From the physical to digital: a problem with no solution?

When it comes to creative work file sharing has become a top issue and has drawn an enormous controversy surrounding legality as well as ability to enforce laws surrounding it. Officially the laws still do not allow for intellectual property to be copied without permission from the owner. Permission can come in the form of legitimate sales (you paid for it) or express consent (the owner is on record saying that you can). Both forms allow for 100% legal copying of work.

However the way this translates to files, especially music and film, is a bit trickier. Making a copy of your favorite song to give to your friend is illegal, but more than likely there will be no consequences. The reason is simple. There’s just no way to regulate what happens to a file on a personal computer after it’s been downloaded. As such many people don’t think of song or movie files as property since they can be so easily reproduced with no direct cost to the creator and no way to be caught doing it. Enforcing the copyright laws surrounding these files is next to impossible without excessive regulation.


In 2006 a campaign was launched to raise awareness that online piracy is a crime. The campaign compared piracy to theft of physical objects. The main difference that I believe should be considered though, is that if I steal a car, the owner no longer has a car, If I steal a purse, the owner no longer has the purse or it’s contents, If I steal a song or movie, the owner still has the movie. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t still morally wrong to do but It does show a major problem with the view that online piracy is equivalent to physical theft. The other problem is that the very popular video created by this campaign actually used pirated music. According to abc the creators of that commercial used music created by a dutch musician named Melchior Reitveldt. When he agreed to write the music he had only given permission for it to be used at one film festival. Instead the creators broke contract and mass distributed it.

This incident begs the question of why is it so hard to do things legally when it comes to intellectual property in the internet age. And even more important should the laws be changed. Specifically in the music industry copyright laws as they are today were written at a time where the only medium through which you could own music was analogue. It was a physical object(record, tape) that you had to physically purchase in a physical store and couldn’t really be that easily copied.(although they were) Unfortunately digital formats have removed that element. now all you need is enough hard drive space (about 7 mb for mp3).  Artists have to be paid for their work or they’ll stop making it. Piracy and file sharing both allow people access to a product without paying for it. But a new demon has shown up on the scene. And it might be a misunderstood anti-hero and not a villain.

spotify Streaming services such as spotify and pandora offer listeners a free option to listen to countless artists. The caveat is that there are ads played every 2 or 3 songs unless you purchase the membership. What this means is that artists through this medium do not directly sell their music but are supposed to paid for the rights to stream their music. Many artists, however are not happy with this system because according to them they are vastly underpaid for hosting music on spotify. However those concerns might be misplaced. According to the CEO of spotify while the rate per play is low the number of plays is high enough to make up for it. However small artists may not have such luck.

What can be done to help artists? In all reality music sales as they traditionally have been are not the solution to artists making a living. What is though is using the exposure that spotify and pandora bring to build a fan base. Tour. Sell Merchandise. Find other ways to monetize the music you create. And hopefully the industry will adapt and figure out how to solve the problem the digital world created. Below is an interview with the lead singer from anberlin. This interview is one of the best sources out there on this topic.


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