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The villain of Verizon speaks

The file-sharer who got pinched: an imagined monologue.

Hi. You don’t know me, but I’m the Verizon Communications customer who’s killing the record business. I’m the one you’ve probably read about, the one who’s causing all the trouble.

Late in January, U.S. District Judge John Bates ordered Verizon to turn my name over to attorneys representing the record industry. My offense was that I downloaded about 600 songs in one day from a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. Verizon must have figured that turning over one customer was less hazardous than being dragged into court over and over. I guess I don’t blame them.

The record company lawyers figured out that since about half of the tracks were from distinct albums, and since I most certainly would have bought all the albums that contained these tracks if they hadn’t been available for free, that I must owe them about $5,000. If it would get me off the hook, I’d max out my credit card for them right now, because I have no desire to be a martyr for file-swappers.

Like the first horse thief to hang in the Old West, I’m being made an example of. Luck of the draw, I suppose. My punishment will be expected to act as a deterrent to people–including you, I suspect–who download music from the Internet. How’s it working so far? KaZaa and WinMix don’t seem to be a lot less busy today than they were six months ago–from what I hear, anyway. I’m not allowed to patronize file-sharing networks for the time being. Judge’s orders.

And about that $5,000 figure: Maybe I should have told the lawyers or the judge that if push had come to shove, I would have bought maybe three or four of the CDs that I took music from. I might have borrowed a couple others from friends or checked them out from the library. But there really was only a tiny percentage of those 600 songs that I wanted to keep forever. The rest were either good for a few spins or else were crap that I didn’t know was crap until I heard it.

The way I see it, file sharing is just another form of radio, except without the commercials or deejays: an easy, inexpensive way to preview music I might want to buy. I get a pile of songs that look intriguing, delete the ones I can’t stand on first listen, enjoy the others until they become stale, and then go back for more. When something really grabs me, I go out and buy the CD. It’s pretty simple, and pretty typical, from what I can tell.

If you want to know what actually happened, I was filling up my new iPod. It’s got a 20GB memory, which translates to a capacity of more than 4,000 songs. I walk two miles to work, and I spend about an hour exercising every night. I can’t stand most of what I hear on the radio, and I love having music for company.So downloading music for those times just makes the most sense. Oh, also, I was going to have a party in a month or so, and having a couple hundred songs rotating on my PC’s MP3 player is a lot easier than constantly changing discs on my wimpy stereo. The party was great, by the way.

Anyway, here I sit. I forgot to mention that I’m in jail. I probably won’t have to stay long, only until my lawyers (by the way, a big thank-you to the thousands of people who contributed to my defense fund) can convince the appeals-court judge that I don’t really pose much of a threat to society at large and that when I say I’m sorry and that I won’t do it again, I mean it. My lawyer seems to think that I’ll get away with minimal jail time and probation–not even a fine if I feign enough remorse.

I should make that clearer. I am sorry–sorry that I got caught and sorry that I’m being made into a scapegoat. As for whether or not I won’t do it again, I probably won’t, not as long as the sword of Damocles is hanging over my head. Until my probation is over, think of me as the Kevin Mitnick of file-swappers. I might not be as brazen as Kevin (yes, first-name basis–he wrote to me shortly after I was incarcerated), but if file-sharing still exists once I’m free again, I probably will check it out–just to browse.

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