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"With most paradigm shifts, it's good news and bad news," Garland says. "On the one hand, the historical model really sort of forces people to try all your material. You bought the CD and said, 'Hey, there's a lot of great stuff on here.' And you grow familiar with the collection of work. The artists are saying, 'Wow, what happens in a world where people aren't forced to listen to the rest of my stuff? That's a really scary prospect.'"
But there's another way of looking at downloading, Garland says. "Now there's a venue in place for people to try and sample more of your material with little or no out-of-pocket cost. I do believe that people are discovering artists online." Artists with no one break-out hit then, but with a consistent quality of songs, could see album sales helped by downloading.
Garland believes the death of the album format has been exaggerated. "There are some types of artist -- I'm thinking of those that have a sound and a culture associated with what they do -- that don't need to worry about the death of the album because there's always a segment of the marketplace that's dying to hear something they've recorded."
The music business, Garland says, fears the loss of control that downloading brings. But whatever the outcome of its litigious kick, it cannot fight the future. "We're entering an era where the consumer is going to enjoy a lot more control than what he has enjoyed."
Of course, the consumer already enjoys plenty of control, thanks to Kazaa. And as the RIAA cracks down on users, the downloading community is simply pulling up stakes and finding somewhere else to go.
Nick works in information technology at a company he won't disclose, in a sterile office park north of Atlanta. Nick is in his early 20s, but in the accelerated evolution of file-sharing, he is one of the pioneers. He's been downloading music off the Internet since the mid-1990s, back when connection rates were measured in bauds and Napster was just a glint in founder Shawn Fanning's eye.
As a kid, Nick's first computer was a Commodore Vic 20. From there, he graduated to a Tandy 2000. Today his setup at home includes six hard drives, thousands of dollars worth of equipment and, of course, a DSL connection. At work, he's even more plugged in, thanks to a wireless modem that lets him download from his laptop anywhere in the building.
Which is what he's doing now, as he unsnaps his Dell laptop at a cafe booth a few floors down from his office. Nick figures his various hard drives contain about 500 gigabytes of downloaded material. Most of that space is taken up with movies, but he also has video games, pirated software and, of course, music. About 1,200 CDs' worth. "I haven't bought a CD in over two years," he says.
As he scrolls through his collection, it's evident Nick has more stuff here than he could ever really listen to or watch once, much less savor and enjoy. For Nick, and for those like him, it's not about the music. At least not entirely. "It's like a collector's impulse," says Fred von Lohmann, attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is kind of an ACLU for the digital age. "They just want 50,000 files."
Nick wouldn't disagree. But it's more than that to him. To him, acquiring for free that which others pay for is a rush. Once, he downloaded a pirated copy of Microsoft's Windows 2000 Datacenter, an operating system designed to run a business' computer network. It can retail for $30,000. Technically yes, he stole it. But listen to his argument: "If you were never going to buy it, are you really stealing it?"
A morally bankrupt position, perhaps, but an oddly compelling one. In truth, illegal downloading isn't really stealing in the traditional sense, any more than sneaking into a concert at Chastain is stealing. Sure, if everyone did it, there'd be chaos and anarchy, and our artistic landscape would change irrevocably.
OK, maybe it is stealing. But Nick isn't apologizing.
"By downloading, I live a better lifestyle. I can buy a nicer car, pay the rent, take my girlfriend out."
As Nick talks, he conducts a virtual tour of the treasures awaiting a patient and persistent downloader. First off is Kazaa. Its massive popularity means it arguably has more songs than any other file-sharing network. Yet with the RIAA cracking down, what's a Kazaa'er to do?
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