I strolled into my local record store and found an ultra-rare album that music collectors cream over: Nirvana’s “Love Buzz” vinyl. Unfortunately, I just sold half a nut to buy orange juice and a fifth of cheap vodka. My pockets were empty. It’s not right to steal, right? Seriously, who is it hurting? Million dollar record companies? Besides, with the economy in the shitter, nobody has money to spare. And, damn it, I need my vodka. I looked around to see if anybody was watching. I think spotted the gnarly looking, long-haired, beer-bellied Metal monster who owns the place. I started to sweat, my breathing quickened and my hands trembled.
This beast was a nasty opponent. I was quicker, but he had reptilian strength on his side. I decided to go elsewhere. So I merrily left the record store and jumped on the Internet to download the album. File sharing on the Internet doesn’t promise anybody bodily harm. So when exactly did this whole trend begin?
It happened in homes everywhere before the Internet. Music fans pressed “dub” on their tape decks and boom boxes to create sappy and nostalgic mix-tapes for their friends and hopeful lovers. Many summer romances would be captured on 400 feet of magnetic tape. An entire subculture of tape-mixers emerged in basements around the world. They were the pirate kings of their time. The process was so guiltless and pleasantly untraceable. Ah, yes, such great times. All anybody had to do was wait for a song on the radio, hit “record” and sit back and listen to their handy work. There was no RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America — guys who sue for downloading) breathing down their necks and no lawsuits. It was all euphoric.
But after Al Gore invented the Internet, the shit hit the fans. The Internet gave us chat rooms, Hamster Dance, an endless supply of amateur porn, the MP3 and the best technology ever: file sharing. Napster was born and opened a huge door for anybody looking to score some good tunes for free. It was a music lover’s paradise. Even those rare bootlegged albums made the search results as part of the 100,000+ song library Napster boasted. In a culture that was quickly becoming digital, it was a waste of time to buy a CD. We all had more important things to do like watch “Survivor.” Again, the times were wonderful. We watched “Survivor,” talked about Bill Clinton and downloaded songs with anonymity from Napster. Big brother and those scumbags at the RIAA couldn’t do anything about it. Alas, the times would become dark and dangerous quickly.
Then in 2000, Metallica filed a lawsuit against Napster. The lawsuit inadvertently brought to the mainstream the file sharing crazy that was, until that point, mostly known by tech-savvy students. Metallica was super pissed about some music of theirs leaking onto the Napster servers before the release of their album. They didn’t have a problem with Napster until this incident threatened to hurt their profits. Other artists jumped on the Napster-hate-wagon claiming more wrong doings.
Eventually, Napster would be shut down and resurrected as some play-to-share bullshit. Whatever. That wasn’t before Napster spawned several clones: Bearshare, Limewire and half a dozen other services that would keep the sharing alive. But those services were also susceptible to the RIAA’s long sharp teeth.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to BIT Torrents. It’s a file-sharer’s end game. BIT torrents are to file sharing as Blu Ray is to DVD. BIT torrents take a great idea and just makes it 100 percent better and more attractive. Of course, we are talking free here. Before, what made file sharing so east to trace, we downloaded our music from one fellow file sharer at a time, making it easy to track the file from one IP address to another. Now, BIT torrents make it possible to download a single file from hundreds of different locations effectively making the download extremely efficient and fast and harder to trace. BIT torrent took Napster’s idea and expanded it to an entire world of digital media like TV, DVD, music, etc.
Torrents are reasonably easy to find and download. And you can even find a TON of legal ones at www.archive.org. Many programs streamline the whole process through software which provides a torrent search engine capable of tracking down millions of possible seeds from which to download. Personally, I recommend downloading UTorrent, an application that keeps your downloads optimized and organized. There are plenty of well-documented torrent sites, and yes, it takes a little technical know-how to get going. But after you do, the world of downloading really opens up to you. This is the new medium to trade live show recordings. And all of the stuff you’ll find on www.archive.org is completely worry free and legal. If you dive into other places such as Pirate Bay or ISO Hunt, then you may be crossing the line.
People do it, though. I do it.
Yes, this writer downloads. I download with respect. My CD and vinyl collections rival my MP3 collection. I’ve done my part for the bands I enjoy listening to. If you want to support your favorite band, go to a concert and by merch. Enjoy the experience.
As for that rare album at the record store, nothing can replace a tangible piece of history. The world is quickly becoming a completely digital place, however, and items like that will become more scarce as time goes on. So enjoy those records and CDs for as long as you can. They will be a novelty in 50 years. Soon, iTunes will be hooking up to our brains pumping electrical signals directly into the temporal lobe. Until then, happy torrent hunting!