Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Give me the music to free my soul

The record companies are up in arms about music sharing over the internet. Susan D Seeking offers a guide to free, almost-free and paid-for sources

November 1, 2005
5 min read

You can purchase a CD writer for your computer for under £20 and blank CDs from as little as 10p from sources such as www.bigpockets.co.uk. You can convert a CD to MP3 format (the commonest format for online music) and have it uploaded in the time it would take to play the first track. You can locate and download a huge selection of music of your choice by using one of the various file-sharing programmes freely available over the web.

Sharing and downloading copyrighted music may not be lawful, but there are more than 60 million people in the US alone who are doing it. That’s more than voted for George Bush. And that’s why the music industry has started suing people as a deterrent.

Leaving aside the legal and moral arguments about getting your music for free (Red Pepper’s musical conscience suggests that direct payments to struggling artists and support for live music are more equitable than putting exorbitant sums into the pockets of HMV and Sony), how exactly do these millions of people do it? And what are the lawful alternatives?

Unlawful file sharing

Napster was the most famous music-sharing organisation. Its simple software enabled users to download whatever music they required by searching through the files made available by other users. Napster was shut down as a free service as a result of legal action by the big record companies, but others have sprung up in its place. They come and go, but eMule (www.emule-project.net), Soulseek (www.slsk net.org), Limewire (www.limewire .com) and Acquisition (www.zero paid.com/acquisition) are among the more popular ones currently available online. BitTorrent (www.bittorrent.com) allows users to download a ‘tracker’ file (rather than the music itself), which points to every user who has a copy of the music wanted, making the process faster. Users can also get the full album rather than individual tracks.

In downloading any software from the web, it’s worth making sure that it doesn’t come bundled with ‘adware’ or ‘spyware’, which can track your online movements, direct you to websites that you don’t want to visit, overwhelm you with advertising and generally slow down or mess up your computer. None of the above websites bundle adware or spyware with their programmes.

Even without ‘spyware’ on your system, everything you do online is traceable. But with Peer Guardian (http://phoenixlabs. org/pg2) and similar free software, you can block your online movements from prying eyes – including, if you were so motivated, those of the record companies and their lawyers.

Lawful free music

Organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org/share) and the Digital Rights Network (www.drn .okfn.org) are trying to get the legal system to recognise that new constructive solutions to copyright infringement are the way forward. The Creative Commons licence system (see page 28), which allows for more flexible control of music and other rights, is one such initiative.

Plenty of artists are making money from the internet without feeling the need to sue their fans. These include big names such as David Bowie, Alanis Morissette and Public Enemy. Some, most notably the Grateful Dead, have long been happy to see their fans freely trading live recordings, knowing they would otherwise be paying over the odds to bootleggers. This sort of two-way relationship is usually rewarded with the sort of fan loyalty most bands can only dream of.

The BBC has also been making its radio output available online and has started streaming a few TV shows and making some radio programmes available as podcasts – fully downloadable as MP3 files. An increasing number of other organisations are doing likewise.

More-or-less lawful, almost-free music

Because copyright controls are different there, a huge range of music can be downloaded on demand from Russian sites for tiny sums of money – generally just a few pence per track. See www.mp3search.ru and www.allofmp3.com for a couple of reliable services. The legal situation is unclear on using these sites from outside Russia, but no one has been sued for doing so.

Lawful pay services

Apple’s iTunes music store (download the player from www.apple.com/uk/itunes/download) initially lead the way online for the reluctant music industry and proved that people would pay to download music if they had the option to do so. Once downloaded and written to a blank CD, music bought in this way can be copied repeatedly.

Napster, born again as a legal supplier (www.napster.com) offers a subscription service, as do the high-street giants, HMV and Virgin, who recently entered the online market. Music from these, and other, sources can be recorded digitally when played with the right software. Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net), for example, is good and free.

Red Pepper does not advocate unlawful file sharing or breach of copyright. Check out the legal situation where you live.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency