It’s the year 2009, and digital music files have taken over the music industry, becoming the primary music enjoyment format. These files, or mp3’s, can be accessed for listening pleasure by several ways, including being extracted from a CD and being downloaded off the internet. There are several services which facilitate downloading music from the internet to the user’s computer, but how many of these hosts are legal, and more importantly, how many of them should be legal?
There are two main types of software for downloading music: online databases that sell songs on a monthly or per song basis, and peer-to-peer transfers. The former of the two is completely legal, assuming the artists gave the software owner permission, and would probably be reaping a commission of each song sold. The latter however, is mostly an area the shad of grey, known as piracy. Piracy is, under the Copyright Act of 1976, illegal, but not everyone agrees that it should be.
In Jonathan Lethem’s essay, Ecstasy of Influence, he describes how placing a copyright on intellectual property is simply unfair to those who want to enjoy the artist’s work. Lethem writes how, “the Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA] has sued music downloader’s for copyright infringement, reaching out-of-court settlements for thousands of dollars with defendants as young as twelve.”
In Lethem’s essay, he attempts to dismantle the argument for copyright’s and for piracy from the inside. At first he shows how the RIAA is ruthless in their suing of mere children, and then he mocks the MPAA’s placement of piracy on the same level as stealing a handbag.
“At the movies, my entertainment is sometimes lately preceded by a dire trailer,
produced by the lobbying group called the Motion Picture Association of America, in
which the purchase of a bootleg copy of a Hollywood film is compared to the theft of a
car or a handbag – and, as the bullying supertitles remind us, “You wouldn’t steal
Lethem’s point is, as he states later on, that “for a car or a handbag, once stolen, no longer is available to its owner, while the appropriation of an article of “intellectual property” leaves the original untouched.” As far as Lethem is concerned, plagiarism is only really wrong, if, by taking some article that isn’t yours, you are making yourself the sole proprietor of that item.
In Jonathan Lethem’s opinion, a song, a painting, an essay, really any means of intellectually artistic expression, are released to the public for the enjoyment of anyone who so pleases. By looking at a picture, by reading an essay, by listening to a song, one is merely enjoying the work of that creation’s originator. Stealing a wallet, or taking a man’s cell phone, on the other hand, is outright stealing, and Lethem would agree that the original owner can no longer use the item.
In truth, Lethem’s point isn’t utterly preposterous. He makes a fantastic point by showing that no one gets hurt, and everyone can now share the intellectual property. However, Lethem’s being unfair in his comparison of stealing a car or handbag to stealing an essay. Just because the essayist can still use his essay after it was stolen doesn’t mean that’s the only problem at hand here. Amongst other problems, the essay thief can now pass the essay off as his own while claiming all the credit, the original essayist can be put out of a job, or the thief can alter the original author’s thoughts to taint his (the author’s) reputation.
Paul Tolme, an award-winning author, is an example of just such a case. Mr. Tolme, the author of “Toughing It Out in the Badlands”, is an acclaimed wildlife writer. When his descriptions of ferrets were given a sexual background, ver batum, Mr. Tolme knew a line was crossed. “First I was angry. Then I had to laugh. To see my textbook descriptions of ferrets in a bodice-ripper…is the height of absurdity.” Tolme has been the victim of plagiarism, and he doesn’t expect to just let the case go.
“According to an interview she did with the Associated Press, she did not know she was supposed to quote source materials. Ignorance of law and ethics is no excuse, however. Plagiarism victimizes writers. It betrays the trust of readers. It tarnishes the craft of writing.” Paul Tolme knows better than anyone what it feels like to be a victim of plagiarism. He has attested to the negative implications plagiarism can have, in addition to the effects, both purposely and accidentally.
Hilary Rosen, the past president of the RIAA who helped bring down a popular file transfer software, Napster, shares Tolme’s view. In her 2002 appeal to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America, she wrote about the fact that musicians are struggling, because all of their music is being downloaded illegally and they’re not being paid for their work.
”The recording industry is suffering – and other content industries may soon be imperiled – by rampant infringing distribution of our works through peer-to-peer systems, other pirate sites and ubiquitous CD ripping and burning technology.”In 2002, Mrs. Rosen obviously foresaw the future, being able to predict the way that most listeners acquire their music nowadays. With hundreds of thousands of downloads across the globe every single day, the situation for musicians has become quite serious because all of their hard work is being stolen. According to drownedinsound.com, an astounding 95% of music downloads in 2008 were illegal.
On behalf of the RIAA, Rosen notes the problem in detail, and then goes on to outline the solution.
“There are now more than half a dozen licensed subscription services in operation…The marketplace has responded to the demand for digital music by spurring legitimate service offerings. These services have some limitations that the pirate services do not. The pirate services do not pay creators nor seek licenses. These new subscription services have few customers, because they cannot compete with the music available for free using peer-to-peer systems and other pirate sites. The legitimate online music market is unlikely to prosper.”
Rosen and the rest of the RIAA understand the battle that they’re fighting, and they know exactly what they need to do to win – close off all access to the illegal sharing programs.
To a certain extent, I would have to agree with the RIAA on their stand against illegal copyright infringement. If a musician had all their music streamed over the World Wide Web for free, anyone could access the tunes as they so pleased. In this scenario, why would a listener have any drive to purchase the song and support the artist from a popular site such as itunes.com, or even buy a monthly pass from another website, still benefiting the artist? Some sites, such as rhapsody.com, at less than 30 dollars a month, aren’t so expensive, but still demand a higher price tag than that of absolute freedom. Therefore, why would I pay a monthly fee, when I can have the same exact thing for free? The only person I’m hurting is some big shot artist who’s “living it up” in California.
There is a plus side to this situation, however. A third argument exists, which we’ll call the “any publicity is good publicity” school of thought. Personally, I subscribe to this idea sometimes, and feel that there are many budding artists who would do anything to get their name out. This basically means that when an artist has his or her songs published to the Internet, they are, in essence, advertising. The Very Best, a band which I will talk about later, is one such band trying to make a name for themselves. The best part about these advertisements though, is that they’re completely free. By getting the songs out into the world, an artist can promote their music, get themselves on the radio, go on tour, and make their living through sponsorships, or commercials.
In 2007, http://www.AssociatedContent.com user, Illustrous, defended a similar point in his article, Music Piracy and Illegal Filesharing: Criminals or Honest People with Small Pockets?, by arguing how, “The music industry should allow free music downloading, and they should treat file-sharers as potential customers, not thieving criminals.” Illustrous found a Harvard Business School professor, Felix Oberhozer-Gee and his co-author, Koleman Strumpf, of the University of North Carolina, and quoted their book, which was, ironically enough, not cited.
“Illegal music downloads do not hurt the sale of CDs. In fact, in some cases it may increase the
sale of certain genres of music. This idea is believed to be because most file sharing is done over
peer-to-peer networks by teens and college students, groups that have lots of time but little money,
meaning it is unlikely they would ever buy what they pirated. The two researchers also believe
there is another group. They call this group the samplers. Samplers download one or two songs;
if they like what they hear they go out and purchase the music legally.”
So it appears that, according to some people, peer-to-peer file sharing isn’t all that bad, even if the music is copyrighted. While it may be illegal, the users are, in a sense, acting as catalysts for the artists’ cash flow. Perhaps file sharing isn’t all that bad, and the copyright law of 1976 might be a bit unnecessary in today’s wireless nation.
If Jonathan Lethem ever met Illustrous, I’m sure they would have much to talk about. Regardless of the fact that they have different reasons for their opinions, their views are so similar that they could practically be the same person defending different aspects of his argument. To defend his point, Lethem talks about how a copyright, isn’t really a copyright at all, but really a “government granted monopoly on the use of creative results…Whether the monopolizing beneficiary is a living artist or some artist’s heirs or some corporation’s shareholders, the loser is the community, including living artists who might make splendid use of a healthy public domain.”
A few weeks ago, several of my friends and I went to a Zombie Nation concert. Opening for Zombie Nation was a band called The Very Best, of whom I’ve never heard. When the band got up on stage, they did a short poll on the audience. “How many of you bought our CD?” A couple hands went up. “How many of you downloaded some of our songs off itunes?” A couple more went up. “How many of you downloaded us illegally off the Web?” Virtually all of the hands in the room shot up, followed by voracious laughter.
The truth is that the fans in that room knew that what they were doing was wrong, but that didn’t stop them from doing it. They knew that by choosing Limewire, Kazaa, Bare share, or another popular Peer-to-peer downloading site, they were fundamentally robbing The Very Best of money they deserved for their hard work. When The Very Best asked if anyone would be buying their t-shirts after the show, however, they were met with many raised hands, fist pumps, and hollers, which means that Limewire fulfilled its goal in getting the word out for The Very Best.
In conclusion, Piracy can be either the best thing in the world, or the downfall of an entire nation’s culture, depending on how it’s perceived. What no one seems to realize however, is that in addition to being either of these two, it can also be both. Since consumers aren’t buying music from The Very Best, the band’s sales have gone down. On the other hand, the fans downloaded the band’s music, and subsequently supported their concerts and bought their apparel, advertising for the band even more. Perhaps piracy is both a strength and a weakness, and the copyright is both necessary, and unnecessary.
“95% of music downloads in 2008 were illegal – DiS reacts and suggests two solutions / Music News // Drowned In Sound.” Music news, Listings, Reviews, Reaction, Interviews and Community // Drowned In Sound. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <http://drownedinsound.com/news/4136081>.
“Music Piracy and Illegal Filesharing: Criminals or Honest People with Small Pockets? -.” Associated Content – associatedcontent.com. Web. 29 Nov. 2009. <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/164116/music_piracy_and_illegal_filesharing.html>.
“Paul Tolme Speaks Out About the Copying of His Work | : Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary.” Dear Author. Web. 29 Nov. 2009. <http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/01/15/paul-tolme-speaks-out-about-the-copying-of-his-work/>.
Rosen, Hilary. ““IS THE MARKETPLACE WORKING TO PROTECT DIGITAL CREATIVE WORKS?”.” THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY UNITED STATES SENATE. 14 Mar. 2002. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <http://220.127.116.11/C88D7D28-E8B9-4AB8-FB57-75B859024C04.pdf>.