Free tracks on Qtrax? Maybe not (Forum)

Jeremy Gordon

For one shining moment, it looked as if the music industry had finally caved. On Jan. 28, a service called Qtrax offering free and legal downloads was announced to the public, appearing to be the reluctant concession of record companies that had tried for years to put the kibosh on illegal downloading. Qtrax boasted a catalogue of more than 25 million songs and claimed support from all of the major music labels. However, following a botched beta launch of the Qtrax client, word spread that none of the labels had formally agreed to support the service, and public doubt of this seemingly brilliant idea skyrocketed into the red.

But I’m not worrying about whether or not Qtrax really works. Instead, I’m flashing back to fifth grade when word got out about these crazy things called MP3s, songs you could play on your computer. Back in the day, all I listened to was Dr. Dre and Limp Bizkit. I looked for their hits, but access was limited. Then came Napster, which was a hub for Internet users to get any song they wanted for free. With my introduction to Napster, I became a full-fledged downloader. But when I started paying attention to artists and not songs, the moral issue came up: Was it right to download music if artists weren’t being compensated?

I don’t want to moralize about things that have been debated for as long as Dave Matthews Band has sucked (besides, a Daily columnist did it last quarter). More importantly, I eventually stopped downloading music. I still remember shuddering as I read the Daily article on the Recording Industry Association of America sending notices to NU students they caught downloading. I was only caught once before, for downloading a video game. Comcast sent my family an e-mail saying if I was caught downloading licensed material again, something bad would happen. The almost-brush with punishment was all I needed to cease downloading altogether.

Plus, there was the question of what the RIAA could actually detect. Would my BitTorrent activity register on their “Stupid College Kids” meter? I wasn’t enough of an idiot to use the hole-riddled LimeWire, but I didn’t want to risk legal trouble just to get a copy of Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” I either got new music from my friends or bought the CD at the store. It was enough to keep me out of trouble.

Even though Qtrax seems too good to be true, a successful program might make all of my evasive actions unnecessary. There are still issues with a supposedly “free and legal” downloading service, such as artist compensation, possible spyware, and for audiophiles everywhere, the bit rate of downloaded songs. It’s entirely possible that by the time this column comes out, Qtrax will have been revealed as a giant hoax on par with the Easter Bunny or global warming. At some point, the music labels will have to stop fighting a losing battle against Internet piracy and come to some middle ground. If they don’t, the downloading monkey will jump on my back once again, and I’ll be swimming in gigs of new music.

Medill sophomore Jeremy Gordon can be reached at [email protected]