Music Piracy, P2P Networks, and File-Sharing – Why It is Wrong

Music piracy, mp3 downloading, p2p, file-sharing; these are many names for the same concept, stealing. Over the past couple of years music downloading has grown to be more and more popular. It has now become an American way of life and widely

accepted in our culture. “Twenty percent of Americans participate in some form of music downloading activity” (Cohen, 2003). This is twenty percent too much. Music piracy has become so popular that some people are not even aware that what they are doing is wrong. It is time we start looking at music piracy for what it really is; an illegal, immoral action that has serious personal and economic consequences. Piracy has been an ongoing battle for the music industry, but hopefully one day this battle will end and music piracy will become an issue of the past.

Music is a hobby, a culture, an expression, a form of therapy and a way of worship. Music is also a profession and a way in which some people earn their living. By downloading music illegally we are stealing from these people. It is like hiring people without paying them for their labor. It is as simple as this, “music lovers end up buying music” (Condry, 2004). Those who truly love and appreciate music will support the artists they love so that they can continue to make it. Most musicians do not have a second job or a second income; they rely on their fans to support them but recently those fans have been coming up short. Some people may have legitimate reasons for downloading music such as to replace already purchased music or to sample music before they purchase it, but artists should have the ultimate decision of whether or not their music gets posted (Condry, 2004). It is their right and copyright laws have been created to protect these rights. There are two copyright laws involved in the recording industry. The first one is The Copyright in the Musical Composition, in other words the ownership rights of the lyrics by either the songwriter or the music publisher. The second law is The Copyright in the Sound Recording. This law has to do with the ownership of the actual recorded song by the record company (RIAA, 2003). Artists and musicians are not the only one with rights. Everyone has the right to get paid for the work he/she does, no matter what he/she does for a living. Artists pour their heart and soul into their work in order to provide society with a source of enjoyment and recreation and they deserve to receive compensation for their work, just like anyone else would.

Imagine walking through a jail cell. One side holds two intimidating, tattoo covered men; one convicted of murder and the other convicted of arson. The other side holds two educated, young looking men who do not seem like the type who could commit a heinous crime, but they did. They were both convicted of music piracy. Many people are unaware of the consequences that come with music piracy. Piracy is not just immoral, it is illegal and law enforcers are taking the act of music piracy very seriously. There are two different actions being taken depending on the severity of the piracy. The first is a fine, which can cost up to as much as $250,000. The other is imprisonment, which if convicted can be punishable by up to three years in prison (RIAA, 2003). Although these consequences are usually taken against those who run p2p and file-sharing programs and not the everyday citizens who download a couple of songs here and there, it is not unheard of. In January of 2004 the RIIA, Recording Industry of America, filed 532 lawsuits against illegal file-sharers having no mercy to who the music pirate was. Included in these lawsuits were about twenty teens (RIAA, 2003). This affair caused a big commotion in our society. It not only caused a shock but it caused a great alertness on the subject. People were finally aware of the consequences of participating in music piracy and that anyone can be caught and anyone can pay the penalties.

The month of February has always been famous for its unique commercials but in 2004 Pepsi aired a commercial that became more memorable then any other commercial. This ad featured about twenty teens who were recently sued by the RIAA for music piracy. The commercial was a clever way for Pepsi to advertise its product while also supporting buying music online, rather then downloading it illegally. Pepsi along with iTunes used the recent lawsuit to promote legally downloading music off of iTunes using Pepsi products as credit towards a song. According to Mitch Bainwol, the RIAA chairman, “This ad shows how everything has changed. Legal downloading is great because fans are supporting the future of creative work in America.” Each teen was fined $3,000 for their actions but were able to use their Pepsi commercial fees to help pay it off (Howard, 2004). Some people question whether or not these kids learned their lesson or if being featured in a commercial only reinforced their actions. Annie Leith, one of the many teens sued by the RIAA, claimed that although she is excited to appear in a commercial, she no longer makes unauthorized downloads (Howard, 2004).

“Music piracy is a delinquent form of behavior that has some negative consequences for the recording industry” (D’Astous, Colbert, Montpetit, 2005). The popularity of music downloading has been causing many problems in the music industry. People don’t realize that with every song they download illegally the music industry is hurt financially. The outbreak of music piracy is costing the music industry over 300 million dollars a year (RIAA, 2003). Not only is it costing the music industry money, but it is also costing the United States a lot of jobs. In the past three years alone, more than 900 record stores have been forced to close their doors causing many people to lose their jobs. Among there stores includes the famous Tower Records. In August of 2006, Tower Records was forced to file for bankruptcy causing them to sell their company, shut down all their stores and let go of more than 3,000 workers. This big fiasco was caused by the big decline in music sales due to an increase in downloads of online music and an increase in competition from discount retailers (Schepp, 2006). If piracy continues, it just might have a fatal effect on the music industry. It is up to society to stop piracy now before it becomes too late. Logic says that if music is available for free, no one will pay money for it and if no one is purchasing music, artists and producers will stop creating it (Condry, 2004).

While the word piracy has a negative connotation is hasn’t always had negative results. According to Time magazine’s Lev Grossman, “Sure, O.K., I ripped the audio of the Shins’ Phantom Limb off a YouTube video. But on the strength of that minor copyright atrocity, I legally bought two complete Shins albums and shelled out for a Shins concert” (2007). Pirated music has benefited the music industry by serving as a means for advertising and promoting. There isn’t that much of a difference between pirated music and music on the radio. Pirated music has also be credited in the rise and popularity of mp3 players. “Thirty-one percent of those with household incomes over 50,000 (18 percent $75,000+; and 13 percent $50,000 to $75,000) own the devices. In households with annual incomes under $50,000, only 16 percent (9 percent $30,000-$50,000; 7 percent under $30,000) have an MP3/iPod player” (Kerner, 2005). But the question advocates raise is does this make music pirating any more legal or even moral? And the answer is very simple, no.

For many years, two opposing sides have been in a continuous battle. The RIAA has been a major part of the fight against music piracy. They are working alongside federal, state and local law-enforcers to stop music pirates and their operations. The RIAA takes their work very seriously and have been very successful, convicting hundreds of music pirates every year. Metallica, a popular rock band, is well known for suing Napster, one of the biggest piracy websites. Their main goal was to put it out of business for good. Other musicians and bands such as Alanis Morisette, Christina Aguilera, Blink-182, Limp Bizkit and Dr. Dre, have also taken a stance against piracy by forming a group called Artists Against Piracy in order to educate their fans and give artists a powerful voice in the debate over technology and music (RIAA, 2003).

The Internet offers music lovers virtually limitless possibilities. Digital technology brings music to a wider public, affords niche artists access to their audiences, makes our vast musical heritage widely available, and distributes old, new and unusual music at affordable prices. Unfortunately, the Internet also gives music pirates a new weapon (RIAA, 2003).

Music piracy has been an issue that society has been dealing with for many years. Online music piracy, however, is a relatively new phenomenon. Times have changed and we are now living in an era of advanced technology. There has been a boost in the popularity of mp3 players, cell phones and broadband internet and a major decrease in the demand for physical media. Online services are the future of the music industry and may one day replace physical media forever (Cohen, 2003, p1). The RIAA is not only trying to stop music piracy occurring today, but they are also trying to prevent it from happening in the future. Their force of attack is to combine education, innovation, and enforcement. They believe that educating our youth about what is legal and what is illegal will help prevent piracy in the future. The RIAA is also trying to do all this while still embracing digital technology. Legitimate online music is becoming more and more available. Sites, such as iTunes, Rhapsody and Yahoo Music Unlimited, are being set up to offer people digital music at affordable prices. These sites allow people to obtain the music they want while still supporting the artists they love (RIAA, 2003). The opportunities offered by digital technology and the internet are endless. The internet is a powerful source that needs to be used wisely and with caution. The goal is to make the internet a place to nurture and embrace digital technology, and that can’t happen unless artist and record company rights are respected.

Piracy is not just an issue that the United States has to deal with. Many countries around the world have been fighting their own battles against piracy too. There is a surplus of pirated music and DVDs circulating around developing countries. This is due mainly to the fact that citizens of those countries can’t afford the regular priced merchandise. In April of 2007, Brazilian police confiscated around 30,000 pirated CDs and DVDs and 200 burners (Cheng, 2007). European countries have also been places known for piracy. In 2004, Europe endured hundreds of lawsuits. But not all countries are against piracy. Japan is known for its promotion of copyright infringement because they feel it is more beneficial then harmful (Condry, 2004).

Although the battle is not yet won, the music industry continues to fight for their rights and will never back down. Their goal is simple; to facilitate an environment that uses technology to open up new opportunities, while at the same time protecting the rights of artists and copyright owners (RIAA, 2003). This can only be possible with the help and cooperation of our society. In the end, it is up to society as a whole to come to the realization of what is right and what is wrong. They need to take it upon themselves to respect the rights of the artists by refusing to aid illegal websites. They need to realize that their actions come with consequences and be prepared to face these consequences. With knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding comes the power to make a difference and everyone can make a difference in the fight against music piracy.