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Illegal Download, You Say? Kids Smirk, Musicians Shudder

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Tuck that CD into your back pocket and walk out of the store? No way. Click your mouse a few times and acquire that same CD illegally? Sure.

This is the dichotomy recently studied by Twila Wingrove and Vicky Weisz, a pair of University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers who found students voice strong objection to outright shoplifting, but are less certain when it comes to illegal downloads.

Most of the 200 students who participated in the study, which appears in the new issue of the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, did not feel that illegal downloading violates their moral instincts.

For the classical music world, which constitutes approximately three percent of music sales in the U.S., this is not a good sign.

“We’re really concerned with illegal downloading, and I’ve been really frustrated with the lack of regulations,” commented William Brittelle, a classically trained musician and a founder of New Amsterdam Records. “When you’re dealing with our kind of artists, the difference between selling 1,000 and 2,000 is a huge difference.”

Digital copyright regulations in the U.S. are governed by USC Title 17, which provides copyright guidelines, and section 2319 of Title 18, which lists penalties for criminal infringement of a copyright. But enforcing what’s on the books is the sticking point.

So Brittelle and his co-founders Judd Greenstein and Sarah Kirkland Snider have let their website lead their four-year-old label, creating a space in which artists upload their work, provide sample tracks and, once hooked, offer direct sales though which artists receive 80 percent of the profits.

“The message we’re trying to send is not necessarily information wants to be free,” Brittelle said. “It’s more the free model and the premium model. We believe in our product enough that we’re willing to give a free sample.”

New Amsterdam now represents 22 artists (including Q2 host Nadia Sirota).

Rebecca Jean Rossi, an Eastman-trained musician who teaches classical piano in New York, hopes the current generation that can’t remember a time before the Internet will find a way to drive profits back to artists.

“I was born in 1985, when music was almost immediately available on the internet,” Rossi said. “I’d like to believe that there is some money somewhere related to this content that can be put more effectively toward the artists that make it,” she said.

For Brittelle, it’s a war of attrition. “We don’t really go out and search for [evidence of illegal downloads] because when we find it, we realize there’s not much we can do about it,” he said.

“It's not like we’re thinking, ‘Oh, cool, people like our album and so they’re stealing it,’ Brittelle said. “There’s nothing we can do.”