Posing a Question

ENGL 1010

Should people be able to download music for free through peer to peer networking programs? This is a question that has been growing larger lately to the point of legal action. This is seen through the record labels taking action against users of programs like Kazaa, Morpheus, and most notoriously, Napster. In the last few years the number of users of the listed programs, along with many others like them, has increased exponentially in spite of the lawsuits that the record companies are attempting to administer. The reason that this question is so problematic is because there are very good arguments for both sides, although there has been progress on the issue, there is no end in sight.

The first side to present is that of the record labels. They believe that the music should not be up for free download from the internet but instead think that these actions in any form are illegal. Their claim is that once an artist signs a record deal with them, the music that said artist produces belongs to the record label. Therefore, since the labels think they own the music, they think that they have the final say in its distribution. Since a record label incurs many costs when producing a CD, they want their “piece of the pie.” When someone goes off and thinks they can just freely download the songs that the record labels worked hard to produce, this upsets the various record labels because the people doing this are stealing. To combat this they usually try and get the various program makers, such as Kazaa, to release information about the program users. Now, it would appear that legally, the record industry has right of way, but the opposing side has some surprisingly good rebuttals.

The other side of the story, which is for the free distribution of music, has some good rebuttals. Many people believe that music should be distributed for free because people often use the downloaded songs as an evaluation of what they plan on buying in the future. To back that up, many people often point out that the downloaded songs are of inferior quality to CDs. Many people that I know have many songs downloaded, but own almost every one of the respective albums that the songs came from. People argue that if the record industry could embrace this idea, much of the conflict would be over. Another portion of the argument for music sharing is the position of the artists. Very often, music artists go unknown until some of their music is distributed on the internet. Only then do they become popular enough to be a “big time” artist. Also, very often an artist will support file sharing because they are not in it for the money, but instead believe that music is a form of art which is protected under the first amendment and should be distributed freely. One of the first groups to make it known that they support such sharing was Limp Bizkit. They made a claim that because they created the music, they still had control of who hears it under the first amendment and freedom of speech.

Do record labels own music that they did not create themselves? Do they have the right to invade people’s privacy in the name of justice? Could an agreement be reached between record labels and consumers regarding an evaluation program? Do bands own the music they create even after signing it over to the record labels? All of these are questions that directly relate to the final answer of whether or not file sharing should be legal. Whatever the correct answer is, one thing is for sure. There is, at the moment, no sign of slowdown in the file traffic network, and there is no indication of backing down from the various record labels.