Since the boom internet in the last decade there has been a huge shift in the music industry in terms of their sales avenues. 20 years ago, most music was on vinyl; now the majority of music is bought online as downloadable mp3s. With the ability to download music on the internet, there has also come the development of many illegal websites that facilitate file sharing including ‘Gnutella’ and ‘TorrentSpy’ where you can download any song you want for free.
The economic impact on the music industry is still in dispute with opinions varying. Music sales have dropped significantly in the last ten years and a number of people believe this to be a direct result of file sharing reducing the amount of music bought. However, there are others who say file sharing has also increased legal online sales and the drop in overall sales could be due to the failure of independent record stores and the monopoly of large retailers such as HMV or many other reasons.
The issues with file sharing are mainly related to the legal issue of property rights. Music is copyrighted to the artists and the the producers and so copying of their products is illegal. However, many people argue that CDs are over priced compared to production costs which are becoming increasingly lower and so they refuse to pay for full price music. Some people also feel that if they just want access to one or two songs they should not have to purchase a whole album. This argument has now been largely discredited though the introduction of online mp3 sales including iTunes and 7digital allow the purchase of single tracks off an album for prices of less than £1 and albums are also often sold for £6-9 which is much cheaper than the purchase of CDs which are often still £12-14 each. The launch of Spotify, a legal site where music can be streamed for free, has also opened up legal ways to access more music.
A further argument file sharers use is that those whose intellectual property is being copied are large companies with massive profits who can afford the loss in income incurred from file sharing. Countering this argument recently was pop singer Lily Allen. Her argument was that the big stars who earn millions on sell out tours can afford to back file sharing; they earn enough that it doesn’t affect them. However, the loss of money for smaller artists and emerging talent is enough to stifle their careers completely.
After the release of the Digital Britain report in June of this year, Lord Mandelson, the business secretary has suggested new sanctions against those who file share. The idea is that those who illegally download music could face having their connection disabled. These plans are backed by many of the main music labels including Sony and EMI who are currently claiming to be losing millions from the file sharing. In recent discussions between artists forming part of the FAC (Featured Artists Coalition which includes Blur, Pink Floyd, Radiohead etc) and the ‘UK Music’ organisation there has been much controversy. The FAC’s stance is that to suspend the connections of those involved in file sharing of music would be ‘grossly disproportionate’. Since the release of this statement ‘UK Music’ appear to have backed down on their demands in order to avoid a big rift within the music industry and to maintain a united front. The FAC are very clear that they do not back file sharing but believe that the disconnection of internet connections would involve a massive invasion of privacy and would not be effective in combatting file sharing. An alternative suggestion from the Government in repsonse to the Digital Britain report was to instead block websites that host illegal content and those who download pirate products repeatedly have their connections slowed rather than disconnected.
The latest development is that the after a meeting of over 100 artists they have finally settled their differences in a compromise. The sanctions that they agreed on involve the sending of warning letters to those who are repeated illegal downloaders followed by a restriction on their bandwith to a level that would prevent file sharing difficult. Lord Mandelson is yet to agree to these final terms.
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