The popularity of digital formats that allow speedy transfer and sharing through the world wide web has been the cause of immense concern among music recording labels and multinational media companies who fear that emergent technologies will lead to the demise of the music and film industry.
Media companies’ anxiety over the capability of digital technology and file-sharing to undermine the music and film industry has led to calls for more effective legal and technological protection in terms of stringent copyright laws and encryption devices to prevent unauthorized copying and transfer of copyrighted content through the internet. However, these moves have been largely ineffective and inefficient at reducing downloading and file-sharing of music or movies by internet users, majority of whom are unsympathetic to giant media companies’ efforts to retain dominance and control over the music and film industries.
On the other hand, the failure of both legal and technological mechanisms to curtail the downloading of copyrighted works like music and movies is due not only to media companies’ inability to prevent users from these activities but also to the fact that users believe that downloading has minimal ethical and moral repercussions since it does not harm anyone but instead is beneficial to society (LaRose, et. al. 6). Arguably, the file-sharing and downloading capabilities benefit both the producers and consumers of music and films.
Thus, allowing internet users to download copyrighted works like music or movies should not be considered piracy and be freely allowed by multinational companies. Indeed, the perceived threat to the music and film industry arising from downloading and file-sharing among internet users is illusory. Alexander (2002) observe that media companies have been unable to provide plausible proof that downloading and file-sharing of music and movies online replaced buying legal copies for consumers.
He points out that the results of a study done by Reciprocal, Inc. how that while “sales of recorded music fell by 4% near college campuses over the past year, sales at 67 colleges that had banned Napster fell by 7%. ” (155) Likewise, LaRose, et. al. (2006) contends that downloading alone could not account for the decline in compact cd sales purportedly experienced by media companies; other factors such as the downturn in the economy, falling incomes and rising tuition costs among primary consumers, and the “dearth of new music” should be considered as well in the analysis of falling music and film industry revenues.
On the contrary, there is reason to believe that musicians, artists, and the entire media industry benefit from file-sharing because it allows consumers to sample their products (Peitz and Waelbroeck 909). Consumer sampling plays a huge role in the promotion of products. (Bockstedt, et. al. 10) When consumers find the product satisfactory, the experience encourages them to buy their own copy or to patronize the products of a particular artist such as tours and concerts.
For nstance, Alexander (2002) points out the results of a survey done by Jupiter Communications which reveal that “Napster users are 45% more likely to increase their purchases of prerecorded music than those who do not use the service. ”(155) Peitz and Waelbroeck (2006) echo the contention that the presence of peer-to-peer networks help media companies increase their revenues since downloading cuts the promotion costs involved in selling music and film. (909)
Aside from cutting down the promotional costs in the marketing of music and film, downloading and file-sharing also help generate more revenue for artists and media labels since it enables consumers to make informed decisions that influence their willingness to pay for the original or legal copy of a music or movie file. (Peitz and Waelbroeck 912) Downloading therefore increases the likelihood that consumers will buy more of an artist’s or company’s work.
What media companies are fearful of is that the ability of users to download and share music or video files contributes to the democratisation of the music and movie industry by allowing musicians and artists to become less dependent on giant record companies. For instance, Offspring, a music band under contract with Sony, released their newest album on the internet for free in order for consumers to develop familiarity with their quality of the music and hopefully patronize the band. Alexander 157) Clearly, downloading and file-sharing allows artists to go directly to the consumers of their products, which has the potential of undermining the business of giant record and film companies. (Bockstedt, et. al. 8) However, even such scenarios are unwarranted. While the internet may support a platform for artists to circumvent giant companies and move for direct distribution of their creative products, most of them do not have the capital or the means to launch their careers and build their popularity in a sustained manner on their own.
On the other hand, downloading helps the music and movie industry grow by encouraging free competition between companies and dismantling monopolistic control over the music and film industry. It enables internet users to contribute to the creation of new avenues of distribution of music and film. In this apect, downloading music and movies for free does not automatically mean an infringement of copyright laws.
Majority of users download content for their personal use and not for public sale or the generation of income (Harmon 3), and thus falling into the category of “fair use,” which should be differentiated from the deliberate use by organized groups of such works to gain profit. Recently, for instance, a Federal Court found the companies distributing file-sharing software Morpheus and Grokster not guilty of copyright infringement allegations.
Clearly, consumers are not doing anything that is ethically or morally unacceptable as downloading does not hurt the income of companies and artists. Thus, downloading and file-sharing must be understood not from the self-interested perspective of media conglomerates who own most of the copyright of artists but from the perspective of individuals as social beings (LaRose, et. al. 20) and internet users who acknowledge the vast potential for creativity from the World Wide Web.
Likewise, shutting down internet service providers that allow the transfer of files from one user to another only promotes underground activities and the development of more sophisticated file-sharing tools. Alexander (2002) notes, for instance, how the legal prosecution and ultimate downfall of the Napster service “actually resulted to an increase in overall sharing granted via peer to peer file sharing venues other than the Napster Music Community. (159)
Thus, the strategy of multinational companies of declaring downloading and file-sharing of music and movies illegal only encourages internet users to develop more creative and more discreet ways of sharing content. (LaRose, et. al. 2) It is worthy to note that much of the controversy over downloading and file-sharing of copyrighted works like music and films stems from the assumption that these activities are economically harmful since they contribute to diminishing profits for music labels and film outfits.
In turn, these activities deprive companies and artists of revenues from the production and reproduction of their work. There is a pervasive belief that downloading and file-sharing technologies that allow users to download, copy, and share music and other content with other users are primarily responsible for the slipping sales and lost profits of major record and movie distribution companies.
However, music recording companies and giant film outfits have been unable to provide conclusive proof for this or that a causal connection even exists to support the claim that downloading is directly responsible for the music and film industry’s revenue losses. (Alexander 155) On the other hand, the decrease in patronage of prerecorded music and film could be attributed to the shift to digital media as the widely-preferred format among audiences. This is evident in the success of computer giant Apple in selling digital music files to Apple ipod users.
The issue of copyright infringement is likewise driven more by media companies’ desire to retain their control over the music and film industries and maintain a healthy bottom line. Thus, it glosses over the fact that majority of internet users only download and share music and movie files for their personal consumption and not for commercial purposes. It is therefore clear that downloading and file-sharing music and video files benefits artists and the music industry in the long term aside from its obvious advantage to consumers.
Thus, consumers and internet users should resist efforts by multi-national record companies to deprive the public of file-sharing technologies and to condemn the declaration that downloading music and movie files from the internet is tantamount to copyright infringement. It is time for multinational companies to realize that downloading and file-sharing are not only essential aspects of consumer decision-making but are also important drivers of competition and creativity in the struggling media industry.