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NPR intern owns 11,000 songs, paid for only a few

Alex Brandon / AP file

Remember buying records? An NPR intern's blog post has sparked a huge debate about paying for music.

Those who've seen music change from record players to 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs and MP3s know well that the format of one's music collection is far from permanent.

But that said, a 20-year-old NPR intern managed to strike up quite the controversy last week with her blog post, "I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With."  American University senior Emily White confesses that she has more than 11,000 songs in her iTunes library, is "an avid music listener, concertgoer and college radio DJ," yet only paid for 15 CDs in her lifetime.

"I wish I could say I miss album packaging and liner notes and rue the decline in album sales the digital world has caused," White writes. "But the truth is, I've never supported physical music as a consumer."

She goes on to say that she herself didn't "illegally" download most of the songs, receiving some from family, friends, and in one case, a senior prom date who loaded her iPod up with 15 gigs of music. She also confesses to spending hours ripping music from the college radio station where she worked -- apparently viewing all that music acquisition as legal.

"As I've grown up, I've come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love," White writes, but she then goes on to say "I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for albums."

NPR readers posted more than 500 comments on her post. Some of them bragged about their own large music collections, while others called White a thief, or worse. Others commented on White's dream of a universal digital catalog of all music.

One of the longest and most publicized responses came from David Lowery, singer/songwriter for Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, who also teaches in the music business program at the University of Georgia.

"It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t take these tracks from a file-sharing site," Lowery writes to White. "That may seem like a neat dodge, but I’d suggest to you that from the artist’s point of view, it’s kind of irrelevant."

Lowery also wrote of two musician friends who killed themselves in part because of declining financial situations, writing "there is no other explanation (for their incomes falling) except for the fact that 'fans' made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists."

And in a much-quoted line, Lowery wrote, "Congratulations! Your generation is the first in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to weirdo freak musicians!"

Other readers also had their say.

"How do you suppose the creators of those 11,000 songs in 'your' iTunes library should be renumerated for providing you and others with listening pleasure?" wrote James Blum. "Were you thinking that their purpose in life was to amuse you for free?"

And some felt that those who criticized White were out of touch. "I honestly don't know what to say to all these commentors who refuse to look at a new situation," wrote Gail Madoff. "Hello? Technology happens? Deal with it."

The debate didn't end with the publication of White's post. NPR ran a follow-up post, the New York Times picked up the story, and musicians and music fans from all over chimed in on blogs and forums.

What do you think? Did Emily White steal tens of thousands of songs? Tell us on Facebook.

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