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Can a 'Day of Sharing' save the music industry?

Composer Richard Gibbs's idea aims to highlight the problem of illegal music file-sharing.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 25, 2009

Free lunch: Composer Richard Gibbs, seen here at a supermarket in Malibu, Calif., says a 'Day of Sharing' will show people why illegal music file-sharing is like stealing.

Keegan Gibbs/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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Los Angeles

Richard Gibbs argues that holding an international "Day of Sharing" would be a radical gesture on behalf of the beleaguered music industry.

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How would it work? "Order your favorite meal, eat it, and walk out," he cites as an example. "Test drive a car and simply keep driving. Fill your pockets with candy from the 7-Eleven."

If this freeloading sounds absurd to you, and you figure Mr. Gibbs must be some kind of nut, rest assured he has been called that already. The composer of film and television scores for titles such as "Dr. Dolittle," "The Simpsons," and "Battlestar Galactica" is forging ahead despite warnings that he could go to jail should anyone take him up on his odd idea.

Gibbs's goal is actually a sober one: Highlight the absurdity of people getting music free of charge on the Internet and urge lawmakers to make Internet service providers (ISPs, such as cable and telephone companies) financially responsible to creative artists.

Instead of paying for songs, today's file-sharer can go online to a file-sharing site, type in the name of a song, and choose from a list of songs provided by willing "sharers," who let their music be copied again for nothing. [Editor's note: In the original article, Spinners and eMusic were wrongly identified as free file-sharing sites.]

"File-sharing has allowed the entire world to enjoy – without paying – the fruits of the labors of countless creators of intellectual property," Gibbs writes on his website, thedayofsharing.com. But his campaign doesn't target those who download or share music illegally online – it zeroes in on the companies that allow it.

Gibbs's dramatic crusade reflects the frustration of many other musicians. The music industry has yet to figure out a way to pay the creators of music in an Internet age of easy digital copying.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lists 45 sites where consumers can legally purchase songs over the Internet. But illegal downloads still outnumber legal buys by 20 to 1, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). About 40 billion files were illegally shared in 2008, the IFPI found.

Students make up the bulk of offenders, perhaps because growing up with file sharing has accustomed them to getting music free. Gibbs wants to change that perception.

"He can't seriously believe [the Day of Sharing] will happen," says Don Gorder, chair of the music management department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Gibbs's alma mater. "But in the process of thinking about a day like this, perhaps the public will come around to understanding how musicians feel – that their music is going out there every day and people are taking it and not paying for it."

Music's online shift

Hard times hit the music industry with the birth of Napster in 1999 – a technology that allowed people to easily copy and distribute MP3 files, leading to accusations of music copyright violations. A generation of music consumers became used to downloading songs free. When the US Supreme Court shut down Napster in 2001, other sites popped up in its place.

Since then, music CD sales have precipitously declined, dropping 20 percent in 2008 compared with 2007.

At the same time, 2.4 billion songs were purchased on iTunes as Apple expanded into overseas markets.

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