Downloads affect local music sales

Matt Hawkins and Matt Hawkins

The number of people who illegally download music continues to increase despite the record companies attempt to sue those who share large amounts of music files on the Internet.

According to the NPD Group, the file sharing of music using peer-to-peer (P2P) programs such as KaZaA, and Win MX began increasing in October 2003 and continues to remain consistent. Since September 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed over 900 lawsuits of copyright infringement against file sharers across the country, in some cases for as much as $150,000 per song, although hundreds of these suits were settled outside of court for much less.

The lawsuits, which were intended to scare away illegal downloaders and help rejuvenate record sales, have apparently done just the opposite. As a result, record sales have seen an overall decrease in revenue over the past year.

This is not a new trend, however. Ever since the beginning of the downloading era in 1999 there has been a steady decrease in sales. According to the RIAA, from 1999-2002 the music industry has seen its sales drop 11 percent. Local record stores have seen similar results as well.

Andrea Hoffman, assistant manager of Sam Goody in the Woodland Towne Centre, said the majority of what sells in their store are DVD’s rather than CD’s.

“CD sales have been rather slow,” Hoffman said. “This is especially true in the summer months when most of the (BGSU) students go home.”

Greg Halamay, president of Finders Records and Tapes in Bowling Green, said his store has remained steady in sales lately, but is down from two or three years ago. He said the urban/rap/hip-hop genre is the strongest hit with illegal downloading since “bootlegging is more rampant in that genre than in any other.”

But being a part of the record industry himself, Halamay is frustrated with the general public’s belief that it is not illegal to download. He believes too many deserving artists have been cheated by people who steal songs off the Internet.

“Just because the Internet provides the ability for people to download doesn’t make it something that is really justified in a legal sense,” Halamay said. “OK fine, you can download something for free and that might be a good thing for your pocketbook, but you’re also cheating someone out there who essentially created the music. If you take away (artist’s) income, do you think they’re going to be creating any more music? People just need to put themselves in the artist’s shoes.”

Halamay also thinks people who download should be punished because there are copyright laws that protect individuals from plagiarism. He said these copyright laws should be held the same whether it is for an author, writer, movie producer or songwriter.

“I back copyright laws; they are there for a purpose,” he said. “If you invented something, whether it be the paperclip, the ballpoint pen, or a new song that’s on the radio, you are entitled to copyright protection.”

Jim Cummer, owner of Madhatter Music in Bowling Green, has a different view. He said that its “asinine” for record companies to sue people for downloading music. While Cummer has also seen his business decrease slightly this year, he stands on the side of whoever is downloading music before they buy a CD.

“I grew up when, if you had a record and wanted to share it with someone, you made a tape,” Cummer said. “You’d turn them on to it and they would then go out and buy the album. It’s the same thing now, except file sharing is faster and there’s no loss of quality.”

Cummer said it is wrong for people to download full albums and sell them to friends, but for those who are curious about a band and can not wait for an upcoming album, they should have the right to preview it first before purchasing it.

One approach that Cummer believes would help boost the music industry sales is to make modern techniques more prevalent in record stores, creating the ability to download particular songs for a fraction of the CD cost.

“(Customers) don’t want to pay $20 for something they can get for free,” Cummer said. “The business of a record store making an easy $3 or $4 is over. Anybody who says that it isn’t is sniffing glue. Cummer also noted that new marketing techniques used by record companies, including bonus and limited editions with more modern CD’s, may help regain some interest among consumers. Still, it does not change the price of that particular CD, and in most cases, the bonus and limited edition CD’s cost more than the CD itself. He said the solution would be for record companies to drop their CD prices in half.

Until record companies “wake up” and drop their suggested retail prices in half, Cummer thinks downloading will continue to increase and record companies will continue to lose money.

“Right now, file sharing is as robust as ever,” he said. “I use Win MX myself, and it’s always fat with files. It will absolutely continue. It’s like e-mail; it’s forever now.”