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Our first experiences with live bands were bands that had a political awareness, and it always felt natural for us to include it. -- Edge

Stolen Songs: To Download

@U2 presents both sides of the 'Download or Not' debate
(Since the news spread that a CD with songs from U2's new album was stolen in France, U2 fans have been wondering if the songs will appear online and debating the pros and cons of downloading them if they do. Feelings and opinions are strong on both sides of the debate. Here, @U2 presents two articles addressing the hypothetical question "What if the songs become available to download online?": one below taking the "pro" side of the debate, and one arguing against downloading.)

Once it's out there, it's out there, and there's nothing you can do about it. So go ahead and download it, just do it responsibly.

The person who stole that CD was wrong in doing so. He shouldn't have stolen it, and he shouldn't share it on the Internet. But if that music ever becomes available via the web, your decision to download, or not to download, can't change that fact. So if you want to hear it, which I know you do, go for it. Just take a few guidelines under consideration.

I'm not here to tell anyone who doesn't want to download that they should. If you're not comfortable doing so for any reason, by all means, don't. But if you're thinking that you'd really like to hear this stuff, but you've got these pious folks telling you that you shouldn't, read on.

The reason you should download it is very simple: Music from the greatest band in the world is out there, and you've been waiting for years to hear it. Is that reason enough? Good. Now, let's run through the major arguments against downloading, and what you can do so your act of downloading is not a problem.

1. This leak will hurt sales.

Buy the album once it is released. That way, your act of downloading the album won't affect their bottom line.

2. Those who steal shouldn't profit from it.

Don't pay for it -- don't provide anyone involved in the distribution of this bootlegged material any money, and you won't be contributing to the profit of anyone who stole or circulated it.

3. Previewing music over the web -- finished or unfinished -- takes away from that initial experience of buying and listening to the CD for the first time. I remember having this dilemma when All That You Can't Leave Behind came out on the web. I had such vivid and fond memories of anticipation, purchase, and my first listen of Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. When ATYCLB was available on the web, I worried about losing that experience. You know what? I don't vividly remember buying that CD, but I do remember -- quite fondly -- exactly where and when I listened to it online. Do I enjoy the CD any less today because I heard it online first? Not one bit.

If you enjoy that anticipation, and buying that CD is your idea of the proper culmination of a long wait, and you just don't want to lose that, then hold out. But I would challenge anyone who thinks that buying the CD is, and always will be, the ultimate music experience. I think anyone who grew up listening exclusively to vinyl records would agree with me, as would anyone who will grow up listening exclusively to MP3s. Times they are a changin'... If you're ready, feel free to hop on board.

Or, if you want a full poetic experience that you hold so dearly, burn the music onto a CD, take your Walkman down to a nice little babbling brook or grassy meadow and listen your little heart out. You won't have the liner notes, but that picnic lunch you packed might make up for it.

4. If this music is actually very rough and not their finished work, listening to this incomplete work will taint the way you perceive the final product. This will thus contribute to an unjustly negative perception of the album.

They say laws and sausages are great, but you don't want to see how they're made. I suppose some would add U2 albums to this list. I disagree. I think this is a great opportunity to get a glimpse of U2's creative process. You just have to take the music for what it is: an incomplete work, not the final product. Chances are, sound and musical quality will be inferior to the album. You'll find that out after completing #1 above. But this is a unique opportunity to see how the songs develop.

Other tapes, such as the "Salome tapes" from the Achtung Baby sessions, have provided a unique insight into how U2 made arguably one of the most significant transitions in rock history: from the Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum genre into Achtung Baby. I don't listen to them nearly as much as any of their albums, but they show a side of the band that I would never have otherwise. I think it is just the coolest thing, and makes me like them even more.

Some people say it's okay to listen to the incomplete works, but only after you've heard the final product. Personally, I think that being able to "listen in" to earlier versions makes me appreciate the final cut more once I hear it. I enjoy being able to analyze and critique the how they made improvements, and how they manage to morph one song or sound into another. What a great opportunity for a fan to have.

In terms of listening to a work in progress affecting the appeal of the final product, you can compare it to watching a "behind the scenes" TV segment for a new movie. You know why they make them? To promote the movie. People get to see how a movie is made, and it intrigues them more to go out and pay to see the movie. If these segments had the opposite effect -- to decrease box office sales -- they wouldn't make them.

Before you decide whether to download or not, ask yourself this very important question: If the band invited you into the studio to listen to some of their music before it was in its most perfect form, would you reply, "Thank you for the offer, kind sirs, but you see, listening to this music before it is perfected will taint the way I hear it once the album is released?" If you would say that, then do not download this music. I would recommend, however, seeking some form of therapy, because I say you're crazy.

5. But the band didn't invite you into their studio -- that music was stolen.

Yes, and stealing is wrong. But you didn't steal it -- the bastard with the fast fingers in Edge's bag stole it. You are obtaining a copy of stolen material. What is the problem with obtaining stolen material? I think I've addressed those problems in #1-3 above. Follow my advice on how to handle those three arguments, and we've got no problem. Ultimately, it's out there already, and your act of downloading it, or not downloading it, won't change what's been done, for better or for worse.

6. It's illegal and you could get in trouble.

The law doesn't define what is right or wrong -- laws are written by people based upon what they view to be right and wrong. Electronic file sharing is a new issue still working itself out. Currently, yes, copyright holders are vigorously using legal measures to protect their property. But I'm no lawyer, and I'm not about to dole out legal advice on a fan website. You're on your own there.

7. By making another copy, you are contributing to the problem by further distributing it.

Don't share it online. You can only control what you do -- not what others do. When you share it with someone else online, you don't know whether or not they will judge it for what it actually is, or if they will forgo the purchase of the actual CD. And if you share it in person with someone, make sure that they understand that it is just a rough cut, and encourage them to buy the album as well. So download it for your pleasure only.

So there you go. You know you want to hear this music, and I know those holier-than-thou folks have been telling you not to. But follow these simple guidelines, and you can download that music guilt-free. As for those people who are vowing not to listen? I'll leave it up to you whether to tell them how it sounds.

© @U2, 2004.