Random Thoughts

Legally download illegal mp3s in China!

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Any of you that thought teaching students to follow copyright laws in your country were difficult. From techcrunch:

On a more positive note a Beijing appeals court ruled that Baidu was not guilty of copyright infringement for posting links to websites that offer illegal music downloads. Baidu offers music search on its front page and the service is often cited as being one of the core reasons behind its success in China over Google…

So..now what do I teach the students? “It’s illegal to download music if you don’t pay for it, expect if you use Baidu.com, then you can do it all you want.” You don’t have to read Chinese to use the mp3 search. Just go to baidu.com and click on mp3 and type in the title of a song. I tried it and had the song I was looking for within 30 seconds (all legal right?).

So I’m trying to wrap my head around what this means for the world of music. A country of over 1 billion people who are buying computers and getting online at a very fast pace (Just ask those who have visited here with me) can now download any mp3 they want legally via a very popular Chinese search engine. This leaves me thinking about the great discussions I had with my middle school students last year about downloading illegal music and how all my arguments, just went out the window.

I just keep thinking about how I’m going to explain this. You can download the music, but can you use it in a photostory or a video? You downloaded it from an illegal site via legal means (is that confusing?). So the searching for illegal music is not illegal just the actual downloading of the song. Reminds me of the famous line “I didn’t inhale”.

Well at any rate I’m gonna have to take some time to wrap my head around this one. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Should we be celebrating this, or scratching our heads on how do we explain this to both teachers and students (teachers listen to music too 😉 )?


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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Baidu isn’t illegal but the sites that post the music are illegal. Certainly their are nefarious activities google might index but that doesn’t make those activities legal.

    According to Hall Davidson’ copyright chart, though you can use copyrighted classroom projects you can’t use that music if it’s stolen.

  2. I do not condone software or content piracy, but the culture of IP ownership (from the US) has got so extreme that the RIAA are arguing that it is illegal for people to rip music from their purchased CDs to put them on their Ipods. Given that George Bush has Beatles music on his Ipod this certainly makes your Commander in Chief a felon.

    Content producers deserve to make a living, but piracy is a natural response to media companies trying to protect old business models. This is at a time when it is so easy to duplicate and redistribute content digitally. I am not going to condone piracy, but you should also look at this from an international perspective. If it was not for piracy then young Chinese people would have not have access to all the great content such as A Clockwork Orange and Nirvana CDs that is opening up my friends’ eyes to new ideas that got their parents in prison during the cultural revolution.

    There is no HMV or Virgin Megastore in mainland China. Itunes does not operate for Chinese credit card holders and the local media is heavily censored. How else can young people in China on a very limited income access content that Western audiences take for granted?

    Rather than rely on the MPAA and the RIAA, it is upto to the media industry to invest in new business models. I am encouraged that Itunes started selling DRM free content, although it is not as good as Emusic who have absolutely no copy protection on the music they sell. Even Andrew Keen of The Cult of Amateur fame praised them in his book. Maybe movie download services will also follow this lead.

    It is not as clear cut as saying that people who pirate content are bad given the inappropriate boundaries that the content producers have set. Let us look at the more pragmatic views setup by Lawrence Lessing, the father of Creative Commons. Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing is an extreme free culture advocate, but he turned me on to a great film called “Steal This Film”, which explores how the culture of copyright is a very recent chapter in our history, which goes against the grain of people sharing ideas with each other.

    The PirateBay got raided in 2006, but they kept going because they just link to other people’s content rather than cache it on their servers. The same is true for Baidu. Google is just more conservative about who it links to, although they still benefit from copyright violation on Youtube, which they own.

    That is a very long ramble for saying that piracy is not a black and white issue.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    No, no, it is still not legal to download the stuff. Rather, the search engine itself is not committing an illegal act by pointing to an illegal download.

    That’s the distinction.

  4. You all make very good points. How do we explain this to a 13 year old who has downloaded music free from the time they were born, who has a hard time grasping the concept of paying for anything entertainment wise and as Catshanghai points out here in China they expects it to be free and illegal doesn’t matter. It’s a messy world out there. I just wish I could teach a class where we could have discussions like this, but what class does this fit into? Where do you put thinking and discussions like this into the curriculum? The 20th Century is already the most understudied part of our history and we’re talking 21st Century now. We can’t stop them from downloading illegal music but we can try and educate them if only we had a curriculum that would allow it.

  5. It is also an economic issue. The cost of distribution is falling to zero. A key insight I got from reading The Long Tail, scanning Techcrunch and listening to Buzz Out Loud is that media companies will make more money by lowering their prices and making it more convenient for people to access high quality content. They need to innovate so they can compete with pirates. Warner Brothers has taken baby steps by releasing some of its DVD back catalogue in China for 3 dollars a disk.

    The IBO has already setup an excellent course for the IB Diploma Programme called Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS), which considers the impacts of technology on people’s lives. We consider ethical issues including copyright. The IBO’s learner profile likes issues to be uncertain. It encourages discussion and critical thinking.

    ITGS is only taught post 16. It would be good to give more opportunity to explore these issues much earlier in the curriculum.

  6. “Any of you that thought teaching students to follow copyright laws in your country were difficult.”

    The last thing we should do is teach students to be obedient (i.e. “follow”). We need to inform them of the consequences when they break copyright law but also need to get them questioning the ethics behind laws that prevent citizens from sharing culture.

    “I just wish I could teach a class where we could have discussions like this, but what class does this fit into?”

    I’ve done so the past several years. Last semester my class read a good portion of Lessig’s “Free Culture”, watched documentaries, and discussed some of the issues around copyright. The last time I checked, the IB ITGS course included a unit on “Intellectual Property” (sic). What I’ve taught has been my own thing but if your school is IB, this stuff would fit into that course quite well.

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