Going Legit with Music: My Story
It's confession time: I haven't always had a completely legitimate music collection. I know, I know, shocking but true. Like many people back in the '90s, I got hooked on the Napster phenominon - I love music, and I love collecting, so those two things mean that I aquired music at a fast rate. When you combine those two things with a broadband connection, you end up with a whole lot of downloads. I used Napster, Kazza, Morpheus, and Limewire to track down singles I liked off the radio. In my mind I justifued it as time-shifting radio singles. I also took it a step further though - I connected with people that had private FTP servers full of complete albums. I somehow slipped into a pack-rat mentality, where I was downloading albums of music that I had no interest in listening to (Dream Theater anyone?) for the sole purpose of having the music "just in case" I needed it for some reason. Like a friend coming over and saying "Man, I've just gotta' hear some Dream Theater!".
I've seen people who are really into warez follow the same pattern - they amass gigabytes of software they don't use, but keep it on the off chance that they might want to use it someday. I am a Christian, and consider myself a moral person, but somehow I had convinced myself that as long as I kept buying CDs, it didn't matter that I was downloading all this music. I'm admitting that I was wrong: no one should have downloaded music they didn't purchase.
I grew older, and when Napster got shut down in 2000 it was a bit of a wake up call. I kept buying CDs, and only fired up Limewire when I needed a certain song. Back then, there were no online music services available to me in Canada. Slowly but surely, that changed, and I started to buy singles from Puretracks. But I still had all those MP3s I had downloaded in previous years. I wasn't sharing them online with anyone, but I still kept them. In fact, they were a bit of an annoyance because when I did a random playlist of all my music, I'd get music I had no desire to listen to. So I moved them into a folder outside my main music folder, again, just in case I needed that music.
I've always been highly opposed to warez (illegal software), and even DVD ripping if you don't own the DVD, but it wasn't until I encountered a guy in 2005 that took IP theft to a whole new level that I got the moral wakeup call. In addition to having the usual thousands of songs he didn't own from peer to peer networks, he also had a mod-chipped Xbox that allowed him to play game ROM images, watch Divx movies, etc. He had hundreds of Xbox games he didn't own. He had hundreds of movies and TV shows downloaded that he didn't own. I was quite upset by his total lack of regard for the intellectual property of others, but I realized I was a hypocrite by having music that I hadn't paid for. Conviction set in.
So my next step was to delete every song I didn't own. Nuke it all! I was happy to find out that only about 20% of my collection was music I didn't own, but that was 20% too much of course. As I deleted the music, I made a list of what music I liked and wanted to re-aquire legally. If it was one or two singles, I'd aquire them digitally from MSN Music. If it was a whole album or enough songs to warrant buying the album, I'd add it to my Amazon wishlist and purchase it later, or go to eBay and buy a used copy.
Foiled by Geography
One of the primary problems of course was that the best online music stores weren't available to me in Canada. MSN Music uses 160 kbps WMA tracks, which is great for quality, but MSN Music doesn't sell to Canadians. I've go around that by using gift certificates a friend in the USA would buy for me - once the gift certificates are activated in your account, anyone can use the credits to buy tracks. After I get the MSN Music tracks, I burn them to CD, and re-rip them as 256 kbps MP3s. I get DRM-free music that I can use anywhere I wish, and the quality still sounds great. I normally go to any lengths to avoid re-compressing an already compressed source, but I've been pleased (and surprised) at how good the tracks sound once they're in MP3 format.
Now that I'm 100% legit, I can honestly say I feel better knowing that I no longer have any illegally-gained music tracks. I continue to buy CDs and music singles, and knowing that my money is going towards supporting the work of artists I enjoy is a great feeling. What about you? Have you gone legit, or do you still dabble in the murky shadows of having music you don't own sitting on your hard drive? Join me in the light brothers and sisters! ;-)
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife Ashley, his sometimes obedient dog, and he has a music metadata fetish.