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Musicians claim file-sharing increases profits

8 December 2004

Here at Own It we would never dream of suggesting that record labels and movie studios are embarrassingly out of touch with the artists they represent. And yet according to a survey by the snappily-titled Pew Internet & American Life Project, most musicians and artists say the internet has actually helped them to make more money from their work. Yes, that’s the very same internet that the major studios say is responsible for destroying the livelihood of the music and film industries and of taking food out of recording artists’ mouths.

In fact, according to Reuters, two thirds of the 809 (self-described) ‘professional musicians’ surveyed claim that peer-to-peer (P2P) file-swapping networks like Kazaa have posed little threat to their work, while 47% said that P2P has actually helped to promote or distribute their music. Of course, what the survey doesn’t tell us is how much income the musicians surveyed had to lose in the first place. Generally it’s the highest-earning performers that have the most to lose from illegal file-sharing as they’re the ones most likely to be widely pirated. By contrast, new and unsigned acts are less likely to be widely swapped and so have the most to gain from the additional exposure offered by the web.

In recent months there have been numerous high profile cases of record labels suing individual P2P users for trading copyright-protected music. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) which represents the music interests of labels like Warner, Sony, EMI and UMG has launched lawsuits against almost 7,000 individuals, particularly university students, who have swapped protected music. Then last month the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents the major film studios, followed suit (no pun intended) by initiating proceedings against 200 movie fans who are suspected of swapping new releases on the web. The MPAA are claiming damages of up to $150,000 for each pirated title.

And the moves appear to be having an effect. Last month EMI predicted modest growth for the global music market as a result of high profile anti-piracy actions and an associated rise in the use of legal download services.

But the most interesting aspect of the whole situation is the music industry’s justification for suing file-sharers, the very people who 47% of their artists say are helping to promote and distribute their work. Apparently it’s not about money at all. Oh no. Instead, according to RIAA president Cary Sherman, "The lawsuits are an essential educational tool… they remind music fans about the law and provide incentives to university administrators to offer legal alternatives.”

Ah, if only all industry bodies were so aggressively civic-minded.

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