Ahoy, ye music pirates

Though students are always formally advised to take the high road and download music through legal avenues, no one can deny that the ever-dreaded Black Pearl of music piracy, the S.S. Limewire, is terrorizing the waters of the music industry.

Armed with bit torrents and instant file-sharing, Limewire and many other illegal vessels like it are pillaging and infiltrating music libraries everywhere. We ourselves are the music pirates, and our booty is free tunes. But all pirate puns aside, the illegal downloading of music has been and continues to be a phenomenon that is damaging the music industry beyond repair by granting anyone with an Internet connection access to free music.

The music industry views the practice of piracy as its own personal apocalypse. We hear of individuals that are being scapegoated, charged with four-, five- and six-digit fines for something that more than half of our generation does. The Recording Industry Association of America is desperately trying to salvage what's left of its capsizing ship, but file sharing is but a natural evolution, a byproduct of our technological era. If the music industry wishes to stay afloat, it needs to ride the wave, not fight against it.

Music piracy is here to stay. In a 2009 study, researchers analyzed the release of Radiohead's most recent album, In Rainbows - which was made available for whatever users wished to pay through an official website - and found that a majority of fans chose to pay nothing. The authors of the study argue that music rights holders need to find "new ways" and "new places" to generate income from their music rather than chasing illegal downloaders. Some of these strategies could include forming licensing agreements with YouTube or legal peer-to-peer websites. Rights holders and the RIAA could make money through advertising, giving away free music while publicizing merchandise or tour dates. Innovation is key. Instead of viewing music piracy as a detriment to growth, the recording industry needs to cut its losses and try to take advantage of the situation.

The illegal file-sharing phenomenon hasn't stemmed the flow of music. If anything, more potential fans are exposed to individual songs than to bands themselves; this kind of exposure can be leveraged into sales of concert tickets, T-shirts and limited edition vinyls. I've attended countless concerts to see musicians play songs that I downloaded illegally or got from a friend's zip drive; I imagine that similar situations play out regularly for my fellow pirates.

Though it may be hard for industries such as the RIAA to accept, underground music sharing is a thriving community that consistently generates new fans. Performers have acknowledged this fact, and some even revel in the idea of having their music so widely available.

Anyone going into the music industry nowadays knows what they're getting themselves into: a slew of adoring music pirates looking back at them from the crowd, bobbing and swaying their heads like waves in the open sea. After all, in a world full of music pirates, tunes are the ultimate treasure.

In