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Copyright and Other Issues Regarding Digital Media and the Internet

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In the old days when you wanted to buy your favorite artist’s new album you would head to your local record store to buy it. The artists and record label would each get a cut of the profits. But today more music fans are opting for 99 cent downloads or streaming free music on-line.

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Obtaining a new track or album is just a click away with iTunes, subscription services like Spotify, free Internet streaming sites like Pandora, or even YouTube where you can watch music videos. For most of us, at least for myself, downloading music is a favorite activity when on the Internet.

Downloading music and other media files from the Internet may make it conveniently available. But does it have a negative effect on the music industry? Does it affect the earnings of the artists? What are the pros and cons of downloading music? There are a lot of questions revolving around the music industry and the advances of digital media technology. I will explore these questions and attempt to answer the big question of whether downloading, both legal and illegal, is a real threat to the overall music industry?

The pros and cons of downloading music can be explored based differing criteria, with the most controversial being whether the downloaded music is legally acquired. Since Napster, the first peer-to-peer file sharing network, made its debut in 1999 and subscription and pay-per-download technology like iTunes exploded, debate has grown concerning the logistical, ethical and financial repercussions of downloading music. The main argument that record labels make about the advancement of digital media technology is that downloading music gives rise to copyright and piracy issues.

When one uses the copied versions of these files, they are indirectly encouraging piracy. When downloading such media files, it does not go for the purchase of the original copies of music, which results in a violation of copyright law. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded between 2004 and 2009 (Adkins). Even with sites like iTunes offering legal downloads, peer-to-peer file sharing still runs rampant.

Thus, illegally downloading music is believed to have a significant impact on the music industry resulting in a loss of profits and jobs, and changing how music is delivered to the masses. The RIAA reports that music sales in the United States have dropped 47 percent since Napster first debuted in 1999. The availability of free music has cost the music industry $12. 5 billion in economic losses (Adkins). To make up for some of these losses, the music industry has filed lawsuits against individuals who have been found to have illegally downloaded music.

In some cases, individuals have been sued for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. The problem is, when one illegally downloads music, they aren’t just hurting music executives, who are often stereotyped as greedy businessmen exploiting the creativity of the musicians; they are also hurting the musicians. The huge popularity of illegal downloads is changing the music industry, reducing the incentive for musicians and labels to develop and finance new projects. Singers and bands are the public face of the music industry, but creating, recording and promoting a song takes a large team of people.

As record companies have seen their profits decrease, they have had to cut positions they are no longer able to afford. This includes artists as well as engineers, songwriters, producers, and technicians. The RIAA reveals that more than 71,000 jobs have been lost as a result of illegally downloading music (MacMillan). The bottom line is that every piece of music downloaded without payment steals money that should be going to the musicians who created the music. Lastly, it is often left out that by downloading media files, it loses its originality.

Though downloading makes it easily available to the masses, it also makes it spread far and wide. Something that is very easily available is considered to be of a lesser value therefore devaluing their art. On the other side, digital media is convenient for users, as they can obtain music and movies, save it to their computers and potentially transfer it to CDs or iPods without ever leaving their homes. It can also be done from anywhere with an Internet connection, and at any time, in contrast to music purchased at a traditional store.

You can obtain potentially hard to find tracks without needing access to a well-stocked store. Access to older music can allow the producer and artist to continue to make money for paid downloads years after the release of that album. New advances in technology and digital media allow users to select specific tracks that they want, instead of requiring them to purchase an entire album. This encourages users to download more because they feel they are getting a better deal. It allows artists to gauge the audience’s response to individual songs; this feedback may be used to guide future ongwriting (Borland). Digital media downloads represent a cost saving over traditional hard copies because customers are not paying for packaging, store costs and additional charges. It can also represent a cost saving to the artist, as they may be able to market directly to the target audience instead of through a promotions agent. Lastly, and most importantly, without downloading, streaming, or file sharing the person may have never heard the music for which they are listening to. The biggest problem a band has is getting its music heard.

For years, the music industry was confined to four multinational corporations that dominated the revenue stream of 70% of the music coming in, and four or five radio conglomerates that controlled what music was going out. Now all that has been broken up into millions and millions of little subcultures and niches that are serving small, really dedicated communities (Warila). Listeners may not necessarily pay for that one song or the one album, but if they’re intrigued enough, they’re going to start following an artist or band.

They show up at a show, buy the merchandise, or buy the next hard copy of the MP3 they just downloaded. Once an audience is there, there are all sorts of moneymaking opportunities. What seems like a long time ago, live music once felt threatened by records. And then later, recorded music felt threatened by recordable cassette tapes. Now record labels feel threatened by downloading, streaming and file sharing of music. Every time these technological advances came along, the people invested in the music business at the time took it as a threat to their business revenues.

While record sales have decreased dramatically compared to what they once were, every technological advancement throughout the music industry’s history has actually exponentially increased the desire for music. The same is true today as more people are listening to more music than in any other time in history (Adkins). And now it comes back to whether the downloading of digital media files, legally and illegally, are real threats to the overall music industry?

The introduction of Napster and illegal downloading has helped usher in a new era of digitally accessible music defined by online distribution and has therefore impacted the way the music industry must market and promote its artists. After thoroughly researching and analyzing the effects caused by digital media and the Internet, I believe it is time for the music industry to make their own advancements just as technology will continue to do so. It is futile to try and get rid of what has become of digital media and the Internet.

Record labels are wasting very valuable resources and time by spending large sums of money to find and pursue people in a court of law, who are illegally downloading media, the majority of which will never be able to pay off their charges. While I hold the upmost support towards respecting the integrity of one’s work, artists and record labels need to view the illegal downloading and file sharing of their media in a grander scheme of the industry. Not one specific artist or company is being singled out to lose money through illegal downloads.

It is a technological advancement that has reshaped the music industry landscape and affects them as a whole. Rather than clinging to an outdated system, record labels and major media companies need to put their resources and focus into exploring all the new possibilities created by these technological advancements. By adapting to this new music industry landscape, these media labels and companies can generate new revenue streams to make up for their perceived and actual losses.

To expose its artists to a wider audience and recoup revenue, the music industry has already had to develop and implement new tactics, such as digital licensing music to sites like YouTube and Pandora (Warila). The music industry will need to continue to create such ideas if it wants to grow. In regards to artists, rather than relying on media conglomerates for distribution, now they will increasingly go into business for themselves and in control of their own products. This will allow for artists to maximize their profits in a very competitive market.

The concept of allowing music to be streamed and downloaded for free will only further their own growth and expand their audience base. I recommend that instead of combating the realities of the modern era, congress should instead recognize that markets are increasingly changing. Technology and media will continue to grow regardless, weave around the obstacles, and find a way to succeed just as it did for digital media regarding file sharing and illegal downloads. I believe that it is time that everyone moves forward and changes with it.