Confessions of Downloader

I recently spent over a month searching for, downloading and burning forty different versions of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” This was my first but not last attempt at downloading mp3 music files from the www. Like my subsequent attempts, it was not a pleasurable experience.

These masochistic journeys into the netherworld of mp3 downloading made we wonder why Hilary Rosen of the RIAA, the record companies, and artists like Eminem are so worked up about people downloading free songs and albums from the www. Either they’re pretty ignorant about what’s really going on or I am. And I don’t think I am. Then again, maybe I’m not very computer-savvy and I’m missing something.

Searching for songs always provided a little excitement because, no matter which program I used, every single time I hit the “Search” button I got different results, sometimes within a couple of minutes using the same program. Many files, like the versions of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by the Alarm, Natalie Cole, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the London Philharmonic Orchestra I saw only once during weeks of searching and never was able to download. Where’d they go?

Worse, there are evidently three groups of idiots, quite numerous, who post mp3 files on the www. The first group can’t spell. It was about a week into my project when I realized that in order to find the files I was looking for I needed to type in four different spellings of words in the song’s title- “Knocking,” “Knockin’,” “Heavens” and “Heaven’s.” I got different results for each spelling.

The second group of idiots has no idea who is actually performing the song. I realized after about two more weeks that Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and the Cream were all really Eric Clapton, and that Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and Metallica were all really Guns N Roses.

In addition, a third group of idiots posts files that are incomplete or that have a minute or more of dead time at the end of the song which, unless one enjoys listening to nothing (I don’t), requires editing before burning.

You don’t know any of this- files are not by the artists claimed, are incomplete, or have dead time tacked onto the end- until after you have successfully downloaded the files to your hard drive and played them. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being This Is One Humongous Pain In The Ass And Waste Of My Valuable Time, this rates a 20. But it gets worse.

Attempting to successfully download a song leads to frustration, anger and, depending on how badly you want a particular song, thoughts of suicide. It requires as much patience as raising a teenager. Maybe college students have the time required, but those of us who work full-time, have families, and desire something of a normal or semi-normal life away from a computer screen do not, for seldom was I able to quickly download a song I found on the www. What usually happened was I’d be placed “in line” behind four or more (usually many more) other users around the world hoping to acquire that song. With Kazaa, which does not provide you with many “hits” and no complete albums that I could ever find, I might eventually get the song after 2-4 days, but just as often never be able to download it. WinMX provided a lot more “hits” but proved more frustrating than Kazaa in getting the files. As I was waiting for my “turn” or in the middle of downloading a file people went offline, the Network went offline, or the message “Timed Out (waiting for server response)” appeared. Winmx did list some complete albums, mostly bootleg concerts, but these always had over 50 users waiting their turn to download the files. Morpheus was no better.

Why did I want to compile forty different versions of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”? I honestly have no idea. But what I do know is that if I had to buy the cds containing each of those tracks, assuming I could even find them all, I’d be out about $700-800 for what turned out to be two cds. Maybe the guys in Metallica have that kind of money but this public school teacher attempting to support a family does not.

Did I break the law? Sure. Am I worried about Hilary Rosen and the FBI breaking into my house, seizing my computer, and arresting me? Only if this column gets published and the FBI has no fear of people wondering why they’re busting a guy downloading a few mp3 files for his own personal pleasure instead of looking for people attempting to turn our nation’s capital into a very large parking lot.

What did I learn from all this? I learned that there can’t be millions of people downloading songs and albums successfully, posing some terrible threat to the enormous profits of the record companies. I learned that the threat to the industry is not from people with computers in their houses, it’s from people with greed in their hearts. If the folks who run the record companies and the RIAA want to know who their real enemy is all they have to do is look in a mirror.

As Bob Dylan said many years ago, long before computers, mp3s, and the Internet, “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

Lou Cohan can be reached at: