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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Fifteen cents a song -- is it too good to be true?

By Morgan Rindlesbach

December 15, 2006 | Tabbi Perkins is willing to pay one dollar to download music- as long as that gets her an entire album.

"I use to spend hundreds of dollars on downloads," said Perkins. "Now I can purchase music with pennies."

Perkins, who is majoring in social work, is among many U.S. music fans which have discovered, one of the recently popular Russian Web sites offering downloads for as little as 15 cents. These sites are catching the attention of U.S. citizens because they offer downloads similar in fashion to iTunes, but at cheaper prices -- $1.87 an album versus iTunes' price at $9.99 an album.

However, noticeable differences exist between the two services. iTunes has a larger database, faster downloads, and a more interactive Web site. Some users of the Russian sites have complained in online forums about incomplete albums, poor customer service and slow downloads. Consumers also worry about handing over a credit card numbers to a Russian company -- some of the sites, including, require users to register and "fund" accounts before they can buy songs.

Brooke Buddell, a Utah State student, said she currently uses iTunes but rarely downloads songs because it is just too expensive.

"If I knew about a cheaper place to download songs, I would definitely do it," said Buddell. "On iTunes, the money adds up too fast."

After logging on to the for the first time, she said that even though iTunes offers better online services, the Russian Web site is still more appealing because of the extremely low price.

"This will forever change the way I download music," said Buddell.

Although online consumers seem pleased to have such cheap prices, some wonder if it is too good to be true. Can this be legal? A June 2006 article from The New York Times highlighted how recording industries in the United States and Europe have been trying to close many of these MP3 Web sites, claiming it is outright infringement. defends their Web site, claiming they are in no violation of the law because the legislature in Russia enforces compulsory licenses, which means anyone can get the license to distribute and sell the music as long as they pay fees to ROMS (a Russian collection agency which then re-distributes the money to copyright holders). According to news reports, the operation of these sites were ruled legal in Russia, but the question still remains if downloading from these sights is legal for U.S. citizens.

One consumer in an online discussion forum argues that it is no different than going to Russia and buying a CD at a cheaper price and then bringing it back to the United States, just like U.S. citizens buy drugs from Canada at cheaper prices and then bring them back into the country.

However, the recording industry regards Russia as the second-largest piracy market in the world after China, and still has hopes that eventually Russian authorities will take action and shut down these popular Internet sites.

This controversy over the legality of and other Russian sites highlights the difficulties that copyright companies face due to differing versions of laws around the world that are often imperfectly adapted to the world-wide use of the Internet. Thus far no U.S. court prosecutions have made it clear as to whether the average American citizen can legally download from these sites, and until they do consumers will continue to take advantage of the cheaper prices offered overseas.



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