The Best Album of 2003 goes to...your hard drive.
Two years ago the editors of Spin magazine were prescient enough to make that call. They detected a burning passion among a new generation of music lovers to swap with friends and strangers digital files of their favorite tunes. Nearly one out of every two Internet users between the ages of 12 and 22 downloaded music this past summer, according to a Forrester Research report on file-sharing trends.
If you’re not tech savvy, you may wonder how file sharing works. To share songs on the Internet, users put digital music files into a folder on their hard drive. Software such as Kazaa and Morpheus then enables them to find and retrieve the files from each other’s computers rather than from a central Net store (such as Napster, a Web site that the record industry succeeded in shutting down in 2001). No money is exchanged in the "swap," and no direct income flows back to the record companies.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)—the heavy arm of major music recording companies—charges that sharing songs over the Internet is akin to stealing a CD from a record store. As such, the violation of copyright law eats into their commercial market, argue industry insiders. Sales of music CDs have dropped 31 percent since 2000, according to the RIAA, and it blames the slide on file swapping.