As one of two open-ended questions in our 2004 online survey, we asked musicians what they thought would be the best approach to dealing with the unauthorized music distribution of music online. Fully 87% of all musicians and songwriters provided a response to this question (n=2,755). The answers represent a broad spectrum of opinions that reflect the diverse and varied experiences of musicians and music fans, stretching from “all music should be free, so stop worrying about it” to “file-sharers should be put in jail.” Below we provide select quotes from this survey question that illustrate the range of opinions held by musicians and songwriters on this issue.
A surprising number of respondents said that peer-to-peer file-sharing is not the problem, but that it is a symptom of bigger structural issues for the major labels. Many respondents suggested that the music industry needed to recognize the changes that peer-to-peer and digital entertainment in general have brought to the music industry, and change its business model to embrace it, instead of fighting it.
Another batch of respondents used this question to talk about the need for artists to control their own music. While negotiating control over content is difficult in a digital environment, many artists suggested that decisions over peer-to-peer file-sharing and digital distribution should be made by the artist, not the label.
Furthermore, there is some confusion among these musician respondents about how peer-to-peer networks function. Many thought that there must be a technological or legal remedy that would allow copyright owners to “shut down” or “limit” P2P sites, thus stopping the piracy at the source. Others thought that there might be a way to “limit” how much copyrighted material an internet user can download. However, peer-to-peer systems are not websites at all but a distributed network, so control at the ISP or web hosting level is not feasible.
Given these challenges, we were able to group the responses into eleven loosely-defined categories, but even these show a significant amount of internal variation, which are expressed in the chart below:
Despite the variation in these musicians’ proposals, most responses fell into one of four dominant categories:
1. The answers in the “Punitive” category range from palpable anger, to joking, to agreement with the RIAA’s current legal strategy of suing individuals who are sharing substantial numbers of files. There are also many who suggest that the best approach is to punish the peer-to-peer services that facilitate this kind of trading instead of the consumers.
2. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who think that no remedy is needed. These are the respondents who tend to say that file-sharing is good, that it has helped them with their careers, that music should be free so stop trying to crack down on peer-to-peer, or that the biggest victims are the major labels that need to revise their business models.
3. In the middle are those in the “Accept it” category who are resigned to the inevitability of unauthorized distribution and think it is best to work with it, rather than against it. Others are more positive and see peer-to-peer not as a threat but an opportunity for free promotion. Many in this category thought that the music industry’s campaign against file-sharing was not the best approach and that they need to embrace peer-to-peer and work with it to promote their artists. Finally, many diverged from the discussion of peer-to-peer altogether and talked about structural problems in the music industry – the price of retail CDs, the bottleneck on radio promotion, contract terms – to say that the music industry needs to adapt.
4. Those who fall into the “Business/Licensing” category say that the iTunes model of a pay-per-play store or the Rhapsody-style subscription service is the best solution – something legal, convenient, robust, and fairly priced. There was also a notable amount of support for Weedshare – an incentive-based system of restricted file-sharing that allows the artist to be compensated as the file gets traded more. This section also includes many respondents that articulate the basic idea of alternative compensation systems – those that track the files, or suggest that ISPs or peer-to-peer services add a monthly user fee and pay the artists based on usage.
Select answers from the survey’s open-ended question regarding how to deal with file-sharing illustrate the range of opinions given by musicians and songwriters:
QUESTION: There have been many proposals for how to deal with the unauthorized distribution of music online. What do YOU, personally, think is the best approach to dealing with the unauthorized distribution of music online?
File-sharing is good exposure
“I allow distribution of my music online because I know that: 1) it’s a form of free advertising, exposing my music to people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it, and rousing their interest in getting more of the same; 2) I know that the sound quality of my CD albums is far better than what anybody could pull off the Internet, so anybody who wants to hear the best possible recording of my music must go to my publisher’s website and buy the CDs. I have often authorized Internet distribution of my songs under the following conditions: a) attribute the music accurately to me, b) include a link to my publisher’s website so listeners can find and buy my albums if they want. I’ve never had a problem using this system, and it’s attracted a lot of new buyers to my publisher’s website.”
File-sharing is shoplifting
“I personally think that unauthorized downloading and distribution on any copywritten material, be it movies or music or even computer software, is a form of shoplifting. If a person were to walk into a store and grab a music CD and walk out without paying for it, that would be considered stealing. The same is true when it happens over the internet…if you don’t pay for it then your stealing it. Also, if you buy a CD for yourself and want to play your new CD for your friends I think that’s OK, but to burn them a copy is wrong. If your friends like the music enough they should go out and buy the music for themselves, not make a copy of yours. Musicians deserve to make a living off of their hard work and creativity and if an artist has a product for sale then I believe that if you want to enjoy that product you should buy it. Just because the technology is available to download information for free doesn’t make it the right thing to do and hopefully the record buying public is starting to understand that.”
File-sharing as a way to find out about new artists
“Let it be. It has only helped artists. The people who download and then do not buy, were not going to buy a cd anyway. But these same people will be more apt to support the artist via attending concerts etc. I personally have been exposed to hundreds of artists, many of which I support via attending concerts. I would not have heard of them nor would I then be supporting them if I had not came across their music on a filesharing network and had a chance to hear it. The very few cds I buy a year (which is a personal choice which came about prior to the mp3 craze due to cd prices being outrageous) are purchased because I only purchase the music of a small core group of musicians. My favorites so to speak. But, the few times I have purchased outside of this “circle” has been because I heard great music via downloading it. I repeat: I would not have bought this music had I not downloaded it for free over networks such as Kazaa.”
File-sharing as a way to preserve and access culture
“It needs to be better defined. Once material is out of print or no longer accessible by conventional methods, I think file sharing becomes legitimate. Example: I used the old Napster to find those great old Billy Holiday and other artists who you cannot find recordings of by any other means - including directly from the recording companies. Without a certain amount of - shall we say “abuse of the system” - the public is denied exposure to some great works as we are a society of only popular culture and if it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t exist.”
Cannot be stopped
“I think it’s a hopeless case. Forget about it and enjoy the free publicity!”
Remedy: Shut down the file-sharing companies and prosecute individuals
“I believe companies that subsist on making stolen property available to others should be shut down, and those responsible should receive fines and/or jail time. If I were fencing stolen antiques or automobiles that would be the case - why not with music? Music obviously plays an important role in all of our lives - why is it OK to rob the people who provide us with it? The RIAA is right in pressing charges against major traffickers. If they’re only 12, so be it…I don’t believe it’s legal for a 12 year old to steal a candy bar, so why would it be ok to steal my record? Where’s mom and dad?”
Remedy: Consumer education about musicians’ right to compensation
“I’m not sure that there is anything that can be done about it. It is an attitude that people have. I have had MANY conversations and most people that think it is OK to download illegally justify it by saying things like, “Oh, that band? they’ve made their money.” What the f&%k does that mean? Geez, should there be a cap on how much money people can make with their music? I don’t get it. If I walked into their homes and took something, anything out of their house, they’d be pissed. Chances are they would call the police. IT’S THE SAME THING!!!”
Remedy: Artist should use technology to protect their work
“I hate to say it, but file encoding/encrypting seems to be the only answer. Artists should be free to CHOOSE how they want their music distributed. If you choose no encryption, then it should be legal for people to copy or share. If it’s encrypted, then it should be illegal to copy or share. The ideal solution is something like Weed format files, where the artist can, for example, choose to have a song play only 3 times for free before prompting the listener to purchase it. This way, new bands can give their stuff out freely while building up an audience, and then when they are more popular, be able to start actually make money from music sales.”
“Some sort of lock and key authorization for purchased music that allows the owner to use on all registered devices with built in DRM. Someone has to protect the interest of songwriters who do not perform.”
Remedy: build better legal digital outlets
“I think that wide, easy availability of pay-per-download content will be the best protection for artists. It’s often very difficult to find digital content for many artists (if it’s available at all). People want the convenience and instant-gratification of digital media.”
“I think that Apple Itunes has the right idea. For .99 I get a great recording that is convenient. You won’t be able to stop illegal distribution but we can make it easier for legal buyers.”
Music industry needs to embrace it
“I believe that it should be illegal to make a high quality (hi fi) version of a song available on line. But if it’s a lo fi version that’s meant for sampling, I think that’s OK. I’m sure this could be technically enforced. I have bought music I would have never bought otherwise because of the internet and file sharing and spend a lot more money on music than I ever have. As a songwriter and performer, the internet has given me a broader audience. I just think the industry needs to embrace it not fight it.”
Music Industry needs to change
“I think the music industry should take this as a big sign that it needs to reflect and re-examine their practices. If they are going to continue to release and promote such a shallow range of music, at such a high price, then file sharing of digital music is a necessity for the general public. What other venues are there for people to discover new music? If cds were 5 dollars, people might be willing to explore by buying cds, but they cant because they’re too expensive. If cds were still expensive but a wider range of music was available for discovery via mtv or radio, maybe people would buy more cds So in conclusion, I think they need to realize that they either have to change their ways, or start using the file sharing craze to their advantage. After all, it’s free marketing!”
Fair use standards need to be updated
“I don’t think it can be rooted out permanently. The idea of fair use needs to be updated to account for the realities of digital media; information wants to be free, and people treat it such. We have to find a way to make sure artists get compensated while still permitting maximum flexibility of use with media by the end-user.”
Big thoughts 1
“This is a very touchy subject for me, being an independent artist in the position where unauthorized distribution has actually helped my band. I’ve seen it help many bands over the last couple years, and I think it shouldn’t be stopped. For larger, established acts who rely on sales for a portion of their income, I feel steps should be taken to protect their music. But I can’t see suing someone because they downloaded the latest CD from an up and coming band who people are just barely starting to hear of. Sorry for my tangent.”
Big thoughts 2
“Educate users on the laws. Enforce the laws with real penalties. Create legal alternatives that address the needs of both the consumers and creators. Right now it seems the only power is in the hands of the middleman, not the consumer OR the creator. The consumer has rebelled (knowing there’s no real danger in stealing) and the middlemen have taken more from the creators to balance their losses. The only real losers are the creators who are at odds with everyone..their fans, their “owners/employers” and they lose on both results. Technology should be used to remove the middle people and put total control of the copyrights into the hands of the creators, not the publishers/labels. Allow open access to artists to reach fans via a statutory rate for file sharing and downloads, give the providers a flat rate per transaction and let the talent of the creators determine the market share/sales/earnings. Heavily prosecute thieves. Reward honesty with choice and convenience and it will all work out for everyone.”