Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost ripping a CD.
Online piracy is creating a modern-day twist on "The Christmas Song." Nat King Cole's recording of the holiday standard is among the most popular downloads on file-sharing networks this year.
More than 1.2 million people were offering digital copies of Cole's version on file-sharing networks recently, according to BigChampagne, a Beverly Hills-based online media measurement firm.
Other versions by Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra and the Temptations also cracked the Top 10 of pirated holiday songs, which was led by Faith Hill's "Where Are You Christmas?"
Christmas music is the perfect fodder for file-sharing networks, analysts say. The songs seem as perishable as eggnog, they're perfect material for mix CDs and they're so ubiquitous that it's easy to justify not paying for them.
"You don't want to look at that stuff in July," BigChampagne Chief Executive Eric Garland said.
"And you don't want to go out and buy the complete Christmas works of Olivia Newton-John. You want this song and that song."
Swapping copyrighted music is illegal. But people such as 17-year-old Jordan Krinke of Yorba Linda say they don't experience even a twinge of guilt about downloading pirated Christmas music. In fact, Krinke said she used the tracks she found free on LimeWire to create holiday compilation CDs for her friends.
"It's out there," she said. "You might as well use it."
Downloading seasonal classics falls into the same moral vacuum as copying song lyrics for Christmas caroling. If they bother to consider it at all, people tend to think of these older works as living in the "public domain" where the copyright has expired, Forrester Research analyst James L. McQuivey said.
"It suggests that people have a notion of public domain associated with these older tunes -- that these songs belong to everyone," he said.
Aram Sinnreich, a New York University media professor, said young people had no problem grabbing songs from file-sharing networks.
"This is one issue that really skews with age," he said. "People who grew up in the age of the remix, who grew up with file sharing, do not perceive it to be a moral problem."
The generational gap means there are plenty of people who still shell out money for holiday albums. This year's seasonal CD sales have been more robust than in the last three years, thanks to the success of Josh Groban's "Noel," according to Nielsen SoundScan. It became the year's bestselling album, with 2.8 million copies sold.
"Noel" held Billboard Magazine's top spot for four weeks, setting a record for the most weeks at No. 1 for a Christmas album in the chart's 51-year history. Elvis Presley had set the previous record in 1957 with "Elvis' Christmas Album."
Kim Shields, 42, of Utah said she purchased "Noel" for herself and as holiday gifts for teachers.
"I like him, but after one or two songs that's plenty," she said while eating lunch last week during a visit to Costa Mesa.
Holiday songs are also selling well as legal downloads. Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" was the top holiday track on Apple Inc.'s iTunes store last week, ranked at No. 11 overall by Nielsen SoundScan. It was also the third most-popular mobile phone ring tone, according to Nielsen RingScan.
Other popular holiday downloads on iTunes include Colbie Caillat's "Mistletoe" and Michael Buble's update of the classic "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Holiday grab bag
Here are the top 10 most-downloaded songs on file-sharing networks for the week that ended Dec. 17:
1. "Where Are You Christmas?"
2. "This Christmas"
3. "The Christmas Song"
Nat King Cole
4. "Last Christmas"
5. "White Christmas"
6. "The Christmas Song"
7. "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"
8. "Please Come Home for Christmas"
9. "The Christmas Song"
10. "The Christmas Song"
Los Angeles Times