BOB GARFIELD: Now, let's leap ahead 60 years or so. In January, music industry executives received heartening news when the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that illegal music file-sharing was down 50 percent. But the celebration was premature. The first Recording Industry Association of America lawsuits against individual file-sharers did frighten off the lighter users from using peer to peer networks, but the core users are still sharing. Meanwhile, by the end of 2003, 13 percent of U.S. households had at least one portable MP3 player, up six-fold from 2001, according to the Consumers Electronics Association. OTM's Ben Walker has looked into a brand new, one might say futuristic, use of MP3s and the internet, and technically, it's not illegal. Yet. [MUSIC UP & UNDER] [MONTAGE OF VOICES FOLLOWS]
MATTHEW PERPETUA: This song makes me feel as though I'm living in some kind of crazy post-Apocalyptic world, one perhaps where robots are our masters. But in a good way, you know?
ELAINE CHANG: There's tons of blaring trumpets and trombones, tinkly cymbal, and occasional little guitar riffs. It might get a little repetitive, but I love the little horn trills, and then the guitar echoing it. Maybe I'm just weird.
SEAN MICHAELS: This song is like a really good kiss, like a broken jukebox kiss, like a kiss that sends you hurtling back past all the bittersweet moments of life, each of them sparking into dust.
BEN WALKER: That's a simulation of what an MP3 blog sounds like. It sounds, as you undoubtedly noticed, a lot like radio, which is why I like to call these new kids on the internet block the MP3J's, only on the web, they don't talk, they just write -- about music you can listen to as you read. It's an amazing, yet simple, concept.
MATTHEW PERPETUA: What I'm doing is every day I post one or two MP3s, and I write a bit of commentary about it.
BEN WALKER: Matthew Perpetua runs Fluxblog, probably the most popular MP3 blog on the internet. Matthew's often referred to as the grandaddy of the MP3Js, a moniker the 24-year old art school graduate is quick to shake off every time I bring it up. Fluxblog, Matthew insists, is of modest origins -- a college with no campus radio station.
MATTHEW PERPETUA: I didn't have a radio show, so being able to, you know, put songs up and have people hear them -- it, it kind of filled that kind of void that I had, that I, I guess I've - it's almost kind of like the efforts of a very frustrated person who never got to do college radio.
BEN WALKER: Like all great college DJs, Matthew has a quirky sense of humor and has passion and enthusiasm for bands you've never heard of. Almost every MP3J I spoke with shares this aesthetic, but because it's the internet, there seems to be no limit to how diverse or obscure the music can get, the MP3J Elaine Chang of the MP3 blog Fruits of Chaos, for example, spins Asian music that seems to come from a subgenre of a subgenre of a subgenre.
ELAINE CHANG: I try to promote really obscure artists, really obscure even for, like Japan or China, because that's sort of cool to see, you know, what's the indie scene over there as opposed to the indie scene over here.
SEAN MICHAELS: When you're posting the music you're talking about, the audience can have a better sense of what it is you're getting at and-- and can begin to maybe hear the same things you hear and, and get some of the enjoyment that you're getting.
BEN WALKER: Sean Michaels, a Canadian who runs an MP3 blog called Said the Gramophone. Before Sean started MP3Jing, he wrote music reviews for a variety of websites, the kind of writing about music you find in magazines and newspapers, top ten lists, reviews. But Sean found this experience frustrating, because he felt it wasn't taking advantage of what the internet had to offer.
SEAN MICHAELS: I was getting a little bit tired of the, the format limitations, where you say this music sounds like this, you'll like it if you like this, buy it or don't buy it. And so I decided to start posting a song and then writing about it, and, and it was wonderful, because suddenly I was suddenly writing the kind of criticism that really engages with the art that it discusses. It's just so much more interesting.
BEN WALKER: It's unclear how the music business is going to react to this new use of their material. Well, unclear, if you don't count the rising number of MP3 file-traders who are being sued by the recording industry. But Sean and Matthew feel strongly that their MP3Jing is something other than piracy -- an activity, in fact, deserving of fair use protection. I got professor Justin Hughes, an intellectual property scholar at the Cardozo Law School to take a look at a few MP3 blogs. He found it highly doubtful that the courts would buy the argument that the MP3J is transforming the copyrighted works themselves.
JUSTIN HUGHES: Under traditional fair use it's accepted that you could quote extensively from a work in order to criticize it, to analyze it, to talk about it. What we've got different here is that they're including the whole work. It is a non-transformative copying of the work. It's not like a parody, it's not like a satire.
BEN WALKER: Professor Hughes did acknowledge that MP3Jing is an activity that is much less harmful to the industry than anonymous file trading, and it's important to note that no MP3J has yet built a downloadable archive or library. The MP3s are posted only for a limited time, usually arranged from a day to a week, something all MP3Js say is more philosophy than architecture, even though access to large amounts of band width is beyond the average MP3J's reach. The important thing is to stay off the radar of organizations like the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America. But a lot of MP3Js think this is impossible because of something that Matthew did last December.
MATTHEW PERPETUA: In December of 2003, I put up a song [SONG UP AND UNDER] by the band LCD Sound System called "Yeah." That song just blew up. Everybody loved it. It started being posted on internet message boards. Several blogs were linking to it. Almost everybody who heard it just got extremely enthusiastic about it. And that was the big, that was the point where it really just ex-- you know, really just--
BEN WALKER: And today, still coasting on its MP3J-generated buzz, the song is making its way up the charts of hip college radio stations around the country, a feat record companies can spend thousands and thousands of dollars to achieve. [MUSIC FADES OUT] But it's more than a new hit song. In breaking "Yeah," Matthew inadvertently broke the MP3 blog as well.
MATTHEW PERPETUA: People, you know, discovered the site through that song. You know, they - people were excited about that song, and then I guess people, you know, looked around and they saw something that they'd go, oh, you know what, I can do that.
BEN WALKER: And the trend continues with four or five new MP3 blogs cropping up every week now, which means it's only a matter of time before the next big fight over copyright and fair use on the internet. For On the Media, I'm Benjamin Walker.
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was directed by Katya Rogers and produced by Janeen Price, Megan Ryan and Tony Field, and edited-- by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director, and Rob Christiansen and Jennifer Munsen our engineers; we had help from Derek John. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. [THEME MUSIC UP AND UNDER] You can listen to the program and get free transcripts and MP3 downloads at onthemedia.org, and email us at email@example.com. This is On the Media, from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.