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Q&A

Q1:Should I go out and get as many plug-ins as I can find, so I'm ready for anything?
A1: Nah. For the most part, outside of streaming audio/video and Shockwave, plug-ins are rarely necessary. Smart Web developers want to reach as many people as possible, and they know that forcing people to get a plug-in may scare some folks off. Also, plug-ins are known to drag your browser's performance; there's no sense bogging down your browser (and filling up your hard disk) with plug-ins you may not use. Besides, not all plug-ins are free.

When you come across something you really want to see or do, and it requires a plug-in, make your move. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

Q2:I read in the paper something about MP3 and piracy. Am I breaking the law when I listen to an MP3 file?
A2: Yes and no… (Why do you ask these difficult questions? What do you want from me? I just write computer books. That alone should tell you how little I know about ethics.)

Early in the MP3 boom, a large number of copyrighted songs began circulating the Net in MP3 files. The music publishers—rightly feeling that they were losing a royalty on all these free files—caught wise and started to crack down on sites that distribute these files. But many MP3 files are still available online, and new ones are put online every day in spite of the record companies' efforts. When you download one of these "bootleg" MP3 files, you're aiding and abetting a violation of copyright law.

The legal issues are still being worked out, so don't hold me to this, but it appears a model is evolving wherein record companies would permit (even encourage) the distribution of MP3 files of a very few, select songs from a CD as samples, with the hope that these would encourage listeners to buy the whole CD. This is especially the case, obviously, with groups that aren't well known and want people to listen to their songs.

To support this concept (and keep the sharks at bay), a growing number of MP3 sites are featuring links to online CD stores, such as CDNow (www.CDnow.com) and CD Universe (www.cduniverse.com), so visitors can jump straight from the site where they heard the song to a place where they can buy the CD.


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