As a modest music downloader, all this talk of intellectual property and copyright has started me thinking. Can I realistically consider myself an ethical music fan when a significant portion of the music I listen to is “stolen” off the internet? Or is the whole guilt-trip attached to music downloading a mere result of the ‘Big Five’ record companies’ attempt to hold on to their billions in profits?
According to the Recording Industry Association of America ( RIAA ), CD sales in the US only brought in 11.2 Billion dollars in 2003, that’s approximately 2 Billion less than in 2000. That’s a shame. Really. How are those poor studio executives going to get by?
Of course, it’s not really that simple. When CD sales suffer, the artists suffer too. You need only look at the RIAAâ€™s artist testimonials to know that:
Napster is “robbing me blind,” says the lead singer for Creed.
“Artists, like anyone else, should be paid for their work,” says Lou Reed.
Indeed they should.
The conclusion weâ€™re supposed to draw from these quotes is that systems of digital distribution that donâ€™t compensate artists for their work are unethical. But just how ethical are the record companies who are profiting off the creative work of their signed artists? According to Money for Nothing, a documentary examining the ugly nature of the pop music industry, successful artists are often bankrupted and manipulated into paying the bill for their own promotion while their record company reaps the benefits.
The real problem that the â€˜Big fiveâ€™ have with digital distribution is not that their artists are being ripped off but rather that the new media ethos perpertrated by Napster and friends is one which calls “into question the basic logics of capital”(Thomas), undermining ideas of intellectual property and ownership of information. This is a scary thought for an industry whose profits are based on those very notions.
So by claiming that Internet music theft alone is responsible for their drop in CD sales (of course it couldn’t have anything to do with the struggling American economy or a rise in CD prices), record companies are hoping to gain the same control of the on-line market that they already enjoy off-line.
Their motives seem so transparent, and yet somehow they’re still getting away with it. And what are we doing about it? …
Thomas, Douglas. “Innovation, Pircay and the Ethos of New Media”. The New Media Book. British Film Institute, London, 2002, p 82.