Digital Music Piracy
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
Digital music piracy, or the unlawful downloading of copyrighted music, has been a controversial topic for more than a decade now. The issue was first brought to attention in 1998 when Shawn Fanning created Napster. Though the MP3 file was originally developed in 1987, Napster represented the first mainstream and user-friendly program to transfer and download these files. Napster, a peer-to-peer (P2P) program, allowed online users to connect with one another and swap copyrighted music, videos, and other files contained on their computers, thus providing a way to get free music online. (157) Since music artists and record companies were uncompensated when consumers downloaded these music files, the act of downloading "free music" became known as digital music piracy. Market statistics compiled by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) show that worldwide sales of music fell at the turn of the century and P2P networks were immediately blamed for the industry's bad fortunes. (157) The question and concern on the boundaries of digital music piracy, despite its being in debate since the late 1990’s, has yet to be resolved. The record industry continues to persuade listeners in believing that the recent rise in digital piracy is at the crux of declining music sales and is destroying the music industry, as we know it. The major labels and their retail and technology partners are fighting back, pursuing a wide range of judicial, legislative, technological and commercial strategies designed to get the average consumer to stop taking free music from the Web. (71) Others however, including a large portion of artists, believe that the ability to provide free music is a great way to gain recognition and increase performance attendance. They seem to believe that the only real problem facing the digital music era is the dragging of feet by the major record labels to adapt to the changing market.
So what is the answer? Can digital music piracy be stopped? Should it be stopped at all? Or is free music the best answer? Should major record labels embrace the changing market and target their profiting on tours and merchandise? In this paper I am going to look at both sides of the argument, to gain a better understanding of the issue, and tackle some of these daunting questions. Initially, as a means of resolving the issue of piracy, record industries solution was to begin suing Napster for copyright infringement. It worked. In March of 1999 a federal judge handed them a big win against Napster. Napster had to pay $26 million as settlement and eventually declared bankruptcy in 2002. Despite Napster’s demise, the online file-sharing service left a legacy of P2P technology, which still exists today. In recent years, other P2P networks have continued where Napster left off. Kazaa and Morpheus gained popularity after Napster's fall, continuing to allow users to trade music online. (158) More recently, BitTorrent revolutionized P2P software by establishing a means whereby transferring large quantities of data can be achieved without the need for large amounts of storage space. As of June 2009, Morpheus (Version 188.8.131.520) has been downloaded more than 173 million times from download.cnet.com. Limewire (Version 5.1.4), another popular P2P program, has been downloaded over 181 million times from the same website. (158) These are huge numbers, and it adds up when looking at a new study conducted by the IFPI, which estimates 40 billion songs were illegally file-shared in 2009, with the overall music download rate of around 95 percent. Meaning that music piracy is taking place 95 percent of all digital music downloads. According to the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) downloading music adversely affects both artists and the industry. They believe that if consumers want their favorite artists to succeed they need to support...
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