Music Piracy: The Moral Argument and the Real Victims
Music piracy through file sharing is a problem that is younger than most people in high school or college. In this day and age, it is so easy for anyone to get whatever he or she wants by just clicking a few buttons on the keyboard of his or her computer, but this convenience is has been taken advantage of by people who steal music from artists and others who are involved in file sharing pirated music. This may not seem like a real crime until one is presented with the important question: is peer-to-peer file sharing of music stealing? The answer is yes, file sharing pirated music is stealing. 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 (Wikipedia, “File Sharing”). 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?
Before the 1990s, computers were not 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 company’s intellectual property, holding Napster Liable for contributory infringement and vicarious infringement of the plaintiffs’ copyrights (History.com, “Death of Napster”).
The story of how file sharing of pirated music came to be shows that it was first used in innocence’s because the creator of Napster was not fully aware of the effect it would have on the music business. There had never been any situation like it before, so there were no immediate laws that he was aware of that he was breaking. Once he had a lawsuit against him, he changed Napster into a program in which you had to pay for the music. Surely the users of Napster were not fully aware of the effect of file sharing at first either, but present day users of other peer-to-peer programs know the effect and consequences of music piracy and still do it.
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. They say that many college students who have low incomes or not a lot of money to spend are not able to buy as many CDs as they would like, and file sharing allows them to discover more music 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 (Jenci, Keith. “File Sharing: A Debate.”).
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, Amazon 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 (Jenci, Keith. “File Sharing: A Debate.”).
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 artists 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. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters said in an interview for dotmusic.com(Napster Inc. “Speak Out”):
“I think it’s a good idea because it’s people trading music. It has nothing to do with industry or finance, it’s just people that want music and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the same as someone turning on the f****** radio, it’s the same as someone putting a cassette in a cassette deck when the BBC plays a special radio session. I don’t think it’s a crime, it’s been going on for years. It’s the same as people making tapes for each other. The industry is more threatened by it because it’s the worldwide web and it’s a broader scope of trading, but I don’t think it’s such a f******* horrible thing. The first thing we should do is get all the f****** millionaires to shut their mouths, stop bitching about the 25 cents a time they’re losing.”
— Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), dotmusic.com, 9/15/2000
All these arguments from opposing sides contradict or counter each other, but the bottom line, with all due respect to Dave Grohl, is that it is considered stealing if you download music illegally on the internet regardless of the opinion on either side.
We know that music piracy is illegal and downloading music illegally is a crime, but this does answer the question if file sharing alone 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(Wikipedia, “File Sharing”), 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.
File sharing of multimedia files that are public domain is not stealing, but despite the common knowledge that taking something that is not free without paying for it is stealing, people still download music that they are not paying for. Manyarguments are made by people who are for file sharing of pirated music is that it is not stealing, but only sharing them. These people say that there is no difference between sharing a CD with a friend down the road to burn it onto his or her computer and sharing the same CD with the entire Internet to download. To that, I say no, it is not. There are a large number of differences between these two examples. To start off though, both examples are illegal, so people should not do either. People cannot legally reproduce anything that is someone else’s media production without paying them per song or per cd price for the rights(RIAA, “For Students Doing Reports”). Another reason why there is a difference is that when someone gives a friend a CD to burn onto his or her computer, you know the reason why the person wants the CD. They may just want to hear a new band that the person who is lending the CD told him or her about, and that helps bands make new fans. When people distribute pirated music on the Internet through file sharing, they are making it available for anyone who wants it. Instead of the petty crime of lending music to a friend, file sharing pirated music allows an endless amount of people to steal music, taking the crime to a much larger scale.
Any arguments that are for music piracy and illegal downloads via file sharing are only excuses by people to justify their own bad behavior through twisting their own morals. This is a crime that a large percent of the population is guilty of. The real problem lies in peoples beliefs toward the subject, and peoples’ attitudes on this subject reflects on other aspects in their lives. Anyone at some point in their life has tried to justify doing something they know is wrong. If someone tells a lie to a friend, they usually think, “Hey, I know I’m lying, but it’s probably better that they don’t know the truth.” In some cases, this may be right, but the bottom line is that we know when we are doing something wrong, and making excuses will never make it right.
In life, we all know that when we make an action to anything, there will be a consequence, good or bad, to the decisions and actions we make. You tie your shoes, you will not trip. You study for a test, you will get a better grade. You eat a meal, you will not be hungry, and so on. For the most part, the effects of our actions are generally pretty obvious, and this is no different with file sharing of pirated music, and when a song is stolen, it is going to cost someone. One of most common misconception by people who use file sharing to illegally download pirated music is not that they don’t think anyone is losing profit from their actions, but focus on the wrong people who are losing profits.
“Artists are not even losing that much money from file sharing.” This is an argument that pops up a lot when looking into debates on file sharing and pirated music. Musicians have hard times making money through album sales, but the people who are for file sharing of pirated music still say that musicians don’t get paid “that much” through record sales anyway. Although this may be true, it does not justify letting hundreds of thousands of people steal the artists music because it DOES take away some of the artist revenue, even if it is “not that much.” The record industry in the past decade has been on a steady decline. The combined impact of the Internet, the record companies’ slow response, the availability of single tracks instead of albums, more access to music listening online and unlicensed copying have put a 50% dent in music sales (Clifton, “How Much Musicians Get”). When an album is made, the record companies pay for the band to make the album. They pay for the recording studio time, production, distribution after the albums completion, and many more cost that go into making an album. The Record companies pay the artist in advance to make the album, but majority of their pay comes from royalties through album sale. Royalties are what the artists get paid as a percentage of each album sold. During the time recording companies pay for the making of the album, they charge the band an advance against royalties. The record company may pay the band a set amount of money during the album’s development in order to have the members of a band have a source of income ahead of time so they can pay for their own living standard. That advance will be recouped before any royalties are paid (Brain, “How Recording Contracts Work”). So when someone posts music illegally on the Internet, they are showing no regard for the artists’ hard work. So to refute those who use the excuse that artists don’t make that much from record sales, I will not say that they are wrong necessarily, but saying this does not justify ripping off the artists’ of their deserved pay. On a high end royalty deal with a record company a band will make about one dollar for every CD sale(Clifton, “How Much Musicians Get”). By downloading a CD and not spending money on it to buy it legally, you are depriving that artist of a one dollar profit. If you take in account for ever CD that is downloaded illegal, the band or artist is deprived one dollar from every fan that doesn’t pay for their intellectual property.
Although the artist is losing money because of the immorality of those who steal it, it is true that this is a small percent of the artist income. Artists make the largest percent of their income from going on tour and selling merchandise. The real people who are at risk of losing their income are the various workers that go into CD production. Those who are in the music production workforce like record producers bookings and studio managers, studio technicians, record and mastering engineers, and many others are at risk of losing their jobs now more than ever because of the amount of people that do not pay for their music (RecordProduction.com , “Jobs Available in a Recording Studio”).
The secondary claim in regards to who should get how much from CD sales by those who defend file sharing is that record labels profit too much from CD sales, which is not necessarily true. The record labels do make more money than the artist, but all around not that much more. On standard CD sales, record labels only make two dollars per ten dollar CD sold. Although they are making double what the artist makes, that leaves eight dollars to pay for the salaries of those who were involve in the production of the album that are listed in the previous paragraph and to the store that is selling the album (Cumberland, “Record Companies and Labels”). Record labels help artists’ names get out into the world, and into our wallets. Without the record labels, a lot of great bands, maybe even some of your favorite bands, would still be no names or have a much harder time making it to mainstream success. The only recordings they would have would be garage quality recordings, unless they were wealthy enough to pay for their own recording time in a studio and produce their own music, which would be unheard of with so many starving artists. Every band or artist starts out small, and with a record company who discovers them will start out with a low royalty deal. But the artists that do make it onto the Billboard Top 100 don’t complain about record companies because they know that the record companies helped them get where they are today. With the loss of revenues to the record companies through illegal downloading of music on the Internet, record labels will not be able to sign as many bands as they did in the past. This will harm up and coming artists because they may never have a chance to be signed to the companies as easily as in the past.
Because people are illegally downloading pirated music without real regard to who is being harmed and cheated, there is a negative economic result. An entire industry is failing because they are not able to enforce laws easily on those who willing commit a crime. From 1975 and 1999, US shipments of recorded music increased at a steady rate from $5.8 to $12.8 billion. But between 1999 and 2008, around when Napster and illegal file sharing of music first came onto the scene, the annual US revenue of physical CD sales fell from $12.8 billion back to $5.5 billion (Cumberland, “Record Companies and Labels”). Because of these kind of dramatic losses in revenue, many people have lost their jobs in the industry from cutbacks in spending.
“Nothing in this world is free.”
This is something my parents told me when I was growing up, and I am sure I am not the only person who has heard this saying. If something is free, there is always a catch or a reason for it. Being able to download music for free and not hurt anyone is obviously not achievable because someone is losing money that should be made. But what most people don’t realize is that when they are downloading their favorite artist’s pirated music, they are also hurting themselves and the other fans. When a major artist loses sales on CD sales, they need to make up for that loss in some way. Over the past decade, concert ticket prices have skyrocketed. Each year it costs more and more to see your favorite bands because of the loss of CD sales and revenue from their actual music. This is also why merchandise for bands is at ridiculous prices.
When I saw Blink-182 and Weezer for the first time in the summer of 2009, ticket prices were about $50 a person for lawn seats after additional fees and charges. On top of that, a sweatshirt I bought (which was destroyed when shrunk in the wash) was another $50. When I saw Blink 182 again this past summer, ticket prices were even higher for the same venue, and the merchandise was also at a similar price to the concert two years prior. By going to the event with my girlfriend, who I paid for her ticket and bought her a shirt, I surely burnt a hole in my pocket. I bought my Blink 182 CDs legally, some on iTunes and others on hard copy from different stores, but I was still punished by outrageous ticket prices because of the loss in profit from those who illegally downloaded it. There are also other factors that go into ticket prices, such as the ten dollar “convenience fees” on websites like Ticketmaster and Livenation and the rise venue charges from companies like Clear Channel, but pirated music and its effect on the economic status of artists and record labels is a main cause in this rise in prices.
There will always be freeloaders in the world, but saying that stealing music “isn’t a big deal” is only setting a bad example for young people who are now stealing and thinking nothing of it. Those who are against file sharing and pirated music should not try to just fight against those who are stealing music, but educate others on the real problems with file sharing. People must be aware of the effects of their actions when they steal other’s intellectual property and kn0w the consequences.
Clifton, Sam. ”How Much the Musicians Get from Album Sales“ 2010. Web. 02 Apr. 2012.
Cumberland, Rob. ”Record Companies and Labels“ Bemuso.com. 2002-2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2012.
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“Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)“ RIAA, 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2012.
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