Since the controversy of music piracy via file sharing started, the many lawsuits and case against people who have shared and downloaded illegal music have raised 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, that person is not just lending out material to others in the same sense as lending a friend down the road a CD to burn to their music library, but committing a crime allowing people all over the world are able to steal music.
Starting with the Bulletin Board System, file sharing came to be in the late 1970s, but it was not used by the general public. 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, a claim Napster never denied, 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. 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 and it is stealing, so the question lingers; why do so many people think that it is okay to download music illegally off the internet? Surely the users of Napster were not fully aware of the effect of file sharing at first, 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 people, such as 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. File sharing networks should not be shut down because file sharing in general is not illegal, file sharing of pirated music and other unauthorized media is illegal. 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 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 (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 opinions on either side.
Regardless of whether people think peer to peer file sharing and music piracy is 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.
“Napster | Speak Out | Artists.” Circolo Sing Sing. Napster, 2001. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
“The Death Spiral of Napster Begins.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 6 Mar. 2001. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Pollock, Rufus. “P2P, Online File-Sharing, and the Music Industry“ P2P, Online File-Sharing, and the Music Industry. CC Attribution License, 31 Mar. 2006. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
“File Sharing.“ Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012 (Only for brief information and definition on File Sharing)
Peoples, Glenn. Researchers Change Tune, Now Say P2P Has Negative Impact Billboard. June 22, 2010.
Jenci, Keith. “File Sharing: A Debate.” Mredkj.com. 21 Oct. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2012