Ryan Chartrand

I know what you’re thinking: You’re in college, you live in a dorm and everyone around you wants to share their music. What you should be thinking, however, is whether getting music free is cheaper than being $15,000 in debt.

Sure, I might sound like a Recording Industry Association of America representative, but I’m really just a student who has been in your shoes and seen what can happen if you don’t make wise decisions. Trust me, I loathe the RIAA and their tactic of suing rather than adapting and taking advantage of new technology. Regardless, they’re still out there, and considering the fact that college students download over a billion songs illegally each year according to the RIAA, you’d better believe they have Cal Poly’s address.

Thankfully, in the year 2007, saying the words “download songs” can finally have a legal side to it. Not only legal, but finally affordable.

In June, iTunes, a program for both PCs and Macs that sells songs digitally, was ranked as the third largest music retailer next to Best Buy and Wal-Mart, according to the NPD Group. Not only that, but Americans are using it almost as much as they are file-sharing programs like LimeWire.

In other words, the industry is changing, and while your brain may still think that illegal downloading is the only way to get music, record labels are working with companies like Apple to help bring you back into a more affordable music market.

Take for example Kelly Clarkson’s new album “My December.” Best Buy lists its price as $14.99, whereas iTunes is selling it for $12.99 with three additional bonus tracks. Oh, and don’t worry about losing cover art as you’ll get a digital version of it with your download. If you already own an MP3 player, why waste the time of buying a CD, ripping it and uploading it on your player when you could go straight from iTunes to your iPod?

On top of all that, if you want to save even more money, just buy the tracks you know you want at only $.99 per track. While there is a loss in quality with digital downloads due to compression, it’s nothing you would notice anyway.

With all of these songs floating about in cyberspace, however, there is a catch. iTunes songs, for example, are coded with DRM, or digital rights management, which makes sure you can only listen to your purchased songs on up to five computers and any number of iPods (although they will only play on iPods). Only one record label (EMI Records) has signed on to offer DRM-free music at $1.30 per track (more expensive because the quality is perfect although nearly unnoticeable), but Universal and others are already toying with the idea.

Another option to consider is Napster, which allows unlimited downloads of millions of songs for $14.95 per month. Songs purchased from Napster will only play on Creative, Dell, iRiver, Rio and other MP3 players, but not iPods. The catch with Napster’s DRM is that once you cancel your subscription with them, you can no longer listen to any of that music. Game over. At least iTunes lets you keep it forever.

What you need to keep in mind is that everyone gets caught eventually. While you might not have been caught yet, don’t think you are invincible. If the legality of it won’t convince you, how about the fact that you’re walking up to an artist and prying an album out of his hands and running off with it? Of course, through file sharing programs it’s never this personal, but essentially that’s what you’re doing.

Learn the lesson now before it’s too late: Downloading music illegally, as cool as it makes you look in college, isn’t worth the ultimate price you’ll have to pay.

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