Libraries and free music: the good, the bad and the ugly (sort of)

The Good: Library patrons at St. Pete Beach are given three free downloads per week. Unlike many files on iTunes and other online applications, Freegal’s MP3 files are free of Digital Rights Management, which means they can be downloaded more than once and used freely.

Now instead of borrowing a gnarled CD of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and twitching to the multiple skips on “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” you can download it for free through Freegal and take it with you via Mp3 player. Let’s just hope your library was American enough to purchase the song.

The Bad: According to a recent Public Library Association conference, Freegal charges libraries about a dollar a download. There were also online rumors that the minimum charge for a bulk purchase of 1,450 files was $1,885. Even though libraries already pay for CDs, it’s still a hefty price tag.

Because public libraries are funded by tax dollars and government grants, the amount of money spent on a service like Freegal may make some patrons uncomfortable. Granted, those types probably hit the dinner buffet at 4 pm and consider Napster to be an afternoon ritual — there are still legitimate reasons to worry about the expenditure.

Another concern (mainly from people involved in library sciences) is that the traditional model of libraries is shifting. Some worry that libraries in the future will only cater to patrons who want music and film, thus books will become arcane in a digital world.

The Ugly (Sort of): Media piracy is increasing and the ethics of theft are evolving with the digital culture. Your opinion of Freegal probably depends on how much you use BitTorrent or other peer-to-peer downloading systems.

Maybe the overarching question is this: If libraries gave away free file downloads to patrons, would that encourage those people to go further and upload them on a BitTorrent website? Would it hurt the presently-wounded album sales of artists? Only time will tell.

Public library systems have long been famous for utilizing the lending system, but what happens when these communal forts of knowledge start giving things away?

St. Pete Beach Public Library and many other libraries across the U.S. have been slowly adding Freegal Music Service, a free-use music download website, to their possibilities of music choices. As you may have guessed, there are some pros and cons that come with this development.

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