File Sharing

I’ve mentioned Iko, the excellent band that a friend of ours is in, before. The lead singer of the band recently posted an message on his MySpace Blog about filesharing. I spent some time writing a response and wanted to copy my thoughts here. The full thread can be found on MySpace here.

Ultimately, Kieran was starting a discussion about file sharing, whether or not it’s beneficial to the music industry, or should it be banned in some way. He hadn’t asked a specific question, just wanted to see what people’s thoughts were.

Hi Kieran and other folks,

I consider myself pretty old-school, I like cover artwork and inlays, I like to have a physical item in my music collection. Not everyone is like me.

I don’t do piracy. At least, I always pay for music that’s in my collection because it has value. Not everyone is like me.

Hmm….piracy. It’s not new. It’s not just that we’re all selfish now…we’ve always been selfish! Hands up all those that copied CD or tapes (remember them) before computers and the Internet were fast enough to make MP3’s and file sharing a reality? All that’s changed is that it’s quicker and easier to copy and swap music and, with digital, you don’t lose quality with each copy.

But the technology has improved in leaps and bounds – faster than the industry can cope with, it seems.

The Internet truly is a double-edged sword.On the one hand:
– it has made it easy for new bands to promote themselves.
– it removes barriers and makes people equal; Iko probably have as much power as Radiohead on the Internet.
– it has the potential to create an environment where only truly good music thrives because you can try stuff for free and if it’s no good you’ll leave it and move on to something else quickly (as Dean does).
– it has potential to remove the middle men (distributors and record shops) and have more of the cost of music going direct to the artist…or to even reduce the cost of music in the same way (most people I know that copy stuff do so because they think/know they’re being ripped off by the distributors and shops).

So there’s a lot of good things about using the internet for music.

On the other hand it has turned music into “just information” that can very easily be passed between people at no cost. In some cases this may be to the benefit of the artist; especially to a decent new act just starting out who wants to get their sound “out there”. However, I suspect that in many cases it can be crippling as the monetary value is removed from the art.

I work with technology a LOT. It is a tool. It is a means to an end. You don’t own a hammer for the sake of owning a hammer, you own it so you can hit things with it. And like any tool, it can be used, and it can be ab-used. I can use my hammer to hit people, for instance, which isn’t very nice (I don’t, by the way)

File sharing is a tool. I’m sure it has many legal, useful purposes and that’s why it exists. Sadly it seems to be abused more and more. And, oddly, I find that people who are normally kind, sensible, good-moraled, law-abiding citizens, have no problem with using computers for piracy, and seem to think that it’s stupid that they have to pay for stuff that they can freely copy around.

So what can we do?

Just banning/outlawing p2p file sharing is impractical and unlikely to help. People will just find other ways.

We can fight technology with technology. DRM (digital rights management) is another method of protecting the artists rights. Giving the purchaser the ability to use the file on a limited number of devices, or for a limited length of time. Sadly this is more complex than it seems. What if I replace my computer and can no longer use that file? That’s unfair is it not? People will always crack the technology anyway, rendering it useless. And the technology industry will always want to make as much hard cash as possible, and so you end up with not one technology, but several, with each technology onwer hoping that theirs will become the big one! (e.g. VHS/Betamax, or the recent HD DVD wars). There are many reasons why this isn’t a great solution.

Education is not likely to work either. There will always be people who just don’t care.

OK – I’m out of ideas. This whole new internet world needs some real creative thinking to work out how artists can best make use of it. Perhaps that’s why Kieran started this discussion? The world is not the one we used to know and we’re still mapping out the Internet and forming the unspoken rules and morals that surround it.

Have I helped the discussion? Probably not, K didn’t ask a direct question, so I’ve not sought to answer one – in fact, I’ve raised a few of my own.

What’s encouraging is that there seem to be people who share the values that make the internet good. To all the commenters above – good on ‘ya. Perhaps one way we can all help is to help is to spread the word about how artists deserve and need the cash. Perhaps we can be role models in that, speak up for the artists, challenge those we know who copy and file share.

After all, we’re right that it’s wrong.

Aren’t we?