Starting with the Bulletin Board System, file sharing came to be in the late 1970s. These systems were run on special software for microcomputers and used to upload and download software and data, read news and bulletins, and message people through chat or email. The Bulletin Board System was only the beginning of file, with programs that progressed technologically over time such as FTP servers and Internet Relay Chat in the 1980s and Hotline in 1997.
Not until the 1990s did computers start to become household items, so the internet was not available to everyone till the revolution of the personal computer. Soon after this in June of 1999, the first peer-to-peer file sharing program called Napster was released. Napster was a centralized unstructured peer-to-peer system, requiring a central server for indexing and peer discovery, and many other programs followed it. In July of 2001, Napster was sued by multiple recording companies for unauthorized use of the companies intellectual property, holding Napster Liable for contributory infringement and vicarious infringement of the plaintiffs’ copyrights.
The A&M Records, Inc.vs Napster, Inc. case is one of the most notable lawsuit cases against file sharing. The case raises the a very good question: Is peer-to-peer file sharing sharing or is it stealing? When someone shares an MP3 file via a peer-to-peer file sharing program on the internet, are they lending out material to others in the same sense as lending your friend down the road a CD to burn to their music library, or are they committing a crime in which people all over the world are able to steal music that they did not pay for in the sense of an employee of a record store giving away copies of the same CD for people to shoplift?
The definition of music piracy is any form of unauthorized duplication and/or distribution of music including downloading, file sharing, and CD-burning. The fine for music piracy can be up to 5 years in prison or $250,000 in fines. This is obviously a crime, so the question lingers; why do so many people think that it is okay to download music illegally off the internet?
Those who are in favor of file sharing and music piracy argue that it is not a bad thing and that it is not stealing. One argument is that CDs are not worth buying due to lack of good songs, price, quality of music in present times, and the fact that they might not buy the CD anyway if they could not get it for free. Another argument is that peer to peer networks are very useful for reasons other than file sharing, such as files that are public domain, so file sharing networks should not be shut down to stop music piracy. People in favor of music piracy also say that it is a good way to preview songs before purchasing them or buying the CD. The boldest argument (in my opinion) is that MP3 files are not physical property, so it is not stealing because there is no value lost in downloading it.
Those who are arguing against file sharing and music piracy have many arguments to counter the opposing view. These people argue that music is worth buying and that CDs are not too expensive, but reasonably priced. Also, they say that just because some people think CDs are overpriced does not justify stealing them on the internet. Another argument is that there are many places to buy music legally, such as Napster 2.0 and iTunes, so the convenience of getting the music off peer to peer networks is not a valid excuse for not buying the music. You can also buy single songs on these online stores, so people don’t even need to buy the entire CD by an artist if they do not wish to. Those opposed to music piracy also argue that file sharing hurts the music industry and all the individual workers involved with producing the artists’ music. The loss of record sale also hurts the entire economy.
Like with almost all arguments and disagreements, both sides pose both good arguments and some not so good arguments. I agree with those who are for file sharing’s argument that peer to peer file sharing networks should not be shut down just because of music piracy because it is true that the networks have many other legal and useful functions involving files that are part of public domain. On the contrary, I also agree with the opposing views argument that just because some people think CDs are overpriced does not justify getting them through music piracy.
All these arguments from opposing sides contradict or counter each other, so there is no clear evidence on who is right and who is wrong. There may not be a right or wrong side because the main arguments of each side are based off people’s opinions or views on the subject. Moreover, the most valuable opinion would be from those who are looked at as the victims of music piracy and file sharing; the artists. Contrary to what most people would think, even the artist who have made a stand on the issue are split by the subject. Some artist, like Metallica, Bob Dylan, U2, Lily Allen, and James Blunt, argue that music piracy impose on their intellectual property, while other artists, like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, and 50 Cent, support or find nothing wrong with file sharing because it allows more people to enjoy their music.
Regardless of whether peer to peer file sharing and music piracy are right or wrong, the bottom line is that music piracy is illegal, and file sharing of pirated music is illegal. But this does answer the question if file sharing is sharing or stealing. The definition of file sharing is the practice of distributing or providing access to digitally stored information, such as computer programs, multimedia, documents, or electronic books, so technically there is nothing illegal about file sharing, therefor it is not stealing, only sharing. Although it is not stealing, file sharing is frequently used to share pirated music which is considered stolen, so it is a common misconception to consider file sharing as stealing.
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