By going to court, the major record labels are showing a united front against music piracy. But the bootlegging of songs online isn't universally reviled by the thousands of people who make their living in the $14-billion U.S. recording industry.
To the chief executive of a rap music label, every pirated song means less money in his pocket. To the bass player in an independent band, however, file-sharing networks provide far more exposure than traditional outlets, such as radio. And to the musician who tours with acts such as Beck and Sheryl Crow, the popularity of Kazaa, Morpheus and other online networks ought to persuade the record labels to embrace the Net to reach customers.
A sampling of what rank and file members of the industry had to say:
Bass player for Earlimart, an independent band
People today have new expectations about being able to browse music before they buy. If people are downloading our music, we look at it as a positive thing. For us, it just seems to be a promotional tool. If anything, it's helping us at this point.
Maybe my opinion will change when our record sales start to have a more direct effect on our personal incomes.
At this point, I like the fact that people can listen before they buy the product. Not everyone has the disposable income to go out and buy everything.
I still believe that if a band is really good -- if you're writing great songs and you work real hard and tour like crazy -- people will buy your record and that's going to help your income.
We put a lot of art into our work. Our record is an enhanced CD with videos on it. That's not something you can download, at least not yet. So we hope that's an incentive for people to own the record.
My reservations about downloading is really an aesthetic one. Imagine if Pink Floyd's "The Wall" came out now. There's this whole idea of concept records, the idea of a record that has a beginning, a middle and an end. There are some records that should be listened to that way. If people download individual tracks, they miss out on the artistry that goes into making the whole.
Chief Executive of 2 Real Entertainment, a rap label
I've been writing songs since I was in a talent show in fourth grade. That was back in '84 or '85. It was a way to have a conversation with people in the streets, a way to reach out with words. And it got me paid.
I don't download music at all, but bootlegging's been around forever. I know a lot of the kids don't understand it. They don't understand that whole publishing thing. That's what you eat off of, because you don't make huge money when you sign up with the labels. It's the other things that help you get paid. It's the clothing lines and the producing and the publishing. It's the songwriting and the licensing you get from that.
The kids don't see that. I have college kids come up to me all the time, saying, "Hey! I've got this hot bootleg mix CD with your music on it." What he doesn't figure out is he's taking food off my table. They sell the tapes for $10 a pop.
At first, I got mad. Now, I roll with it and use the tapes as a promotional avenue. I go down to the studio once or twice a month, and knock out three to four songs that will just be for these mix tapes. One of these mix tapes might get the word of mouth going, and that's good for me.
Co-owner, Amoeba Music stores, Berkeley
For our business, it's been as equally helpful as hurtful. If people [who use file-sharing services] are listening to things they otherwise wouldn't listen to, it's great for us.
People who are into music need a way to discover artists, because the radio isn't a very good way to do that. File sharing can be helpful in educating the public.
I'm 46 years old. People [from] my generation have been alienated from the music world. Nothing is played on the radio for us. We have no way of finding out what's new and cool. NPR maybe breaks about one or two interesting things a year that percolate through my generation. But there are so few examples of that.
Stealing -- I'm certainly not a proponent of that. Everyone loses out, especially the artists.
But the music industry long ago should have developed a system to help listeners learn about music so they can look up artists and hear what they sound like. Then they can go out and buy what they're interested in.
As far as Amoeba goes, we're doing OK, because people come here to find the unusual stuff, the broad catalog.
It's the chain stores that are hurt by this. People who listen to pop are more likely to shop at chain stores, and they're more likely to take it off the Internet. No one wants to spend $20 to get one song.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
Band member, co-founder of Jellyfish and TV Eyes
Session and tour musician for Beck, Blink 182, Sheryl Crow
The world of recorded media is changing at lightning speeds, and nobody knows what to do about it.