I must admit that I’ve ignored the whole music-sharing issue. I don’t share my music online. I download MP3s, but I only download files that are publicly available on web sites. My interest is in wind band music, so I have gathered a collection from the military groups, universities, colleges, and some high schools. Some publishers even make MP3s of their music available. I’ve never thought that I had to worry about this issue. I think I’m going to start worrying.
Historically, changes in the interpretation of law are made in incremental changes. For years, laws existed that made abortion mostly illegal. In January of this year, we recognized the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which removed most of the restrictions that had existed. I think it’s important to realize, especially for those who weren’t adults in 1973, that this decision didn’t just come out of the blue.
Opponents of the abortion restrictions tried to get the restrictions repealed starting in the 1960s. At first, the courts ruled against removing the restrictions. But certain decisions, not directly related to the abortion restrictions, set precedents that were eventually used in the Roe v. Wade decision. The Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) established privacy to family matters. After seven more years, Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) established personal privacy. These cases were used as the basis for the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision. It took 8 years, but the change occurred.
We are seeing the same incremental changes happening with respect to copyright laws and music. Combined with the changes due to the Patriot Act, instead of establishing our privacy, these changes are eroding our privacy. We could reach a point where we can’t legally enjoy music except by listening on our headphones, and then only if the volume is set to its lowest level.
I worry that the recording industry is going to ruin the music industry, which encompasses a lot more than CDs. When musical groups visit nursing homes on a Sunday afternoon, will we have to charge admission in order to pay royalties to the copyright holders? If I play “One Hand, One Heart” at a wedding, does somebody have to mail a check to the RIAA? That’s the direction things seem to be heading.