In an effort to pull the plug on illegal music and movie downloading on college campuses, members of a new nationwide student-led group are trying to convince many of their peers to stop their dishonest digital deeds.
Download Legal, recently founded by Brooklyn Burgess, a third-year law student at the University of Alabama, is a grassroots group aimed at organizing student voices against media piracy. It also seeks to educate students about the dangers of illegal file sharing.
Besides putting students at legal risk, illegal downloading hurts many small record labels and emerging artists, said Ted Oberwager, a senior at Georgetown University and one of the members of Download Legal.
Oberwager said his knowledge comes from first-hand experience, as he has worked in the music industry for an “underground” record company. These companies need more direct financial support from their small pool of buyers than do large corporations who enjoy more popularity.
“[The small labels] don’t have the resources to make up for the loss,” Oberwager said.
Besides the concern over business interests, illegal file sharing can spread viruses and pose other computer security problems, Burgess said. It also infringes on copyright and intellectual property laws, he said, hence its designation as “illegal” downloading.
Oberwager said he believes it is due to ignorance on the consumer’s part for not realizing the severity of the crime being committed when a user illegally downloads a song.
“Kids know it’s bad to walk into a music store and steal a CD, but they don’t equate that when it’s done online,” Burgess said.
Jasmine LeFever a UCSB first-year political science major, said she believes that as long as services for illegal downloading are available, people will take advantage of them. LeFever said she previously used LimeWire to download music, but no longer has the software.
“People don’t [download illegally] to spite people,” LeFever said. “They do it because it’s free.”
First-year mathematics major Amber Regan said she feels justified in downloading illegally, which she does via the iTunes-based file sharing program OurTunes, because without it she wouldn’t have been exposed to many of the bands of which she is now a fan.
“I wouldn’t go and buy a CD for $20, but if I can download two or three songs and get an idea of what the band’s like, I’d rather do that,” Regan said.
Regan said she thinks her attitude is probably pervasive among her peers.
“I don’t think it’s that people are uneducated about the issue, it’s that college students are cheap,” Regan said. “They’re not going to pay for something when they can get it for free.”
Burgess said Download Legal will spread its message by tabling at concerts, sponsoring concerts and organizing media campaigns.
Oberwager said the group’s approach differs dramatically from previous anti-piracy campaigns, such as those mounted by the music industry. Instead of threatening students with arrest, Oberwager said, Download Legal takes an educational approach aimed at changing the current socially accepted behavior.
“I don’t think that targeting college kids downloading in their rooms is the best way to go about [dealing with the issue],” Oberwager said. “I think there’s a more positive way to do it.”
David Murphy, a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and member of Download Legal, said the rise in illegal downloading may be caused by the multitude of options and the easy access to those options. However, while services like OurTunes and LimeWire are just a few examples of the many file sharing programs that can be used to obtain media illegally, several legal options also exist. Services such as www.cinemanow.com and www.movieflix.com for movies, and iTunes and Napster for music offer a safer, legal alternative, he said.
The members of Download Legal realize that trying to eradicate illegal downloading – especially among college students – is a daunting task, Murphy said, but they believe that taking small steps can make a difference.
“[Stopping illegal downloading] is a big challenge, so we’re taking it one person at a time,” Murphy said.
Though Download Legal was formed only recently, Oberwager said the group has received a good deal of positive feedback. Those interested in learning more about the group can sign up for Download Legal’s mailing list at their website, www.downloadlegal.org.