There is just so much one could say -- and should say -- about the 261 dangerous, file-sharing, copyright-infringing music junkies being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America. One might begin with a sob story (or is that an SOB story?): The RIAA has already settled its first lawsuit, which was brought against Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old girl who lives with her single mom in public housing. It fined her mother $2,000 for honor student Brianna's naughty Kazaa usage. Even supporters of the RIAA have to admit this move doesn't make the record industry look very sympathetic.
Net activists (www.funkbunny.com/datatype/archives/000076.html) rushed to Brianna's aid, raising $2,000 through PayPal and presenting it to her mother within days of the settlement. Others, like Bill Evans, run Web sites like Boycott-RIAA.com, which keeps people updated on the latest RIAA crackdowns on file traders as well as urges them to buy used music and avoid patronizing labels affiliated with the RIAA.
If you want to see if you're in the music industry's sights, visit John Barry's RIAA's Hit List (www.riaashitlist.com), where you can search a list of people whose names the RIAA has subpoenaed from their Internet service providers. Barry, whose favorite file-sharing network is Kazaa, says he updates his list daily via a government service that provides online access to information about every subpoena filed in the United States. He's noticed a few patterns in the subpoenas, too. "People using Kazaa are targets. Ninety-nine percent of the subpoenas are for people using Kazaa," he says. "Also, nobody on AOL has been subpoenaed." Barry wonders if there is any political reason why users of the Time Warner -- owned ISP aren't on the RIAA's list. Of course, it could just be that people using America Online don't have connections that are fast enough for file-sharing networks.
Like many people protesting the RIAA's actions, Barry thinks the music industry is taking a financial hit right now because when people can sample its wares before purchasing, they realize the CDs they thought they wanted actually suck. "I've stopped buying music because I'll download a song and it's drivel," Barry says. "The best music can't be purchased. So much of it is out of print." If he's right about most file swappers' motives, then what peer-to-peer (P2P) data-sharing networks offer isn't free music but a chance for consumers to avoid paying for works they wouldn't want anyway.
In what seems like an overt attempt to demonize file sharing, Rep. Joe Pitts introduced a bill in late July called the Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act (known as the P4 Act). Pitts claims P2P networks aren't just for trading the latest tunes from Justin Timberlake -- they're also responsible for circulating pornography (especially ultra-evil child porn) to underage people. Despite the fact that Internet pornography is much more easily accessed on Web sites and in chat rooms, Pitts seems determined to yoke P2P with child porn in the public mind. If passed, his bill would require P2P companies to "give notice of the threats posed by P2P software" and would force P2P vendors to get parents' permission before allowing users to sign up for their services.
But if P2P networks are legislated out of existence, hapless consumers like you and me will never be able to learn about the glories of the boob toggle. Allow me to explain. Xbox users such as myself are hungry to know what we'll get before we plunk down 50 bucks for a game, so often we check out said games before purchasing them. And if it weren't for the P2P-trading habits of certain individuals whose names have been erased from my memory, I would never have discovered the single interesting feature of the Xbox game Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
When you set up the options on XBV, you can choose whether you want to watch the breasts bounce on your x-tremely well-endowed volleyball babes. Just think: each time they jump to hit the ball, there could be a jiggle, a bounce or an outright boingofest. Or the breasts could remain serene and motionless. If you pay your 50 bucks, it's all up to you to decide. Imagine: the power and the wonder of the boob toggle could be yours. Now that you know about astonishing game features like the boob toggle, aren't you ashamed that you want to download and sample XBV first before buying it?
Annalee Newitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a surly media nerd who humbly thanks the humans at www.innerfireworks.com and www.metagrrrl.com for their help in clarifying the importance of boob toggles. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.