Peer to Peer Filesharing

Miriam English

There are 3 main parts to this subject, as I see it.

the legal arguments

The legal debate that peer to peer file sharing is theft is a red herring. Rules regarding theft relate to physical objects that meant one person gained something by making another person lose it. That doesn't apply in the electronic world where copies can be made that increase general wealth at no cost to anybody else.

Another legal argument is made from the point of view of copyright. But the copyright laws are terribly outdated too. The original copyright laws were not made to ensure companies a continued source of funds from contracted artists; they were intended to maintain innovation and stop a powerful few from stifling change. Unfortunately copyright law is now being used against itself by those same powerful groups. Some artists have been duped into thinking that copyright protects them, but they are mistaken -- it provides the illusion of protection.

the financial arguments

The financial argument maintains that the current restrictions on production are necessary to provide money for artists. But very few artists get much or any financial reward from the current system. Lots of recording company executives, and middle managers, and advertising people get good incomes from it, but few artists. Most artists get more money from live gigs than from record companies. For most artists, record companies are a money pit and never return a profit to them. For those artists peer-to-peer sharing of files would be a godsend. They can't afford expensive advertising. Peer-to-peer sharing can get their songs and pictures, etc out there to a hungry population at almost no cost. Even for established artists, peer-to-peer file transfer can potentially reduce their costs... though most are so scared by the big companies that they would be reluctant to take that plunge.

However the most commonly understood part of the financial argument (though for some reason it is rarely heard) is that if people can get copies for free then they won't buy the full product, but a number of things prove that this just isn't so:

the practical arguments

The practical argument comes out of a lack of a model for channelling money back to artists. This initially looks to be a real problem until you look at how the internet has affected other areas which have not been so retarded by giant, slothful, greedy organisations. As an example of how it can work, just look at how shareware programs have flowered on the internet. Artists might use similar methods to reduce the cost of their products by cutting out the middle-men. But even in the absence of such a model, file sharing over the net can be considered as free advertising, reducing artists' costs in their attempts to gain worldwide recognition.

While cutting out the middle-men to reduce the cost of the product sounds like a great idea to most people I can understand why the middle-men are so distressed by it. I can see why they would mount all manner of duplicitous legal subterfuge in order to maintain the status quo. Who can blame them? They stand to lose their easy golden ride, or at least have to change and adapt to a new climate. But that doesn't mean that we have to give it the stamp of legal or popular approval. They are just trying to perpetuate an outmoded system for a little longer and create pain and discomfort for others in the meantime. In the end they will go the way of the feudal system.

One last point: in a world where everything can be easily copied at no cost, what do you suppose will become the most valuable items? The genuine articles of course. Radio airplay and TV video clips don't reduce the value of live performance -- they increase it. Freely copied files won't reduce the value of physical items like CDs.

The only way artists can lose from this new technology is if they don't embrace it.

April 2001