I Wouldn't Steal

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This is Celia Hirschman for On the Beat on KCRW.

I'm glad I live in a country where free speech and debate are encouraged. Sometimes, these are the best ways to give perspective to issues that need addressing.

This week, the European Greens EFA announced their political initiative on file sharing. The Greens EFA party is actually a coalition of two distinct political parties – the European Greens Party and the European Free Alliance. They have over 40 members in European Parliament, and have won 10% of the vote in some European countries.

The Greens EFA has launched an Anti Anti-Piracy initiative, aimed for consumers. The initiative is called "I Wouldn't Steal" and you can watch their video at I Wouldn't Steal.net.

In short, the video illustrates the sentiment that good citizens don't steal handbags, cars, or television sets, but do download films and music. The Greens go on to say that multinational entertainment corporations have lobbied governments to make file sharing illegal, thereby making ordinary people criminals. That these corporations exploit artists, and since they haven't offered viable alternatives to file sharing, the Green Party motto is To Share Is Fair.

I give the Greens EFA credit. They certainly have ignited my passion. Yes, it's true the multinational entertainment companies have lobbied for the criminalization of illegal downloading, and they haven't sought to create viable alternatives for the average consumer. That's absolutely true and they should be held accountable for that.

But to suggest they all exploit artists? I'm not so sure. And to make that the justification for stealing creative works? Definitely weak.

Consider the TV writers who are currently on strike. They'd like a reasonable percentage of the profits from their work. Do you think by illegally downloading TV shows like The Wire or The Sopranos, the writers will earn any more money? Certainly not.

There is one thing this Greens initiative does do. It forces intelligent viewers to question why music companies haven't supported a sustainable model. Why instead they try to grab more than the market will bear, forcing many music lovers to look at alternative cost effective ways to enjoy music.

If the labels would only properly assess the consumer's interest and willingness to pay, the record industry would be pulled right out of this recessive slump. Why can't we just make the prices reasonable so consumers will want to explore more music?

And though I suspect the Greens initiative is really a fringe consumer movement, one should never discount the viability of a consumers' movement. Just ask Steve Jobs, who had to rethink his entire European Apple strategy, because European Consumer Groups objected to his restrictive iIunes software.

The take away from the Greens initiative is to start building solutions now, before the record industry is forced to. This may be the best warning shot the industry gets. Let's hope someone is listening.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.