Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The incredibly unbelievable things that "information must be free" types believe about music file sharing

Dave Farber often posts things to his "Interesting People" list about the evils of the record and movie industries. While I typically agree with Dave politically and ideologically, he seems to accept the most ridiculous defenses of file sharing as benign. Here's my response to a recent thread, which Dave chose not to post:


The zeitgeist on IP seems to be that file sharing hasn't hurt record (CD) sales. You see this claimed over and over again on your list. I say, baloney, and those who so claim who to know better just won't admit reality. Pleae offer some credible evidence, or stop making the claim.

I work at a major midwestern university and I know from talking to students both formally and informally that music and movie file sharing is rampant. One student proudly bragged that he made a living as a party DJ and had not bought a song in years for his party collection.

Ask 50 current undergrads if they share music on the net, and 48 hands go up.

Who is kidding whom here? Let him who has not file shared cast the first stone.

I believe that both sides are disingenuous here. I've pressed students about intellectual property rights: How would you feel if you had a collection of poetry, or short stories, or even recipes -- and a major publisher lifted the collection off the net, published a book, and made millions in profits with you not seeing a nickel? Pressed to the wall, students admit that would not sit well.

I think the record industry also is disingenuous. They now face two groups: those who know how to file share, and those who don't. They sue those who know how, and they charge even more rapacious prices to those who do not.

To claim that file sharing hasn't affected music sales, to me, is like claiming the sun doesn't set. It is ridiculous on its face. I've met students who make professional CD art to go with their pirated collections. I've talked to young people who've never bought a CD. I saw the checkout clerk at the local boutique grocery store practically weep when the original Napster was shut down. We had a thriving Tower Music in East Lansing until file sharing came along. The manager told me the demise was due to file sharing. Will someone propose a credible alternative theory? (And please, don't tell me there wasn't enough new music. I know lots of young people who know 70s pop music better than I do.)

Why do people persist in denying the obvious? When millions of people have broadband connections and thousands of music download sources and readily available tools to download music for free, they will do so. Why don't we just admit this??

Without being puritanical about it, can we please admit simple truths?

Could we please have a bibliography of "every independent study" that proves that file sharing of commercial music doesn't impact sales -- and the studies' methodologies?

The "album" paradigm has been busted up. There has got to be a sweet spot price, somehere between the iTunes cost of 99 cents per song, and the file sharing cost of zero cents, where we can strike a fair and happy balance cost for downloading music without violating copyright.

One side won't admit their rampant piracy -- theft, as far as I'm concerned -- is hurting the industry, and the other side won't admit they need to change their business model.

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