In light of the new legislation proposed by Lord Mandelson, music file sharing has come back into the limelight. Regardless of whether or not this bill should be passed, it does bring up an interesting debate to further explore: does file sharing help or hurt the music industry?
The arguments from both sides of the discussion are logical. From the music industry’s point of view, illegal music downloads hurt the industry because the artists and record labels are losing money. Alternatively, from the artists’ point of view, downloading helps the industry because it opens up a much bigger audience, which in turn generates revenue through concert ticket sales and legal music downloading. Consumers appreciate this better access to a larger base of music than previously possible. Both sides make valid cases, but which side does the research support?
The big problem with determining what to believe is that there is no way to figure out what revenue is actually lost or gained due to illegal file sharing. If people can’t access the music for free, would they download it in the first place? Therefore, the music industry needs to wrap its head around the fact that profit losses or gains may be irrelevant—it’s really all about the exposure gains! Right now the industry needs a boost, and it will not get that through witch hunts that do nothing but cast the industry in bad light. The music industry needs to work with the file sharing networks rather than against them to promote further sales. If you can’t beat them, join them.
The way to stem losses from illegal file sharing is to encourage legal alternatives that are at a price most people are willing to pay. Sites such as Pandora or Spotify are cheap, convenient substitutes to both illegal downloading and more expensive physical sales. If the music industry could only work with certain websites to give more of these types of options, they would be able to reap the benefits from both the sales of the music and from the larger audiences that file sharing provides. And if consumers such as you or I saw the record labels promoting sales for the sake of the music rather than the sake of a profit, maybe we would be more willing to pay for songs instead of using the illegal sites.