Have you ever tried to change someone’s religious views? Doesn’t work, right? More often than not, it’s like pouring gas on a fire and it just blows up in your face. Now, imagine that conversation and then squeeze it into a 30 second TV spot or radio ad. Talk about an uphill battle. In the same way, convincing a native file sharer born in the digital age that what they’re doing is wrong or immoral is a near impossible task. It’s kind of like a missionary telling a tribe of aboriginals they’re going to hell for not wearing clothes and dancing around fires.
File Sharing: A Brief History
Copyright Supporters Argue
1. P2P file sharing is illegal, and therefore immoral
2. Sharing copyrighted files is the same as stealing physical CDs
P2P Supporters Argue
1. P2P sharing is illegal, but not immoral
2. File sharing is not stealing because there’s no physical product
3. The mainstream music industry needs to be killed anyway
Being such a controversial issue for our generation, the understanding of the issues demonstrated by high school seniors should come as no surprise. 12th grader Kamal Dhillon argues convincingly that file sharing is “Not wrong, just illegal”. Charles Young, a senior at George Washington High School, argues that file sharing doesn’t hurt the artists at all because the “majority of artists revenue doesn’t come from album sales”, but from touring.
Emily Gould, another high school senior, takes the other side of the debate, stating “If you steal music, you’re a thief”. In a recent article on the Huffington Post, Jon Sheldrick cites the damage done to musicians, recording engineers, and studio owners, which he witnessed first hand. For every new argument one side presents, there arises a slew of equally compelling counter arguments. So the debate rages on.
The Back and Forth
On one side of the fence, many of those arguing for copyright enforcement have had their livelihood directly affected and even destroyed as a result of illegal file sharing. While, admittedly, some were greedy corporate “fat cats” and what some would call “The Man”, many, if not most, were just regular everyday guys trying to make ends meet. As a countermeasure against this devastating social trend, millions upon millions of dollars have been thrown at campaigns and lawsuits designed to either reeducate the masses or spook the lost sheep back into the fold.
The pro file sharing crowd, though, have not been so easily swayed. While organizations like the RIAA accuse file sharers of “stealing” purely on a monetary basis, the average file sharer views these accusations as a joke. This is evidenced by the plethora of parodies launched in response to the RIAA media campaigns. For the p2p crowd to consider what they’re doing as stealing, they would have had to reap some monetary reward. And all of them know that for them it has never been about the money. In their eyes, anyone fighting against file sharing is doing battle in Sherwood Forest against none other than Robin Hood and his Merry Men. He took from the rich and gave to the poor. This is how the peer-to-peer network views their position. This fact can be seen because in spite of massive lawsuits against file sharing sites, like Limewire and The Pirate Bay, more files are being downloaded now than ever before. In fact, the forcible closing of The Pirate Bay led to a 300 per cent increase in copycat sites launching. And if some sort of “three strikes” legislation were eventually passed, you could reasonably expect the same type of feedback in the form of new ways to mask file sharing. So rather than causing the file sharers to view what they’re doing as wrong or to roll over, these “moral victories” for the RIAA and other pro copyright organizations are completely overshadowed by the enormous backlash of consumers.
As referenced in Kyle Bylin’s “The Barriers of Music Consumption”, to those born in the digital age, the internet represents freedom. And while the internet does provide the freedom to think, create, and be heard, along with this has also come a perceived freedom from consequences. If there are no physical consequences, then all the rules go out the window. In the same way, if there is no physical object involved, it doesn’t affect the conscience in the same way. Therefore, to the digital generation, sharing a file isn’t the same as stealing a CD, and the former becomes justifiable. And, unfortunately for the music industry, this newfound freedom has become very closely attached to our sense of self, the very core of who we are.
Balancing nicely atop of this dog-pile of perspectives stands a clear victor – the file sharers. Illegal file sharing is still growing and the strategies employed to date to overcome this hurdle have been completely ineffective.
While it’s one thing for those who have lost their jobs to campaign for anti-piracy law, it’s something entirely different when those running what should be relevant, profitable businesses do it.
Why, you ask?
Since the customer is the one keeping you in business in the first place, the customer is always right- even when you think they’re wrong.
From a business standpoint, this brings up the most important question facing the music industry today: Since when did it become a profitable business practice to chide your core demographic? The whole of the capitalist system is based on giving the customer what they want. In this case it should be painfully clear from a monetary standpoint what the customer wants. And, since it appears that every time a “moral” victory is won in court by a pro copyright group there is a massive backlash by their core demographic, what business in their right mind would continue such counterproductive nonsense? After due consideration on this issue, from a pragmatic standpoint, I find I must concede the merit of the file sharing group’s position and end with this question:
Who, but an industry blinded by memories of the power they once held, would continue in such fruitless ventures?
Josiah Mann is an independent musician and writer focused on identifying and applying First Principles in any given field of study. His band, Sufficient Cause, is currently releasing their debut EP for free at http://SufficientCauseMusic.com while blogging the accompanying story.