As the music industry makes fresh bids to stop illegal downloading, Aidan Kirrane questions why most people don’t consider it stealing.
THEY MIGHT SAY there’s no business like show business but for the vast majority of us we think only of the ‘show’ and not the ‘business’. This is especially true of the i-Pod generation who fill their MP3s with internet downloads most of which are obtained illegally.
The ease at which you are able to find music for free online has been of immense concern for the music industry and two recent cases show how the industry is attempting to end the days of unlimited downloads. Eircom agreed to instigate a “three strikes and you’re out” policy against any of their customers found to be persistently downloading illegally while Google was forced to withdraw a large proportion of the music videos available on YouTube in the UK following a dispute over licensing.
The case put forward by the record industries is painfully logical. Music costs money to make and downloading it for free is stealing. The concerns of the industry are well-founded with record stores around the world being forced to close their doors.
Despite the apparently grim future for record sales free downloads are not universally opposed within the music industry. This is especially true for new up and coming artists who use the internet as a medium to spread their music and build a fan base and who are more than glad to give their music away free of charge.
“Music costs money to make and downloading it for free is stealing”
However, the issue of free downloads is a double-edged sword and problems arise for these acts when their albums are gathering dust in a record store with its “sorry, we’re closed sign” permanently facing outwards. It can smack of hypocrisy if a band who gained success via sites like MySpace and YouTube bite the hand that fed them by joining the crusade against the availability of free music online. Nevertheless, since the Pied Piper of Hamlin, musicians have demanded they be paid for their work and once can sympathise with this.
Those who use these free music sites to stock their music catalogue defend their actions in a number of ways. They argue that a superstar such as Madonna and the Rolling Stones won’t exactly be pawning their gold records should their sales be affected by illegal downloads. It is also frequently pointed out that the exorbitant price of concert tickets and the profit from merchandise ensures that the music industry is kept afloat.
“It can smack of hypocrisy if a band who gained success via sites like MySpace and YouTube bite the hand that fed them by joining the crusade against the availability of free music online”
The question that now has to be answered is to what solutions are available to remedy the problem. The Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) is lobbying other internet service providers to follow Eircom’s lead in clamping down on illegal downloads while Google is trying to hammer out a deal with PRS for Music (the Performing Rights Society) to ensure copyright holders of music on YouTube receive the correct royalties for having their music played on the site. Another compromise could be found by promoting the expansion of sites that offer free downloads of poor quality audio to encourage people to buy the proper version legally.
The main problem is that as the internet is so vast, it is exceedingly difficult to monitor and control its use. For every site shut down, five more can spring up in its place in a short space of time. If the music industry wants to stamp out illegal downloading they must appeal to the moral conscience of the perpetrators. The problem here is that people don’t equate downloading illegally with actually stealing and will continue to do it even though it is wrong.
It must also be noted that the music industry is still profiting from record sales, just not to the same extent as it was in the past. The record industry is no stranger to hearing that the end is nigh and has weathered the storms brewed by the ability to tape record from the radio and later to burn CDs.
However, the illegal download, which is a much quicker process than either tape-recording or burning a CD is a more dangerous beast and won’t be disposed of easily. While Bono has made enough to keep him in designer sunglasses for his lifetime, the economic future for rising stars does not look as bright. Next time you pass a busker, don’t be afraid to throw them the change from your coffee. Chances are, they’ll need it.