Next time you see Times Square on TV, take a closer look: amid the glowing neon, plastered between underwear ads and stock tickers, are stars - pop stars, icons of the music industry, a multi-billion-dollar business that employs thousands across the globe. Out of a sea of individual spending decisions, an elegant commercial structure has emerged: music companies scout out talent, hire those artists that seem promising, pair them with professional songwriters and image-builders, and produce a product that consumers may then choose to exchange their money for. Those artists, songwriters, and image-builders whose products are most profitable are financially rewarded, encouraging others to adopt their practices and follow in their footsteps.
For decades, this has been a successful model, and an extremely progressive one -- thanks to innovations like automatic pitch correction, modern records like Britney Spears' Oops, I Did It Again are far superior to their precursors (John Lennon's Imagine, for example). But this continual progress may soon be past: a form of piracy known to its adherents as "file sharing" threatens to undermine the very foundations of the music industry.
Every CD has a cost behind it -- not merely the physical cost involved in creating and distributing the disc and packaging, which amounts to less than a dollar out of the 15 that you pay, but the salaries of producers (often tens of thousands of dollars per album), studio fees, equipment selection, etc. Moreover, successful albums subsidize unsuccessful ones, and multimillion-dollar flops from established musicians are not unheard of.
The money must come from somewhere, and for decades it has come from consumers. But with the advent of "file sharing", anyone with an internet connection can have access to almost any piece of music without paying a cent. The system cannot possibly survive, and without the system, music cannot possibly be produced.
Of course, many pirates have invented counterarguments to rationalize their theft - some assert that "file sharing" can increase the exposure of unknown bands (though if they are unknown, surely they can be producing nothing of quality) others that "downloading" free music has somehow caused them to buy more CDs. But even if these arguments were correct, they gloss over a central, inescapable point: "sharing" music with those who have not bought the right to listen to it is stealing, plain and simple. Stealing is illegal, and stealing is Wrong.
This much is clear and widely agreed upon -- legislation aimed at stamping out piracy has been passed, and more is in development -- but there is a far more insidious, far more pervasive threat to the livelihoods of content creators.
For centuries, book publishers could count on sales to compensate them for the expenses incurred in those books' creation -- not just the ink and paper, but the salaries of authors and editors, researchers and cover artists. More recently, however, certain academics have been involved in the practice of hoarding thousands of books in central locations, where almost anyone can have access to them. In all those years after the initial purchase, as hundreds upon hundreds of people peruse a book's contents, how often is the publisher compensated? The answer, dear reader, is not a single time.
Some have argued that even if this did not constitute theft of intellectual property, the limitations imposed on those who "borrow" the books are enough to prevent sales from being seriously impinged on -- but that is ludicrous on its face. Anyone can borrow a book not once, but as many times as desired; moreover, there is nothing to stop someone from taking the book to a Xerox machine and "burning" a personal copy.
After further research, I was shocked to discover that one such "library" exists on my own school's campus. Nestled amid parking structures and science buildings, it is unimposing, but walking inside, I discovered that I was able to browse an almost unlimited number of copyrighted books without so much as a glance from a security guard.
I timed my browsing rate at approximately 2 books a minute; had I continued for a couple of hours, I could have gone through 240 books or so. Estimating the average cost of each book (a quality hardcover) at $50, my seemingly innocent afternoon at the "library" would have cost the publishing industry twelve hundred dollars.
It is obvious that this cannot stand - at the very least, "book sharing" is a severely destabilizing force in a major industry, but even if it were not, it is simply wrong. Universities should not encourage theft and piracy; Eastern must dismantle its library immediately. Perhaps in time a new library can be implemented, with non-Xerox-compatible books licensed for library use by their publishers and a subscription fee charged to cover the costs, but for now, students and teachers should purchase their information fairly rather than stealing it. There are plenty of bookstores available.
But even if the problem is corrected here, the U.S. government still, inexplicably, tolerates libraries. Though existing laws clearly rule them out, it seems that new legislation is needed to force the issue, and I urge you to write your senator or representative. Government officials receive form letters in bulk, so the most effective method is to write out your letter in pen. And, of course, don't forget to enclose the check.
Update, June 2004: I wrote this as a satire, but I've found out there actually is a movement by copyright holders to require libraries to pay continuous licencing fees. More information by Googling "library association" "publishers association" copyright fair use, or at
. Help fight this at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Node the articles you write for your college paper at 4 AM that to your great surprise turn out not to suck.
Incidentally, feel free to distribute this without asking permission, as long as you link back here.
In response to electricsheep's writup: I think what matters here is not the literal physical process but the effect -- and functionally, file sharing is exactly like having access to a library (a bunch of libraries, really), with 2 exceptions:
1. The library's less convenient. This is only a difference of degree, though, and I don't think it adds much weight to arguments against file sharing, especially if you consider what librarys will be like in a few decades time.
2. Only one person can check out a library book at a time. This might seem like a big issue, but I think it's actually irrellevant. Consider a hypothetical file-sharing system (broadband-based, a few years from now) set up so that while someone else is listening a song you put in your directory, you can't listen to that song (and vice versa).
I have most of my CDs copied to my computer (and so will most people, in a few years). Out of the 7 GB of music on my hard disk, I'm listening to less than a thousandth of that (most of my songs are less than 7 MB) at any given time -- and that's if I was listening 24 hours a day. (Granted, some songs will be listened to and downloaded much more often than others, but in my experience those sets don't overlap much -- similarly, the book I want to check out from the library isn't likely to be out of stock, and it would be even less likely if I had access to every library in the U.S.)
And that's if we put an arbitrary limit on the level of granularity. Not only am I listening to only 1 song at a time, I'm only listening to one part of the song at that time. If someone else downloads Thievery Corporation's "Fedime's Flight" from me 10 seconds after I start playing it, my computer could happily send them the parts of the song I wasn't listening to, denying me access to those parts (wouldn't matter, as I'd be listening to other parts anyway). The only conflict that could occur would be with two requests to play a song at the exact same time, which is very unlikely even for wildly popular files.