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Debate: File-sharing

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Should unregulated distribution of copyrighted works over Internet be allowed?

Background and context

Copyright is a form of legal protection provided to the authors of original works of authorship, whether books, music, film or other creative works. Its aim is to allow authors, musicians, directors, etc., (and the companies that back them and distribute their work) to profit from their creativity and so encourage them and others to produce other works in future. Basically copyright means that an author's work cannot be copied and distributed without their permission and without payment to them. The Internet is described as the biggest threat to copyright since its beginning.
The Internet is full of information, a lot of it under varying degrees of copyright protection. Downloading music, games, movies, software and other materials from the Internet without paying, and sharing these materials without proper permission is considered a violation of copyright laws. The most notorious case of unregulated distribution of copyrighted works was Napster and the lawsuit that was filed against it at the end of 1999. Napster was set up by Shawn Fanning, then aged 18, as a website which provide its users with a way to share the songs stored on each other's computers. This peer-to-peer (P2P) service allowed Napster users access to a huge online library of music, but as much of this music was under copyright its free distribution through filesharing was deeply unpopular with the record companies who immediately sued. In July 2001, a judge issued a ruling ordering Napster's servers to be shut down to prevent further copyright violations. Napster has since then changed into a subscription system and has paid record companies to allow them to share the music in the future. Yet file sharing was not prevented by this action as other websites (e.g. Edonkey, KaZaA, Grokster) that offer similar services (but without some of Napster's legal vulnerabilities) emerged. In 2003 record companies in the United States decided that they would not file civil lawsuits against peer-to-peer services anymore but rather against individual computer users who engage in illegal filesharing. This has led to hundreds of people, typically students, being accused in court and sometimes heavily fined for their activities. The arguments below focus mostly on sharing of music (MP3 files), as this kind of sharing is most common. Similar arguments could also be made for video files, books, software and other materials.[1]

Also see Wikipedia's file sharing article

Contents

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Listener benefits? Do music listeners benefit from file-sharing?

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Yes

  • Online file-sharing allows for more diversity and choice for users. File-sharing gives music listeners more choices than commercial radio or television stations, where record companies pay stations to play the same songs again and again and so create demand for pop hits. Sites that share music promote unknown artists that have equal chances to be downloaded.[2]
  • File-sharing allows a consumer to sample music before buying it. - Often, listeners will go and buy albums from a store, but file-sharing helps them first sample the artist to make sure they like the music. As a result, listeners are more likely to spend their money on the music that they actually like.
  • Consumers shouldn't have to buy CD's when they want only one song. BBC - "Bands 'urged to cut album tracks'" November, 19th, 2003 - ...the public thinks albums have too much filler."
  • MP3 is an inferior format to FLAC - Hearing the difference now isn't the reason to encode to FLAC. FLAC uses lossless compression, while MP3 is 'lossy'. What this means is that for each year the MP3 sits on your hard drive, it will lose roughly 12kbps, assuming you have SATA - it's about 15kbps on IDE, but only 7kbps on SCSI, due to rotational velocidensity. You don't want to know how much worse it is on CD-ROM or other optical media.



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No

  • MP3 files could in principle be a good way of promoting unknown artists, but nearly all the music that is shared and downloaded is highly commercial. In a trial against Napster, a random sample of songs that were downloaded was presented and only 14 out of 1150 songs were from unestablished artists. Moreover artists that don’t have record deals can freely choose to upload their music to the Internet and their music can be downloaded completely legally with their permission. They should have that choice, but musicians should also have the choice not to have their work widely distributed for nothing.[3]
  • The quality of MP3 music is often inferior.
  • Legal online file-sharing services exist at fair value - Rhapsody is a good example of a relatively in-expensive online music service that provides much greater value to the consumer than free file-sharing.
  • Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Association of America. - "There looms the onrush of a collision between copyright rooted in the Constitution...and the rowdy, assertive babble of those who are determined to shrink and possibly exile the concept of copyright in order to grab creative material without paying for it."[4]


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Economics: Are artists benefiting from file-sharing?

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Yes

  • File-sharing helps artists become discovered by new listeners and consumers: File-sharing generates new fan bases, as many discover artists that would be impossible to discover otherwise. This leads to a greater shake-out and matching of fans with artists, which is good for the industry and for the "accuracy" of album sales (which leads to greater consumer satisfaction).
  • File-sharing stimulates exploratory listening and purchases: File-sharing opens users to a world of music. This increases the likelihood that they will go on to purchase music.
  • File-sharing allows for pre-purchase sampling: File-sharing helps the affected industry by allowing the consumer to sample the product before spending the money to purchase it. Once the consumer is allowed to sample it, they might decide to go out and buy the full legal version, where as they might never had bought it had they not been allowed to sample the media on their computer first.
  • Blank cassette tapes did not lead to economic problems as the industry feared. From the 70s to the 80s, the RIAA fought for a tax on blank tapes Taintor. The movie industry was similarly opposed to recordable media (i.e. Betamax Case).
  • The only artists making money off record royalties (receiving money from every copy sold) are the extremely popular ones that already have a lot of money anyway - Most musicians also live from touring and the sale of merchandise, and wider distribution of their songs is likely to increase their income from concerts, t-shirts, etc., as more people will want to experience them live.
  • Music sales are actually up as a result of file-sharing. The argument that sales are going to drop is completely wrong and it has been used with cassette tapes and CD burners before. None of them had any effect on sales. Downloads are actually creating more demand and forcing record companies to make music available for purchase online, something they previously rejected. While music downloads are on the rise, overall music sales are also up. Moreover, distribution of MP3 files creates new markets in smaller countries where customers have less access to music in stores.[5]
  • Massive copying has been occurring for a long time with little impact: Such copying has occurred ever since the invention of tape cassettes and the increased economic impact of simpler access to copying provided by computer networks does not seem to have been large.
  • Music sales have been negatively affected by poorer quality music.
  • Artists barely get a fraction of the profits of CDs sold.
  • Bands have many alternative sources of revenue (touring/live concerts/merchandising).
  • The music industry could develop a viable online business model, but is dragging its heels.
  • Any decline in sales could be attributed to an under-performing economy opposed to file-sharing.
  • According to "The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales" by Felix Oberholzer-Gee (Harvard professor) and Koleman Strumpf, p2p services could actually work as marketing tools for the music industry. Although file sharing has increased in recent years, so have online music sales. Most researchers believe that teens and college students make up the majority of illegal downloaders. This group represents those who are "money-poor but time-rich", which suggests that they wouldn't have bought the files legally even if they weren't able to get them by illegal means. Thanks to the increasing popularity of file sharing, music artists are becoming more and more popular. Although some people claim that money is lost through file sharing (because people would download free (and illegal) music instead of buying from iTunes, etc.), popular music artists such as Prince (who offered a free song for the purpose of gaining popularity) see more attendance at their concerts. File sharing actually benefits the artists, but could be hurting the recording industries because research showed that CD sales have decreased. Most of the money made from CD's go to retail stores, advertising companies, and other "middlemen", not the artist.
  • RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) stated that file sharing is only "one factor, along with economic conditions and competing forms of entertainment that is deplacing legitimate sales." This supports my theory that the billions of dollars music industries claim to have lost is not very accurate. They really haven't "lost" anything, because digital music is just an intellectual thing and it is not always true that people would buy music if they didn't share files.



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No

  • By downloading music from the Internet one steals money from artists who are struggling to survive in the competitive music world. A few stars are incredibly rich, but most musicians make only a modest living from the royalties on their songs, paid to them every time a record is bought or played on the radio. Because of respect for the artists we should buy legal copies and with that bring money to artists we like.[6]
  • Online free file-downloads have damaged legitimate sales. As record sales drop, recording companies see no reason to support new artists anymore and are willing to sign up only pop stars that are sure to bring commercial success. Over years record sales will drop even more, as more and more people will have gadgets that play MP3s. The end result will be fewer new acts and much less diversity of music for us all to enjoy.[7]
  • Unregulated file-sharing could reduce the appeal and quality of related industries. If file sharing is allowed to continue unchecked and grow even larger, eventually more and more people will not feel the need to buy the media they want; instead they will download all of it. If enough people switch to downloading instead of purchasing, then the media industries may not make enough money to keep producing.
  • The media industry might have to compensate for a lack of sales by raising prices of goods. The film industry might raise ticket prices at movie theaters and the cost of DVDs, the music industry might start charging more for CDs, and the computer gaming industry could start charging more for its games. All of these things are already fairly expensive, and increasing their prices would hurt the consumer even more. As the prices become higher and higher people will start looking for cheaper ways to get this media and more people will turn to downloading files from the internet, causing an even greater downward spiral.
  • CDs do not have enough of a comparative advantage in quality to compete against free online music downloads.
  • The industry is not dragging its heels. Many legitimate online music stores include iTunes and Napster 2.0.
  • The threat is greater than previous piracy technology because the distribution is practically free. While it is claimed that the cassette tape's introduction had no impact on the music industry, the difference today is that the distribution costs of free file-sharing are virtually non-existent.
  • The recording industry cannot compete against free downloads: While it is argued that the quality of commercial products should be able to compete against the lower quality of free downloads, this is unreasonable. The quality of free downloads is not usually substantially worse. Because these files are free illegally, they are substantially more attractive in general.
  • Unregulated file-sharing systems can be used to distribute sensitive materials: The list includes adult pornography to children, inflammatory literature, and illegal or "unpopular" material.


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Creativity:

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Yes

  • Open file-sharing has blossomed a creative industry: Open file sharing has opened the door to many creative ideas and ventures. This creative energy should be harnessed, not suppressed.
  • Peer to peer networks have many useful applications that shouldn't be shut down to stop music piracy.


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No

  • File-sharing undermines the incentives for creativity offered by copyright law:
  • Creativity will suffer as file-sharing will make fewer willing to take the risk of pursuing a music career.


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Copy-right: Is file-sharing copy-right infringement, and is this OK?

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Yes

  • As soon as something is released into the public realm, it is, by definition, shared. Once someone has paid for a work, in this case a song, why shouldn't they share it with anyone they choose - isn't that "fair use". An analogy can be made with public libraries, where anyone can walk in and read and photocopy anything. The same goes for VCRs, as movies can be recorded from the television. Copyright laws do not work in a vacuum and should adapt to existing reality.[8]
  • File sharing is not necessarily illegal. Some artists may choose to support freeware, shareware, open source, or anti-copyright, and advocate the use of file sharing as a free promotional tool. Nearly all shareware, freeware, and open source software may be shared as much as the end user wishes, depending on the End User Disclaimer for that specific piece of software. Other non-software related intellectual property may be shared legally in any way the end user desires. Content in the public domain can also freely be shared.
  • MP3s are not a physical thing, so no actual value is lost in file-sharing.
  • If taping off the radio is legal, then why not trading MP3s?
  • If sharing with a single friend is ok, then why is sharing with everybody wrong?
  • Trading Mp3 files is not like stealing a CD from a store. Mp3 files are digital and considered intellectual property. When you buy CD's, you're buying a piece of plastic. In other words, Mp3 files are not things you can touch or even listen to. You can only listen to them if you have them downloaded on Mp3 players, which you buy at retail stores.


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No

  • File sharing is illegal. There exists a fair use clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act but that clause exists for the purpose of personal copying of CD's that are owned by an individual. When the CD's are unfairly shared between many individuals in a peer to peer exchange, this becomes obviously illegal.
  • Trading MP3s is just like stealing a CD from a store.
  • Most countries adhere to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, established in 1886. This unequivocally protects music and other copyrighted works.
  • The RIAA isn't forcing American laws on the world.
  • Unregulated file-sharing violates copyright laws. Opponents of file-sharing believe that the music and other files that are downloaded are the work of the artist, programmer, or film director that made them, not public property. When files are shared, the artist or copyright owner does not receive any compensation. Therefore, they believe, sharing and copying files is stealing the same way shoplifting is. The idea of "fair use" allows people who have bought an album to lend it to a friend, or to play it in the car as well as at home, not to share it with thousands of other people they have never met before. Downloading copyrighted files is therefore simply a theft.[9]
  • If the primary purpose of a P2P network is illegal trading, then it should be shut down.
  • MP3s may not be tangible, but they can be stolen.
  • Intellectual property laws such as copyrights and patents have existed for hundreds of years.
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Enforcement: Is it impossible to effectively regulate file-sharing and any laws against it?

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Yes

  • Suing fans is an ugly irony.
  • Suing fans doesn't pay artists.
  • Digital Rights Management on CDs has created unfortunate consequences.
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No

  • Difficulties of enforcement do not mean we should abandon copyright laws. While it may be impossible to detect every single download from the internet, that does not mean that we should stop. For instance, lawsuits can be brought against both companies and individuals engaged in illegal filesharing. The argument that because we can’t do it perfectly, we shouldn’t try at all is ridiculous as we could then stop trying to catch pirates that burn CDs or tape videos and then sell them on a large scale.[11]





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On campus: What about on campuses?

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Yes

  • Punishing colleges for student file-sharing can result in higher tuition fees: Some laws have seen Universities punished for the file sharing of students or require that universities pay for legal file-sharing services that can be used by students. Such increased university costs will be reflected in higher tuition for all students. While it could be argued that this evens the score between, for example, the recording industry and the average students, what about the students that do not file-share?


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No

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Music as art: Should music be more about the art than the business?

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Yes

Music is supposed to be about expression and not about record sales. Downloading from the Internet constitutes a protest against the turbo-capitalism of record companies that work against the music and what it stands for.[12]




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No

  • The only way for the musicians to survive is to sign a record deal. Even known artists such as Manic Street Preachers, who were trying to arrange a tour on their own, fell into considerable financial difficulties without expert support.
  • The music business provides millions of jobs that are threatened by unregulated file-sharing. The range of jobs in the music industry is very wide, from accounting to promotion. It is important to respect the existence of these jobs and the industry that supports them.[13]




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Artists taking stands:

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Yes

  • Janis Ian Ian - "The premise of all this ballyhoo is that the industry (and its artists) are being harmed by free downloading. Nonsense."
  • Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore Moore,Thurston - "Trying to control music sharing - by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along - is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it."
  • Blur's Dave Rowntree Mackintosh - "I'm blisteringly in favour [of file-sharing software]", "You can't stop people exchanging any digitisable media over the internet"
  • Wilco's Jeff Tweedy Jardin
    • "If people are downloading our music, they're listening to it. The internet is like radio for us."
    • "I don't believe every download is a lost sale."
    • "I don't want potential fans to be blocked because the choice to check out our music becomes a financial decision for them."



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No

Many musicians oppose illegal file sharing.

  • Lars Ulrich of Metallica Ulrich.
    • "We have many issues with Napster. First and foremost: Napster hijacked our music without asking."
  • Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies CRIA. - "As long as they see themselves as thieves in general then I don't mind if they steal everything that they like. But it irks me that it's only okay to steal music."
  • "Artists and songwriters of every style and genre are speaking out against illegal copying, including Madonna, Elton John, Eminem, Sheryl Crow, Jay Z, Lenny Kravitz and more." musicunited.
  • "Many artists and artist representatives have spoken out recently [2001] on Napster"



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Pro/con sources

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Yes

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No



See also

External links

Books:

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