We know what piracy debaters Lars Ulrich and Chuck D think of file sharing. But aside from the few who speak out publicly, musical artists typically sit out the rhetorical crossfire over copyright protection. This silent majority is the central focus of a new survey on Internet file-sharing, which discovered a significant sentiment: Most artists don't view unauthorized swapping of music and movies as a threat to their livelihood, even if many think it should be illegal.
The finding suggests that the Recording Industry Association of America and its film industry cousin, the Motion Picture Association of America -- which have been leading the charge with a barrage of copyright lawsuits and claims that their industries are being jeopardized by the practice -- might not be completely in sync with their constituents.
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While the study, released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that about half of the artists it surveyed think unauthorized file-sharing should be illegal, it also concluded that "the vast majority do not see online file-sharing as a big threat to creative industries. Across the board, artists and musicians are more likely to say that the internet has made it possible for them to make more money from their art than they are to say it has made it harder to protect their work from piracy or unlawful use," according to the study, which also found that "two-thirds of artists say peer-to-peer file sharing poses a minor threat or no threat at all to them."
"The study by U.S. researchers ... suggests musicians do not agree with the tactics adopted by the music industry against file-sharing. While most considered file-sharing as illegal, many disagreed with the lawsuits launched against downloaders. 'Even successful artists don't think the lawsuits will benefit musicians,' said report author Mary Madden," BBC News reported in its summary of the study.
"When you listen to the arguments in Washington, it's very easy to think that the internet has been a disastrous technological development for artists and musicians," said Madden, as quoted by Wired News. "We found that [artists and musicians] overwhelmingly feel that the internet has had a positive effect on their creative lives and careers. In general they're embracing the internet as a tool in their creative lives."
Reuters noted the disconnect between the industry lawsuits and the artists themselves. "Recording labels and movie studios have hired phalanxes of lawyers to pursue 'peer to peer' networks like Kazaa, and have sued thousands of individuals who distribute copyrighted material through such networks. But most of the artists surveyed ... said online file sharing did not concern them much."
BBC News: Musicians 'Upbeat' About the Net
Wired News: Study: Musicians Dig the Net
Reuters: Net File-Sharing Doesn't Hurt Most Artists -- Survey
The New York Times cut to the chase about the irony of artists' absence from the picture. "The battle over digital copyrights and illegal file sharing is often portrayed as a struggle between Internet scofflaws and greedy corporations. Online music junkies with no sense of the marketplace, the argument goes, want to download, copy and share copyrighted materials without restriction. The recording industry, on the other hand, wants to squeeze dollars -- by lawsuit and legislation, if necessary -- from its property. The issue, of course, is far subtler than this, but one aspect of the caricature is dead on: the artists are nowhere to be found," the Times said, noting the survey canvasses the opinion of the general public and artists of all stripes, including filmmakers, digital artists and musicians. "Most notably, it is the first large-scale snapshot of what the people who actually produce the goods that downloaders seek (and that the industry jealously guards) think about the Internet and file-sharing. Among the findings: artists are divided but on the whole not deeply concerned about online file-sharing. Only about half thought that sharing unauthorized copies of music and movies online should be illegal, for instance. And makers of file-sharing software like Kazaa and Grokster may be unnerved to learn that nearly two-thirds said such services should be held responsible for illegal file-swapping; only 15 percent held individual users responsible."
More from the Times piece: "Without questioning the convictions of artists who feel strongly one way or another, however, the Pew survey appears to show that the creative set is both mindful of the benefits the Internet promises and ambivalent about the abuses it facilitates. 'The overall picture,' said Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Project, 'is that the musician-artistic community has a much wider range of views and experiences than folks who watch the Washington debate about copyright might imagine.' Whether the survey will help speed a resolution to the copyright wars, however, remains an open question."
The New York Times: File-Sharing Gives a Voice to Artists (Registration required)
BBC News explained the scope of the survey. "For part of the study, Pew Internet conducted an online survey of 2,755 musicians, songwriters and music publishers via musician membership organisations between March and April 2004. They ranged from full-time, successful musicians to artists struggling to make a living from their music. 'We looked at more of the independent musicians, rather than the rockstars of this industry but that reflects more accurately the state of the music industry,'" Madden told BBC News.
Love Is Lovelier the Second Time Around
Speaking of file-sharing, Shawn Fanning, the former king of swap and creator of Napster's first incarnation -- i.e., the original rogue network that shook the copyright regime to its foundations -- is now singing a different tune. And this time, the recording industry (led by Universal Music) is keen to Fanning's new venture. The New York Times last week reported more details: "The major record corporations, who accused Mr. Fanning's Napster of ravaging CD sales and weakening the underpinnings of the industry, now say that a licensed file-sharing system could bolster their position in their legal fight against piracy as well as increase digital music sales. Mr. Fanning, now 24 and part of a new venture called Snocap, has lately written software that would recognize songs being made available on a peer-to-peer network and let copyright holders set terms for its price and its use by consumers who wish to download them. Snocap and the music corporations are envisioning an online community where visitors could trade songs without violating copyright laws."
The New York Times: Music Industry Turns to Napster Creator for Help (Registration required)