by Ryan Tate
Robert MacCoun may
be a distinguished law professor and social psychologist, but he's
not always popular with his colleagues.
A stickler for
details -- he has studied how seemingly inconsequential acts can
shake society when multiplied by millions of actors -- MacCoun is
careful in ways that might seem selfish.
Take, for example,
his record collection. In the course of compiling a personal archive
of obscure jazz and folk music, the mild-mannered scholar heeds the
carefully worded copyright notices on his albums. "They say
something like, 'please do not redistribute this to your friends,
even if they ask,'" says MacCoun, who teaches in the
Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at the law school of the
University of California, Berkeley. "And I respect that."
MacCoun says he
knows that the small record companies who produce most of his records
and compact discs need every last dime they can get. So when friends
ask for cassette recordings of the tunes, he turns them away.
The big boys
But he doesn't
hoard mainstream music like that, he notes with a nervous chuckle.
It's not the same, he explains, when an album is cut by one of the
five major record labels -- Bertelsmann's
The imperative for observing copyright laws is not as great when
he's dealing with a large corporation.
record-taping policy encapsulates the problem with copyright law in
the Internet era, the professor and other social psychologists say.
People don't see much point in observing laws that seem only to
enrich corporate executives and lawyers rather than artists and
performers, or of buying products like compact discs that drive
profits rather than customer satisfaction.
psychologists say, is probably as important as technology like Napster
in explaining why people now download, for free, songs that cost
thousands of dollars to produce -- and why they will likely continue
to do so even if the courts declare such activity illegal. "It
makes it extremely easy for a user of Napster to say, 'the only
people being hurt are the record companies, and they aren't paying
the artists anyway,'" says Peter Kollock, who teaches social
psychology at UCLA.
And whatever the
reason for Napster use, the social shrinks continue, Americans are
clearly growing addicted to free music and wary of the notion of
intellectual property in general. It's even up for debate whether
they really believed in intellectual property in the first place --
or just complied with copyright laws because past technology left
them with little other choice.
Studying human behavior
interviewed for this story emphasize that they are merely speculating
on the Napster phenomenon -- none has studied the program formally,
nor is there much, if any, academic research on the topic, since
Napster has only been around for about 10 months. But their
speculation is rooted, at least, in lengthy, in-depth study of human
behavior -- rather than guesswork or financial self-interest.
In the end, they
say, there are no easy answers for the record industry. An
affordable, subscription service as easy and rich as Napster -- a
model that companies like RealNetworks
(MPPP) and Emusic
(EMUS) are shooting for -- probably won't fly in the current social
climate, they say.
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