Music Piracy: Should It Be Allowed?

File sharing is when people share files on their computers with other users. This is done across the internet and made possible by peer-to-peer programs. These files can be anything: pictures, text, pornography, movies, etc. I will be focusing on music. The issue is whether or not music or file-sharing should be legalized.

When I first tried Kazaa, I was absolutely amazed. With my family’s terribly slow internet connection, I would download as much music as I could. I would wait patiently, sometimes 30-45 minutes, for a single song to be downloaded. Then, one day we got a ADSL connection and no one could stop me from downloading music. In a rough estimate, I must have downloaded over 30 gigabytes worth of music in the past few years. That’s a lot of music, music that I would not have heard, artists I would have not discovered, if it weren’t for file sharing.

But all good things come to an end. After losing legal battles with the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and related parties, Napster started deteriorating. Filters prevented certain artists from being listed in searches and if you had songs by certain artists on your computer, you would be banned. I once started up Napster only to be greeted with this message: “YOU HAVE BEEN BANNED BY DR. DRE”. Along with thousands of other people, I stopped using the program.

So what was/is the RIAA’s deal? What do they have against file-sharing? The RIAA and many artists feel that peer-to-peer file-sharing is a violation of copyright laws and is hurting music sales. Some artists feel that P2P sharing is, simply, stealing. That they feel this way is okay. However, the way they went about handling the situation is highly debatable. For the most part it shows the lack of vision and understanding the RIAA and some musicians have concerning the future of music.

Why are CD sales down? In 2002, there was a 10% decline in record sales. The RIAA blame file-sharing, however, they need to consider the following possibilities… (1) The state of radio. Clear Channel controls around 60% of rock radio. Ever wonder why, no matter what city you travel to, there is always a radio station with the same format as a station back home. According to Professor James Boyle’s, this is an example of Clear Channels “McDonaldization” of radio. “Since Clear Channel controls the format and the play lists of the majority of radio stations across the country, the type of music that gets heard becomes limited to what Clear Channel programmers decide to include on play lists”(Boyle’s).

If the listeners don’t like what they hear, they won’t buy the music. Would the fact that almost every song on commercial radio is bought and paid for have anything to do with the narrow focus and homogeneous nature of radio? “What drives radio is advertising and money, not music. A lot of music gets left behind thanks to the current state of radio, that consumers are rejecting it shouldn’t be surprising. They’re creating their own MP3 play lists, and if the labels were smart, they’d be doing everything in their power to be on the play lists of radio stations. Instead, they scream copyright infringement and call their lawyers.” (Boyle’s)

The second possibility is price. Music is overly expensive. Sometimes, paying $15 for a CD is just not within people’s budget. What file-sharing has told the recording industry is that a very large number of people are more willing to sit in front of their computer and download music, rather than pay for the ridiculously overpriced alternative. Basic economics tells us that as more alternatives become available, prices drop. The recording industry is trying to resist this. Imagine if new CD’s were only 5 dollars each. Would you buy more music? I certainly would. Of course, this invites the classic argument, presented by John Syner in his essay “Many Things We Pay for Are Free”: “Why would people buy something that they can get for free?”

There are dozens of companies that sell…water. We pay for TV when there is free programming. We buy books, when we borrow them for free at the library. Why would you pay for a song that you could get for free? For the same reason that you will buy a book that you could borrow from the public library or buy a DVD of a movie that you could watch on television or rent for the weekend. Convenience, ease-of-use, selection, ability to find what you want, and for enthusiasts, the sheer pleasure of owning something you treasure. It could be argued that MP3’s are the greatest marketing tool ever to come along for the music industry. If your music is not being downloaded, then you’re in trouble. If you can’t give it away, you certainly can’t sell it.

There will always be a market for CD’s because people, especially music collectors, want something tangible. Something with art and liner notes, that they can put on their shelves. I believe the Philosophy of Consumerism fits this topic to a “T”. Consumerism is the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable.

The third and final possibility is that file-sharing is helping the music industry. As I said at the beginning of the essay, file-sharing has allowed me to discover artists that I would not have discovered otherwise. Many times after discovering these new bands/artists I actually did go out and purchase some of their music. Sometimes I went to go see them play live at a local club. But even if I didn’t go out and purchase a bands album, I am still benefiting them by downloading their music. If I like what I hear, they get free word of mouth.