familiar with the subject of student behaviors in this context will be dispatched to conduct the literature reviewer on habituation.

5. Budget

The cost of the process will be relatively modest, with major resources being limited to those required to conduct research on present behaviors.  It is the proposed ambition here that partnership with many of these services will be directly based upon the presence of agreed-upon sponsorship arrangements in which students are granted unfettered access to programs in exchange for the university’s promotion of service brand names.  Thus, the cost should be no greater than an estimated $10,000 required for the time and personnel used to conduct basic research.

6. Appendices

The task schedule will be centered on the start of a new fall semester, with the summer months employed to gain the partnerships needed to implement a trial program for incoming students.

Bibliography:

Borland, John.  (April 9, 2003).  Music Industry:  Piracy is choking sales.  CNET News. Online at <https://gen.xyz/?aid=9998>.

Garrity, Brian.  (2004).  MP3 Blog sites cause concern.  Billboard Magazine.

 McClintock, Pamela.  (March 14, 2004)  Copyright Piracy Draws Anti-Terror Scrutiny.  Washington Variety.

Timms, Dominic.  (July 9, 2004).  Online piracy dogs movie industry.  The Guardian.

Vargas, Melody.  (2005).  Cyberspace Vs. Parking Mall Space.  About the Retail  Industry.  Online at             <https://www.thebalance.com/retail-industry-4073977>.