It’s been going on for years and I’m sure by now everyone has an opinion on this.
Three phenomena have heralded the era of ‘illegal file sharing’ or peer-to-peer sharing of content: the rise of the digital format, swelling internet carrying capacity combined with affordability, and the proliferation of open source file sharing software that’s freely available. Combine the 3 and you have massive amounts of file sharing going on amongst the tech savvy crowd.
The film and music industries have been doing their best to prevent ‘pirating’ of digital content they have copyright over. Unfortunately the only direction these industries have been seriously pursuing, is suing ISPs and threatening to sue individuals who might be found sharing files containing bits of copyrighted media. There were some half arsed attempts at providing affordable content, but nothing serious.
Yesterday film industry giants have lost a landmark case against an Australian ISP called iiNet that has been very vocal and active in pushing back, despite its relatively small weigh. If the film industry got its way ISPs would have to hand over all information on private data flows that could theoretically incriminate individuals. This has been slapped down, although more narrowly than comfortable for file sharers. The case isn’t closed and the fight isn’t over, but this is a heavy blow to industry in Oz.
Over the years I have been torn over the question of file sharing myself. I can see that some musicians, writers and film makers who deserve to profit from their efforts may lose a lot of their income or may even go broke completely because fans choose to download songs and books and films instead of buying them. I really feel for these artists. However the vast majority of profit from films and music goes to the pockets of multinationals who may or may not pass on much of that profit. Still, artists working in the ranks may lose out and that’s shame. On the other hand I can see the freedom, ease and fluidity that file sharing brings. Of course it also makes films and music, especially mass produced ones, widely available without having to pay a cent, which is bloody convenient for consumers who wouldn’t be able to afford these products without file sharing. There is something to the argument that file sharing is a bit similar to lending your music and films to friends, however in reality it’s quite different: you are sharing freely, anonymously and copiously, which is as good as giving it all away. There is more to another argument according to which openness in many cases encourages artists to connect directly with their fans, to make more profit from concerts rather than CDs and fans are forced to confront the question of whom they really want to support with their money directly. Different visions of capitalism and democracy clash underneath these developments and they aren’t easily reconciled, which is why it seems there’s a protracted stalemate.
The rift is obvious, the opinions are generally very polarised, yet I can see the pros and cons of both sides quite well.
The obvious real compromise would be for these industries to stop spending money on lawsuits and making more and more complicated and ridiculous in-built anti-theft devices that end up crippling the product, and start putting those huge amounts of industry money into developing platforms that provide good, affordable electronic content with ease of delivery. Revolutionary. Most ‘consumers’ are willing to pay for electronic content but not as much as for actual books and CDs which cost way more to produce (which is roughly what these industries are trying to force us to do). Fair is fair? We are waiting. Where’s the affordable, easily accessible content please?