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 Musician's Corner: File Sharing or Music Piracy?

To download or not to download? That is the question. Even the Grammy Awards show has included commentary on this controversial issue of file sharing, or is it music piracy? Napster or Metallica? Whatever your position, this is an issue that appears to be here to stay.

Michael Greene, former Chairman of the Grammy Awards, delivered his annual monologue in 2002, blasting the "stealing of music from the Internet." He went on to say that stopping this trend will not happen anytime soon, and is only expected to worsen. His position insists that file sharing discourages artists to reach for greater artistic heights and ultimately be paid for their efforts. Is money the main motivator for artists to continue to strive and reach for greater musical heights? He pointed out that newer, less established acts livelihood's are in jeopardy from downloading; going on to imply that this practice is essentially robbing artists of their property and craft. It is estimated that over one billion songs per month are downloaded, he said.

Greene and his staff set-up an experiment to prove the point. The committee paid 3 college students to download as many songs as they could over a two-day period. The results were an astounding 6000+ songs downloaded from "easily accessible websites" over the two days. My argument is that this 'laboratory rat' experiment does not represent the norm or the reality of file sharing.

Realistically, what percentage of the population sits around downloading their favorite music all day? Despite the recent decline in music sales, most of us are still buying our music primarily. I'm a music enthusiast, but I'd rather have my time AND the whole CD (artwork included) to keep in my collection; not as a file on my hard drive or a copy burned to a Memorex CDR. My suspicion is that only a small percentage of computer "over-enthusiasts" actually collect large quantities of downloaded music for fun.

Historically, I've used downloading as a preview tool. I'll sample a song or an artist to see if I want to go out and BUY it. If I like what I hear, my first inclination is not to proceed to download the whole CD; I'm on my way to my local music store. Practically speaking, to download in any major quantity requires a broadband Internet connection anyway. Statistically, only a small percentage of the consumer population has cable modems, DSL, or T1 lines at this time. In this fast food society, people by and large, do not have the time to sit around downloading 5-10 MB files on 56K modems for hours on end.

What about the argument that file sharing HELPS artists by giving them increased exposure that they would not have gotten otherwise? This is probably true for newer artists, but may become counter productive for the more established acts. But just as it is seemingly impossible to control file sharing, how could we ever fathom controlling it from a relative artistic development or accomplishment standpoint? "We'll allow file sharing only for new artists up to but not exceeding sales levels of 1 million units." Beyond that plateau mark, you gotta start buying it? Maybe in the movies, but that's not reality.

The Bottom Line: I believe individual opinions about file sharing are greatly influenced by a person's relative position in the "manufacturer/consumer" food chain. Obviously if you are an artist and MAKE music, you do not want your CD sales to suffer because the computer Mafia all over the world can download it for free. As a consumer however, free is a hard price to beat, and is a great way to sample music before you decide to buy. The solution, as with anything probably, is moderation. File sharing to preview music and gain exposure is good. To build your entire music collection from the offices of Dell, Microsoft, and AT&T is probably not.

Leu Success Resources, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Posted By: Tom Leu

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