Out from the Shadows

I have long been downloading music through the dubiously legal (by which I mean, probably illegal) mechanism known as “file sharing.” I thought it was justified by the actions of the record companies. First, they refused to digitally distribute music at all, clinging jealously to outdated model of distributing music on physical media. When it became obvious that CDs were going the way of parachute pants, they finally decided to sell music online, only they weren’t “selling” anything; they were renting music on subscription services or selling crippled copies that you could only play on one or two computers or copy to a couple of CDs.

It was like buying a car from a dealership that told you that only you and your wife could drive it. Well, what if a friend comes in from out of town and wants to borrow the car? Too bad; you have to buy another car. This was just unacceptable on principle. So, even though file sharing could, in some sense, by some strictly legalistic types, be called “stealing,” I thought it was my only alternative. Plus, it was kind of cool and rebellious, like smoking.

But then came iTunes, and it became the de facto standard for downloading (and paying for) music. My friends who used iTunes never said anything, but I could tell that they disapproved of my file sharing ways. I wasn’t downloading as much by then, but still it became hard to look them in the eyes — my friends who were legitimately acquiring their music (even though iTunes music was loaded with Apple restrictions and I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole). Oh, how I yearned for a way to get my music that would bring me out of the dark, black market, file sharing world and into polite society.

And then, just as easy as you please, Amazon started selling restriction-free mp3s. Huzzah and hooray! It’s like a new world has opened before me! I’m not ashamed to tell people when I get a new song. I’m actually buying music for myself for the first time since before I got a cable modem (that thing has paid for itself many times over, by the way).

It was so easy, why didn’t the record companies just do that to begin with? Here’s hoping that they all catch on and join the rest of us in the polite society of the 21st century.