To steal or not to steal?

By Joshua DeFour

Contributing Reporter


Once upon a time there existed an industry that produced music and collected huge profits made from its musicians, and the whole world smiled and cheered for the glorious balance of talent and success.

Then, as the music industry elders would say, the Internet “bastardized” the music industry. Musicians and record labels found their work on the fast track of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

It wasn’t long until the world of music stopped revolving around record labels. Internet music distribution opened the floodgates for companies like Apple and Amazon to a gold mine. Even though the days of taping songs off the radio were gone, the Internet opened new opportunities to getting music for free.

“Illegal downloading gives artists more exposure, so in a way it opens their music up to a larger market,” said freshman Nick Brown.  

Brown is referring to sophisticated music download arenas such as Bit Torrent and Lime Wire. Together, their popularity has actually created a community of sorts.  

For the record, Brown seems like a wholesome fellow. Music label executives, however, consider him and every other player in the P2P fold a music pirate, or outright criminal, depending on whom you talk to.

“Websites like IMEEM and various radio stations stream music legally and promote new bands without any downloading at all,” said Celson Belton, a junior and resident’s assistant at OU. “If consumers get too used to downloading an artist’s music they won’t purchase the album when it arrives in stores.”

Many new websites can match your existing tastes with that of a legal music site. Once the site picks out the appropriate tunes, you can then preview the new-found music and decide whether to purchase it or not.  

One such popular music search engine, Pandora, actually links the songs to the iTunes Music Store for you. While this may represent a convenient and seamless transaction experience, new data suggests that the majority of illegal downloads have little affect on the economy of album sales as a whole anyway.

One particular study in the “Journal of Political Economy,” published in 2007 and entitled “The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis,” estimated that P2P affected no more than a measly 0.7 percent of sales in the final four months of its 2002 testing time frame alone.

The study reports that while the 803 million CDs sold in 2002 represented a decrease of about 80 million from the previous year, only 6 million of the decreased sales came as a result of P2P downloads. This left an excess of about 74 million unsold CDs without explanation.

Setting aside the economic effects of P2P downloads, the success of an artist or label will always depend on the amount of exposure their music is able to garner, and hitting the top download charts on Bit Torrent can be just as instrumental as being featured on iTunes.

After seeing his band on a popular illegal playlist floating around Bit Torrent, Andy Liotta, the front man for the fast emerging contemporary pop band The Billie Burke Estate, agreed with the views of Brown and the majority of the P2P community.

“I’m a believer in music sharing because … indie bands get their music out to a new audience,” Liotta said.

Regardless of how one gets their music, the bottom line should be that fans must support their bands in some form or another. Whether it is through paying an arm and a leg for concert tickets or buying the album after downloading it illegally, true fans of music should always respect the musicians’ work.

“Support for the musicians is what keeps them making music,” Brown said. “If you want to continue to listen to the music you like, then you should support the artists responsible for it.”