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March 2, 2001
We Be Thieves, Stealing Furiously in the Night


Like most of the Web-connected computer users of the world, I've been putting the multitasking power of my computer to nefarious use lately, in the background as I work, downloading music from members of the file-sharing Napster "community." I came to the this particular realm pretty late so I'm on overdrive in the final hours as the company prepares to shut its servers down, facing an injunction. Click, save, click, save. Check the screen, click again. Burn CDs, burn burn burn. And so it goes, the sun rises, the sun falls, the moon rises, deadlines are met, dinner is prepared, but through it all, the microprocessor chugs along.

Is it the money? No, it's not the money. I'll pay for Napster (as will be clear below) but the bulk of the stuff I snag is music I can't get even if I offered to pay for it. How do you get tracks off an album that a record company is refusing to release -- because the music is too old maybe, its moment in the light long past, or because it's not old enough so the suits are just biding their time, smoking their cigars, counting the years till they can put it in an overpriced box and label it the 20th anniversary basement masters or something? Live recordings that'll never see the light of day. Jam sessions. Things that, in the literary world, are available in bookstores, libraries, or if you must, archives. And so it comes to this, exchanging bytes like they're needles and we're addicts clustered in an alley, watching the clock hands move until we get one more track, than one more, one more.

Then there are things you can buy in most music stores in one shape or form, but that, for obvious reasons, are much easier to acquire through the able tentacles of Napster. Songs like, to give one example, "Crestfallen" by the Smashing Pumpkins. Now I'm not a Smashing Pumpkins sort of person, why should I care about this particular song? Because it was used for the haunting final scene of Life Everlasting, the movie that tied the loose ends of the canceled police drama Homicide, that's why. It simply means a lot to me to be able to go looking for the song title on the Web, and then actually be able to get the song and play it, and relive that beautiful scene. And I will pay for it; set it up so a dollar goes to the artist and I will. In this day and age we should be able to buy music this way. Why does anyone expect me to go pay 15 dollars for 12 tracks put together to satisfy a contract agreement, why should I pay the salary of the advertising department who thought up the idiotic advertising I have to put up with whenever I read magazines and walk by record stores, why... I won't, I refuse now that there's a better way. I'd rather give a dollar to the people who wrote and recorded the song. Two tracks, two dollars. You think more os fair, maybe I'll pay more. A rare Paul Simon track is worth more in my book; I'd gladly pay double, for example, for "The Side of a Hill." There aren't that many good songs in the world; I'm confident I won't go broke.

So Pumpkin and the rest of yez boys, I have dollar bills, banknotes with your names on them. Let me know when you have your greedy masters under control.
The renowned, ahem, 11-year-old radical socialist revolutionary and scholar Huey Freeman offers an additional perspective concerning this matter:

Boondocks copyright Aaron McGruder

spaceBoondocks copyright Aaron McGruder

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There's yet another tangent that the subject prompts me to go on, but -- isn't that just the way with tangents? -- it has little to do with Napster and the hour's getting late, so I'll save it for the next one. Plus, I want to concentrate on getting just a few more songs...

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