Music Downloading – Unplugged.


Music downloading and music piracy are phenomena which have existed for quite some time, but have grown exponentially with the growth of the internet and file sharing programmes, including peer-to-peer (P2P) applications. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) estimated that approximately 40 billion files were downloaded in 2008. That means that 400,000 files would have been downloaded by the time you’ve finished reading this article. So its definitely a big deal.

Students and young people are some of the most prolific participants. A lot of this is because of the access and understanding that a lot of the young population has, but this group is also more attracted to the possibility of convenience and no price. This has had a dramatic cost to the music industry and even in the UK, up to £1.1 billion could be lost if the trends are left unchecked by 2012. Why then do so many people take part in an illegal downloading so much? And what exacts counts as music piracy?

Where illegal music starts and stops is a pretty complicated issue. Legislation is confusing, laws are ambiguous, and music artists have divided opinions on the issue. So what hope do the rest of us have? While most people feel that giving an album to a friend is no big deal at all, and wouldn’t even think twice about it, its increasingly difficult to understand what’s allowed and what isn’t. Edge writer Alex Copland summed up the dilemma when stating “… But then if it’s legal to share music for personal use, that’s basically file sharing, which is what this is all about. Where do you draw the line? It’s hard to judge.”

Simply put, music piracy involves the taking and using of music, without explicit permission of the artist. This leads to lost sales and is generally branded as ‘free music’. Technically, that’s not the case as you can gather a huge variety of legal free music through free samples, fan pages and blog sites, and is certainly something that has grown over the past few years. The growth of music downloading has alarmed smaller, emerging bands who can’t hope to get a record deal and build foundations, if their songs are already all over the internet. Yet at the same time, many bands often provide free samples and demos to make themselves known in the first place. To further complicate matters music companies like the ‘The Big Four’ have strong views. They demand that internet providers take a stronger position on serial offenders, much to the disgust of music pirates, who cite their greed and selfish behaviour as the reasons to why they were driven to music downloading in the first place. So, the issue is heated, and below are what some of the Edge’s finest have been saying about both sides of the argument.

First off, music pirates often have extensive music libraries, regularly well over 3000 songs, and no this isn’t because they pirate 24/7, but also because they buy a lot of music. It’s been proven to some general surprise that music pirates buy more than those who don’t illegally download at all. Music is a lifestyle and a hobby, and therefore clamping down would backfire spectacularly. Yet when buying music, people are faced with having to pay up to £10 for each album, and relatively higher prices for singles, no matter the quality or reputation of the artist, which can be difficult, especially for students. This is due to the perceived unfair share of profits that music companies recieve from sales, and many writers were particularly vociferous about the dominance of the industry, which does not let the artists thrive. The largest four companies control a staggering 70% of the music share, which has led to a independent label backlash in recent years. It’s argued that these companies, such as EMI are preventing music from reaching its true identity; an art which is something that should be shared and enjoyed to its full potential. In addition, the supposed loss of piracy is negated by the subsantial sales of gig and festival tickets, in addition to the merchandise sold, where even the smallest bands make a strong proportion of their profits. Finally, the convenience factor cannot be ignored. It is now easier than ever to obtain albums within just a few minutes and is something that appeals to many, but by no means all.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that music piracy is something that is destroying the very core of the music. The grass roots of the music industry, local bands, are struggling to get signed, because there is a continual worry that they will never make any money with piracy rife, and thus many never get the recognition they deserve. There is of course the simple fact that music piracy is an illegal act, and is punishable by law. People are at risk of having their internet connection cut or slowed, as they have violated terms of use with their internet supplier. Although legislation is still patchy in the UK, there are moves towards making firmer action with a planned Digital Economy Act. Either way, it is theft and many would feel it should be treated the same way, like any other crime would be. Many argue this hassle is unnecessary as there are a number of legitimate ways to listen to music freely. Sites such as LastFM, YouTube and to some extent, Spotify all allow users to enjoy music freely from extensive libraries, without the need for downloading. Many also believe that it will cause the death of the physical album release, a tradition that existed for over half of a century and should be treasured. Illegal downloading is also dangerous because it is of course unregulated, and a number of people have found that their computers have been riddled with deadly viruses and running slower than usual.

So while the debate rages on, it becomes clear the music piracy is something that cannot be avoided, and is a thorn in the side of the music industry. While steps are slowly taken to halt the spread, many believe it is now an uncontrollable trend of modern music lifestyle. With every step forward, people find new and innovative ways to try and break the laws, yet both sides one day will want to claim victory. Only time will tell whether music downloading is a force to stay or a pest to be wiped out.

We also spoke to members of the university and asked about their thoughts on this highly divisive issue. Here’s what they had to say:

“I think it’s in general its good because its a quick and easy way to get music, however its not the same as owning the CD, because having the CD case for some people means more than actually having the music because its memorabilia. Illegal downloading, although I realise why people do it for the small price they pay because its cheaper, I don’t understand why if you like the music that much, why you wouldn’t pay for it.”

“I think that downloading music illegally is not so awful because the only people it really harms is the record companies and it doesn’t actually harm them that much, because I’ve heard that most of the money that bands make comes from touring and merchandise as well. You can buy a track for 12p or 70p, or something very very small. The thing is I don’t download music illegally because I have Spotify, and with the advent of new music on the internet and also through YouTube, people are less likely to download illegally”

“I download quite a lot of music illegally, mainly from the big bands. If there’s smaller stuff like a band that’s coming through, I might go out and actually buy the album, but if they’re a big band and signed to a big label, I don’t really see why I shouldn’t go out and download. But obviously if they are an independent label and they’re struggling that bit more, then yeah it should change.”

“After the downfall of Spotify and considering people have been given the taste of free music, then I’m not sure people are going to go back to having to pay for their music. If its through YouTube or Grooveshark or illegal downloading, this kind of piracy is going to continue and you might as well earn some money off it, therefore free things which pay advertisements and pay the royalties such as Spotify was, or Grooveshark is now is going to be neccesary, because people assume they need more free things.”

“I would say that I’m not really fussed by illegally downloaded music that much, partly because a minimal amount of profits go to artists, so if it’s going to have any effect, it’s not very relavant. Generally things are massively overpriced, like the cost to produce the music isn’t proportionally represented and enough people pay for the music and it clearly has a massive turnover, and also partly the way that they try to bully people out of  [downloading]. Also I’d say the structure of the music industry, where very big music get a lot of publicity, it doesn’t encourage new music. Obviously illegal downloading, doesn’t cover new music either, but if it was broken down with smaller companies then I’d rather have that.”

“I’m firmly against music downloading because I think the music industry is probably suffering enough as it is at the moment, so much so that’s its not a justifiable trend for people to illegally download. I think its so easy and so cheap to download legally that its supporting new talent, and its supporting the growth of an industry which, given the whole breadth of music downloading, needs all the help it can get.”

“I don’t know, I do a bit of both. I buy and I download occasionally, but when I download, I tend to download more big bands, whereas I try to buy new bands and support then. If an album I download is really good, I do tend to buy it as well, but I do download because it is quite expensive and as a student I neeed all the money I can get, so I do a bit of both.”

“I’m in two minds about it, because I think that music is really expensive, and a lot of people who actively enjoy music are students who can’t neccesarily afford to buy it. Because of that more bands are encouraged to do more live shows, which is a good thing and they make their music that way. I always download under the pretense of then, if I like it I will go and buy it, but that isn’t always neccesarily do-able.”


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