Chris Barton: Music-sharing - so what's a parent to do?

Share and share alike. Like many parents it's what we taught our kids from kindergarten age.

It's what we said when the boys hoarded all the trucks in the sandpit for themselves. And when our daughter defiantly said "mine" and snatched the Barbie from her friend. "We like to share," we taught.

But with our daughter in her teenage years now toying with new-fangled digital storage technology, it's not so simple. Try explaining that in some circumstances sharing is bad and you're not just a dope but also a hypocrite.

The trouble starts when, after a sustained period of nagging, we buy her - at considerable expense - an iPod mini for her 14th birthday. Monika is overjoyed and immediately starts copying songs from her CD collection to the computer to transfer to the iPod.

"You know you're breaking the law," I tell her. She doesn't believe me - even when I explain the Copyright Act 1994 says you cannot copy an album or tracks to CD, tape or any other media, unless you are given permission by the copyright holder - usually the music label company, which says it's not allowed (see link to Copyright Licensing Ltd website below).

She thinks I'm talking baloney when I say if you've ever dubbed a tape, burned a CD or copied to your iPod you're potentially a criminal.

"Then what's the point of having an iPod?" she asks.

Imagine her relief when I tell her the law is an ass and the Government is planning to change our draconian legislation to allow people to make a copy of legally obtained content from one medium to another for personal use.

I point out the proposal to allow "format shifting" isn't in Bill form yet and hasn't actually made it into parliament to become an Act - so for the moment she is still breaking the law. "Whatever," she says and blithely carries on copying.

Like most of the world I decide to turn a blind eye. But then the real trouble begins. Monika's friends come to see the new marvel and bring some of their CDs, which are also copied over.

"But we're just sharing," they protest when I tell them it's illegal.

One of them also makes a good point - that there is really little difference between bringing a few CDs over to listen to them on Monika's stereo to bringing them over to listen to on Monika's iPod, which had been hooked up to a couple of speakers.

I turn another blind eye - insisting lamely that the songs must be deleted from the iPod when they had finished. "Whatever," she says.

There is more trouble a week later when, after visiting another friend, some serious iPod exchanging occurred - the end result being Monika's iPod now had 500 songs.

"Now that really is illegal," I cry.

"Shut up. We like similar music and are just sharing," says Monika. "It's like she has just loaned me some of her CDs for a while."

By now I have no more blind eyes to turn and I can't see the wood for the trees. "Whatever," I reply.

A few days later Monika asks if she can download Limewire. She is referring to one of the many pieces of peer-to-peer software with silly names - like eDonkey/Overnet, Shareaza, WinMX, BitTorrent, Morpheus, Ares and Kazaa - which enable users to swap digital files over the internet.

In short, it's a way of getting just about any music you want for free. How? By sharing. It's illegal and yet millions of users worldwide do it.

The music industry calls it theft and the International Federation of Phonographic Industries has filed more than 14,000 lawsuits against file sharers in 12 countries since September 2003.

So what's a parent to do?

"Our aging computer doesn't have enough disk space," I tell Monika. It's a temporary solution. But as I ponder my blind eyes and ambivalence to the rights and wrongs of this situation, I keep getting a recurring thought. If Monika wants to share her music with the world through the net, isn't that a good thing?

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