Over the past six or seven years, we have witnessed a monumental shift in the music industry. For most of us, acquiring the latest tunes simply requires that we log onto the internet and do a quick search.

I sort of miss going to Sam’s on Dundas Street in Toronto where I used to spend hours as a teenager going through the hundreds of unknown artists where I found Bon Jovi and Whitesnake before they were ‘known’ by most. That was then, however. Today’s youth have an even better selection, and one that encompasses the entire planet.

The responses from the music industry have been mixed, ranging from all out war on ‘pirates’, to total acceptance and support from industry insiders who aren’t at risk of losing a multi-billion dollar monopolistic empire.

While common ethics would dictate that downloading someone else’s hard work or talent without compensating them is easily identifiable as theft, I think that the industry itself has been so corrupt over its history that even these relatively lucid arguments are excused by many. That doesn’t make it right, but it certainly lends to the current attitudes towards downloading music.

We have heard of payola, the scandal that rocked the music industry in the ’60’s, where record labels were paying to have their songs played. (Sounds benign and standard, today.) We have seen the documentaries of major recording artists that were taken to the cleaners by the labels for generations, as well as their descendants being denied compensation, and we have seen price gouging with the price of some cd’s topping the $20 mark at the inception of the little shiny disk, even though they were cheaper to manufacture than the cassettes that sold for $7.99. All of these factors have helped to undo the industry. I know, we must not leave out the fact that today’s youth have no exposure to right and wrong anymore.

Many artists have not surprisingly seen the potential of the internet. They have found that they can get their songs to their fans much quicker, easier, and cheaper. I have often wondered why an aspiring artist would find it okay to have his or her musical endeavors stolen. The answers are not cut and dry, but the two most prevalent are a simple, inexpensive means to get their name out there and to build a base of loyal listeners, and to be able to do what they want on their own terms without being beholden to one of the major labels.

As well, today’s young artists grew up with the internet and understand the mindset of the people who use it, (their peers), as well as the global potential that is there for the taking.

The music industry has not liked the internet. They see it as a tool for people to usurp the system, a system which has made many record executives very rich. That system is now compromised.

That leaves the industry with three choices. Ignore the problem, embrace the change and learn how to use it, or fight progress and the changing mindset of their customers. To no one’s surprise, the major labels have chosen the latter. They have engaged in an all out war. Their targets? Children, parents, and grandparents. While I cannot blame them for protecting their lucrative ventures with all of the legal means at their disposal, it is simply appalling to see this industry drag grandparents into court and to watch them extort money from unwitting parents with the threat of monetary ruin in a lengthy court battle.

What this issue has become is something between David and Goliath and Robin Hood.

Whether the music industry is in the right legally or no, its past history and its present guerilla tactics put it at the greatest disadvantage. Public support is now coming down heavily against the recording industry. In fact, even some in the industry are now fighting the industry.

Nettwerk Music Group, a Canadian recording company which represents such high profile names as Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, and The Barenaked Ladies, has come to the defence of an American family which was targeted in a recent RIAA lawsuit. The family is being sued for $9,000. The Canadian company has not only publicly condemned the RIAA for its punitive crusade, but has also decided to support the family financially as it takes the case to court.

There is more at stake here than one simple lawsuit. The RIAA has now lost the moral right to claim to speak for all recording artists and all record labels. I believe that will have a profound effect on any judgments that they would seek to obtain in a reputable court. Perhaps we are starting to see the end of one of the most tightly controlled industries on the planet; one which provided huge sums of money for a few well placed individuals.

Perhaps the industry will now re-organize to actually favour the artist. One thing is for sure. The internet has definitely broken the choke hold that a select few had on what all of us would be able to listen to.