"File-sharing: Guilty as Charged?"

By Damien Cave


Salon Staff
August 30, 2002 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Actually, I think they should lock up the "pirates." Putting a third or so of America behind bars for trading music online will force laws to change and more creative online music business models to emerge. As was said about Prohibition and the Volstead Act, the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it as rigorously as possible.

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P.S. It's impossible to legislate against rain, sun, or progress.

-- Eliot Van Buskirk

I would suggest that album sales are down, not because of *.MP3 file sharing, but because of the lack of new music on the radio. As deregulation allows individual corporate entities to control greater numbers of radio stations (and their output), it is apparent that the new music we are exposed to lessens.

I have been a radio listener all my life, and this has always been how I found new music; the result being my purchase of new CDs. However, since the takeover of several of my favorite stations in the New Orleans market, there is no question that my CD purchasing has declined.

I would very much like to see a quantitative analysis of the percentage of new music available on radio stations today, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago (before deregulation). I would then like to see a comparison of sales for new music releases in those periods. It is possible that the analyses that are being conducted, including those by Mr. Liebowitz, are skewed towards the music industry's complaints.

-- Cynthia J. Steward

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I think one thing has been consistently overlooked in the ongoing debate about whether declining CD sales are the result of MP3 file trading and that's the backlash or boycott component. I believe there to be a significant number of consumers, like myself, who simply won't buy CDs because they refuse to enrich the coffers of an industry that is so hell-bent on biting the hand that feeds it. First the RIAA ran Napster out of business. Then they focused their sights on Gnutella and the other peer-to-peer file sharing programs. Now they want Congress to vote in the Berman bill so they can go after my kids and their computers. And, they want me to finance it by buying their product! As a method actor would say, "What's my motivation in this scene?"

-- Joe Ferrarello

Concert ticket sales are down about 10 percent for the first half of 2002, pretty much tracking the decline in album sales. If Napster (and clones) are responsible for the decline in album sales, they must also be responsible for the decline in concert ticket sales ... or maybe there is a common element in both declines -- overpriced, undervalued offerings in both cases? According to a recording industry spokesperson recently, a CD costs the recording industry about $1 total cost. A typical concert ticket that has a list price of $25 ends up costing the consumer about $55-$65 after service charges. I am led to believe that the common issue here is industry greed, not mass copyright infringement.

-- Peter McDaniel

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Damien Cave's article is, as ever, well handled, but misses one key point (that the record industry either can't, or won't, see):

Many former music consumers are boycotting purchasing music in protest to the heavy-handed and draconian measures being pursued by the RIAA/MPAA and their ilk. It's not the file sharing that's hurting sales, it's the market's punishment of the record industry for their misbehavior in dealing with it that's hurting sales.

Note to the music industry: You put out a lousy product, nobody buys it. You have offensive business practices, nobody patronizes you.

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Ain't capitalism grand?

As an aside, we pirates may even be downloading less music as a form of auditory protest, and instead are doing such outrageous things as reading, writing, or working outdoors.

-- Rafe Brox

I can't speak for others, but while I've never downloaded a single MP3, the RIAA's response to MP3 downloads has eliminated any inclination I might have had to purchase a CD. If the RIAA would rather invade my privacy to protect what it sees as its property rights than find a way to use Internet distribution profitably, it will never see another dime of my money.

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-- Bob English

I am a 16-year-old music pirate. I regularly download music for free, and sometimes I make CDs with the music I've "stolen." Up until recently I had decided that I wouldn't buy CDs anymore -- what was the point? I could get the music for free and burn a CD for a dollar, so why would I pay outrageous (in my mind) prices for the same thing? However, I recently had an epiphany.

When I buy a CD, I don't buy the music.

I buy the jewel case, the cover art, the lyrics, the information about the songs. I also buy songs I wouldn't have downloaded. If I hear a song on the radio and download it, I usually download two or three other songs by the same artist. I don't know which songs are good, from the same period in the artist's musical development, the same style, or really anything. When I buy a CD, I get what I pay for. The music I download now I wouldn't pay for. Is there any loss for the artist if I wouldn't have paid them anyway? To me it's satisfying for people to hear my music and enjoy it than to not hear it at all. I've already "stolen" all the music I buy on CDs.

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I will never pay for MP3s.

If it comes down to being forced to pay for MP3s, I'd rather buy vinyl and CDs. I'm not going to pay for music alone when I can pay for music and get the extras. That plan just won't work.

-- Josh Rachford

I wonder if it ever occurred to the music industry that they're now paying for past and present sins? Doubtful. Being an ex-professional musician I can tell you I have very little sympathy for these remora-like whiners. Industry execs have been making obscene profits off the blood, sweat and tears (no pun intended) of creative artists for decades now, utilizing overreaching contracts only because they're in a position of power.

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In the last five years they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars packaging and producing lackluster no-talent musical one trick ponies and losing in the process. They've tried to pour mediocrity down the throat of the consumer and the consumer just isn't happy and now industry is paying for it.

They don't know real talent any more. All they know is good deals and how to try to maximize their "bottom line." Well, that's over too. If they wound up disappearing off the face of the earth like the dinosaurs they really are, there would be no love lost and I'd love to see it personally.

They are creative-parasitic pigs and deserve just what they're getting and it has nothing at all to do with file sharing. It has to do more with greed and stupidity and they're starting to feel it in the pocketbook. So spare me the numbers crunching on the extent to which you think MP3s, file sharing, or anything else is to blame. Blame the source. Blame the record companies.

The day they're successful in lobbying for the power to make the federal government their own personal copyright Gestapo and permit the legally sanctioned hacking of private computers is the day I move to Canada. That makes my blood boil to even think about it. Aldous Huxley are you listening?

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-- Howard Hirsch

People like CDs. Now that everyone has a CDR drive, trading MP3s is superfluous. Why bother trying to track down 13 songs on an album when you could just find a friend who'll burn it for you?

Downloading a song or two might get someone to like an album. Having a sound-identical physical copy of the album wouldn't, except perhaps out of a sense of altruism. Altruism for the RIAA? Give me a break. I'd rather see the money going to the artists.

-- James Liu

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I would take issue with Mr. Liebowitz point about differentiation in the music industry. There used to be singles and EPs as well as full-length albums. Now if I just want one song I have to by a full priced album. Record company greed caused the few domestic singles available to be priced at nearly a full CD price for only a couple of songs. So I download singles and burn them myself.

When I can, I buy import CD singles, which are great because they contain alternate mixes or videos. Those are value-added reasons to spend 10 bucks on one song. But it seems that the music industries' vaunted distribution system no longer wants to deal with the lowly single.

-- R. Mulcahy

All this worry over MP3s -- what about the used CD market? There are countless retail outlets across the country and around the world dealing in used CDs, because you can buy one for less than the price of a new one. So price is an issue.

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-- Jack Suggs

The author argues that a 9.8 percent decline in CD sales is historically significant in showing the effect of MP3 sharing on sales.

I own over 3000 CDs and I am a professional musician. I have not purchased any CDs this year, and perhaps 3-4 in the year previous. This from someone who purchased ~500 CDs yearly before. One of the primary reasons for this is my subscription to E-music.com, as I primarily listen to old Jazz and Blues. For these old and out of catalog items, 15-20$ a CD makes it difficult for a musician to listen to and experiment with new music without a considerable investment.

The most prevalent reason for my refusal to purchase CDs is a boycott against the industry. They have consistently made things as difficult as possible for small producers and independent artists.

I am also a parent, and I find the latest version of Hollywood morality disgusting. As a father to two daughters, I will not entertain the antics of a silicone-augmented 16-year-old who struts it on stage in clothes that would make Madonna blush while draped in the age-old symbol of sin, the serpent, while talking of family values and waiting for marriage.

Valenti et al. have treated us to the virgin slut, the sensitive bad boy, and the hunky loner for too long, and now the stereotypes they present are so gross and twisted from all of their permutations that they fail to do what good music has been for so long -- sincere.

You begin asking yourself, who are they really trying to appeal to? Your 13-year-old. Indeed most mainstream music is targeted for children. These disturbing sexual images and moral hypocrisies are all tools for preying on the herd mentality of our young.

I remember being told this once: "This song should really pull at the anger of high school boys." And the sadder thing is it's written in back rooms by 50-year-old "hitmakers" and then peddled like our little 16-year-old virtuoso took time out of her bleach and boob job to compose it.

The music industry is diseased, and its death was and is inevitable. The RIAA only seeks to protect the monopoly of four companies locked in the same "gentlemen's agreements" that they have maintained for 20 odd years.

MP3s have hurt CD sales only inasmuch as they have provided an alternative to the monopolies. More and more, the next generation have found other channels to discover quality, heartfelt music, and this is very much due to the rise of the Internet. They cannot buy exclusive exposure like they can on radio and TV.

Perhaps this same researcher should study radio penetration and listenership over the past two decades, he might just realize that with radio listeners down at the "popular stations" (Clear Channel cronies) it might just be that the music industry is not peddling a product that anyone wants to buy.

When the RIAA tires of trying to get into the pockets of 12-13 year olds, and starts releasing quality music, they might have a chance. But the amount of personal contact you can achieve with an artist online will soon render the CD format pointless.

The record companies need to adapt or perish. Not that this is news ...

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law." -- Robert Heinlein

-- Jason Maggard

Damien Cave hits the nail right on the head with his comments on the price of CDs and Stan Liebowitz touches, too lightly, on the topic of music industry doldrums.

Never in my years of purchasing music has the product being released by the music industry been such garbage. Perhaps the costs associated with sales of music that are not related to the actual production could be better spent on A&R. Indie labels, which seem to have grown in number over the years, have loyal followings not because of their PR efforts, but rather because they are giving people something they want to hear.

The music industry's situation is analogous to that of the owners of MLB teams. If their business model doesn't work, don't blame everyone else under the sun. Fix the model! Give us something good to listen to at a reasonable price and we'll buy buy buy. Until then I'll fill out my collection with classics burned off of my friends CD's.

-- Matthew Trokenheim

I don't download many MP3s, and when I do it's purely to listen to some music that I haven't heard before, to try it out. When I like music, I buy it.

I have bought far, far fewer CDs in recent years. There's not very much interesting to download and try even, or if there is I'm not hearing about it in the first place. Radio stations play the same mainstream acts as each other on predetermined playlists, new acts are just endless clones of the last big fad. Many of the new acts can only sing, and don't play instruments or even write the songs themselves. Worthless, manufactured music. There are a few notable exceptions of course, but they only go to show how common the problem is.

Record companies need to understand this:

If I go into a grocers that sells various fruits -- apples, oranges, pears; I might buy one of each. If I go into a different grocers and they only sell different types of apples, I'll probably just buy an apple. You can't sell the same tedious thing to people indefinitely -- at some point the cynical marketing of acts who look good but have no real talent has got to stop. Stop covering the diamonds with 15 layers of straw -- I'm sure there's a lot of good music that simply isn't being marketed at all.

-- James Greenhalgh

Why blame file sharing when the rise in sales of used CDs could be more to blame for the drop in new CD sales? The wide availability of recent releases in the used section has prompted my two teenagers and I to buy used CDs exclusively. We still download hard to find stuff from the peer to peer networks but it is easier to pay seven bucks for a used CD than burn a CD on the computer. The record companies now want royalties on used CD's.

-- Michael Watson

I have an iPod, two Macs that run iTunes, and exactly zero bootlegged audio files. Maybe I'm strange, I don't know. It's true that I haven't purchased much new music lately. You want to know why? Because I haven't wanted to. It's too expensive, and there hasn't been much new that I've wanted in a very long time. Remember back when bands like Genesis and The Who came out with amazing albums where every song was worth listening to many times? Name me an album like that in recent memory. I liked "Bittersweet Symphony" a few years back, so I bought the album. I didn't like a single track on the album other than "Bittersweet Symphony." I've played the album twice. I don't mean to whine, but if the music industry has anything to offer me, they're doing a terrible job of marketing it to me. Instead of wasting time and money trying to squelch MP3 trading, maybe they should spend some time concentrating on quality, innovation and effective marketing.

-- Ted Lemon

Two points.

1. Your article states, "You mention that price doesn't matter because album prices have tracked with inflation for the last 30 years: A 10-song recording today costs as much as it did in the '70s. This runs counter to the public perception that CDs are wildly over-priced ..."

However, you fail to factor in that both minimum wage and the average American wage have not tracked with inflation and have, in fact, been grossly slow in there increase when compared to the rate of inflation.

2. The bottom line is that the "music industry" has continued to homogenize the production of music. The industry's goal is not to promote artistic integrity and great art, but to produce a slick product for mass consumption. Perhaps, listeners are tired of the products being offered?

-- Mark Tilton


Salon Staff

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