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Let’s face it, downloading music, videos, and tv-shows is risky. On the one hand, you get free stuff at no real cost to the millionaire executives who market artists’ work. On the other hand, those same executives are quickly learning that a threatening email to a college kid will yield a couple thousand bucks. It’s already happening across the country and on our campus. Aside from the personal financial risk, the ethical dilemma is clear: Should I take something without paying and make a statement about corrupt industry, or pay a few bucks for limited content (you can't burn the songs more than a few times, for example). Illegal downloading on a collective scale makes a statement, but is it worth making?
Universities and their network administrators are caught up in the ethical and legal mess originating from copyright infringement law suits. Current law requires universities to provide the IP addresses of students accused of downloading illegal materials. The process of finding the student and relaying information takes a substantial amount of university resources: time and money.
Student groups have arisen at campuses around the country to protest the recording industry for unfairly targeting college students. They feel that the problem of illegal downloading is a far wider, social phenomenon. Recording industry lawyers seem to know that college students have a lot to lose from litigation and are relatively better-off than many illegal-downloaders. They also know that anxious universities are hesitant to get legally involved lest federal grants be revoked as recording industry lawyers point the cannons at them.
But while laws are slowly applying themselves to the new hi-tech world, fundamental questions are starting to emerge regarding copyright law as a whole. To what degree is copyright protection still desirable? Some recording artists like Radiohead are taking a definitive stance by offering free digital downloads of their music on their website; they ask that users donate as much as they feel is fair. Does a new environment of entertainment demand a radical change in laws? What exactly are the ethics of downloading music?
Beyond copyright law and litigation, changes in entertainment patterns are evolving towards user demanded and created content. Advances in cameras and easy-to-use editing software have allowed the average Joe with five hundred bucks to create home-movies showcasing talents, hobbies, or artistic visions (or the lack of all three). On YouTube, individual users can distribute their video to millions of users all over the world; Internet sensations, like the Star Wars kid, have been sent into the mainstream with the help of democratizing websites like YouTube. The democratization of entertainment in terms of production and consumption is altering the entertainment landscape.
The changing nature of entertainment equipment allows anyone to download and play movies or music in their house without even standing up. The lack of public interaction in this new entertainment has added to a climate riddled with antisocial tendencies and the prevalence of pornography. The creation and distribution of sexually explicit and often-violent material is enhanced by a technology that allows users to make their own content and share it with the world. No one is in charge. Everyone knows that Paris Hilton’s sex-tape, available for download all over the Internet, catapulted the talent-less heiress to stardom. Has the Internet allowed people to entertain themselves without any accountability or standards?
More radical than easy-to-get, easy-to-make content, virtual worlds like SecondLife are changing entertainment at a whole new level. Through creating avatars, or digital characters, people are entertaining themselves and living in a purely virtual world. Completing mundane tasks normally done in real life in a virtual one has become a new form of entertainment worth big bucks.
The Cydent site was supported in part by a grant from the Santa Clara University Technology Steering Committee. It was the Hackworth Fellowship project of Santa Clara University senior Christopher Foster.