‘Chinese Democracy’ leaker endures unfair legal crackdown

Kevin Cogill, a blogger from Culver City, Calif., was arrested by the FBI on Aug. 28 under suspicion of violating federal copyright law. Cogill allegedly distributed nine unreleased Guns N’ Roses songs from the bands long-delayed upcoming record, “Chinese Democracy.”

Cogill admitted to posting the tracks, as reported by Rolling Stone’s Rock & Roll Daily blog, and is currently embroiled in the legal battle of a lifetime. The blog reported on Sept. 2 that Cogill cannot afford an attorney, and is currently attempting to raise money for his defense through a PayPal account. Cogill faces a potential five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

The U.S. court system has already shown a degree of leniency to Cogill. The Rock & Roll Daily blog reported that at an initial hearing, the presiding judge said Cogill’s bail, set at $50,000, was excessive and a court summons, rather than a full-fledged arrest, would have been more appropriate.

Cogill’s case is high-profile. Rest assured, as the trial progresses, the music blogosphere will be alight with discussion on the potential repercussions of this case. What has me so miffed about this case is its timing.

It’s safe to assume that the majority of people reading this article have at one point or another violated federal copyright law. Illegal downloading and file sharing are commonplace in today’s society.

It’s a pretty easy concept to comprehend. Downloading music you’re not paying for is the equivalent of pocketing a CD at a music retail location and walking out the door. Both are illegal. But years have passed during which various file sharing programs have developed and flourished, and yet the federal government has done little to combat the problem, which in all likelihood has become too widespread to combat.

Why then should Cogill, a blogger who simply wanted to weigh in on the hype surrounding Guns N’ Roses’ first studio contribution in years, be held accountable when so many millions of people remain unscathed? The music industry and federal government have had ample time to contend with this issue. The collective backlash against Cogill seems like a reaction delayed for nearly a decade.

If anything, this high-profile case will harm both the already sinking record industry and Guns N’ Roses. Putting Cogill behind bars will do little to reverse the trends in the file sharing culture, and will likely only succeed in inspiring greater contempt for both the record industry and the band itself.

I can understand the rationale behind creating and upholding copyright law. These regulations are essential for maintaining the financial prosperity of the music industry and consequently, the continued production of music by bands and musicians alike. However, it is pointless to attempt to reverse file sharing trends now. Instead, the music industry needs to find a new business model rather than continuing to punish music fans.

Joseph Hannan can be reached at hannan2@tcnj.edu.