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File sharing not as bad as they want you to believe

Consumers often hear a great deal of rhetoric about the ethics of file sharing. Most of this comes from PR firms working for the Recording Industry Association of American and the Motion Picture Association of America. The arguments typically evoke images of starving artists struggling to survive in the digital era. The phrase “file sharing” bears a connotation of illicit activity.

This sense in the public’s mind is unjustified, as people should be sharing more files – and discussing them in a manner that has public interest at heart.

Let’s consider the RIAA’s argument. Watching the public service announcements (PSA) this group pays for would give someone the idea that to share a copyrighted file is to pick the pocket of its original creator. The public is urged to consider the artist’s situation. The artists count on consumers to purchase their work to survive. What these PSAs fail to disclose, however, is the actual portion of sales revenue artists receive from the purchase of their hard work.

The language of the argument suggests that the RIAA has the artist’s interests foremost in mind. This is simply not the case. According to the Hollywood Reporter, most artists receive 13 percent of the wholesale price – about 69 cents – of a digital purchase, thus, they receive roughly 9 cents per song.

As reported in the Hollywood Reporter last week, the RIAA recently filed papers with the Copyright Royalty Board seeking to lower that rate to 8 percent of wholesale. Companies like Apple and Yahoo want that rate to be even lower. They would prefer that artists and publishers receive no more than 4 percent of wholesale. If the panel of copyright judges rules favorably, the portion of a sale an artist receives will drop to 6 or even 3 cents.

Now, I’m clearly no copyright judge, but it doesn’t seem like the current business model serves artists or the public. It’s obvious that the model exists to serve the recording industry executives who created it. In the interest of corporate transparency, perhaps those PSAs should be modified. If they were honest appeals to the public, they’d read something like this:

“Please don’t file-share. Millionaire CEOs need your support. Sure, they’re not actually involved with the creation of art, but ivory back-scratchers aren’t cheap.”

So what ought a conscientious consumer do? Let’s say that you just discovered a band and want to support it. You can go to the iTunes store and pay 99 cents per song knowing that 9 cents of that will go to the artist. Alternatively, you could download the same song at no cost from a multitude of peer-to-peer applications and then donate money to the artist directly. Forward-thinking artists Radiohead and Saul Williams have already embraced this concept. If you prefer physical copies of your favorite artists’ work, you could purchase from them directly. By doing so, you ensure that your money goes directly to the people who created the art.

A number of bands are actually releasing their music directly to the peer-tow-peer community. Last week, Benn Jordan – aka the Flashbulb – did just this, as stated in He made his newest album available to a number of torrent sites and encouraged anyone who enjoys it to share. In return, he asked that anyone sharing the album keep a text file explaining his reasons for bypassing traditional distribution channels.

It’s time for a change. Consumers need to adopt an attitude that is more favorable toward file sharing. People are fortunate to live in an age where such an abundance of information and art are available at their fingertips. Avail yourselves of new technologies and resist the reactionary efforts of the recording industry PR firms.

Share your music. If you like a band, buy a T-shirt or see them play live. If they don’t play locally, contact them and see if you can donawte directly. Remember, music wasn’t invented with the phonograph. When the recording industry eventually collapses, music will still be here.

Brian Short is a senior majoring in English literature.