Ever since Napster, a seminal early peer-to-peer file sharing service, first achieved popularity on the Web back in 1999, the issue of internet piracy – the illegal exchange of files, such as those containing music, movies, television shows, and other forms of media – has been a never-ending controversy within the entertainment industry. Although music piracy typically receives the most attention from the general public, film and television are also legitimate victims of the practice.
First and foremost, while movies and TV shows do warrant a mention in this discussion, as mentioned previously, it must be emphasized that the music business has been the sector most affected by the rapid boom in unauthorized peer-to-peer sharing. Simply taking a look at the myriad of recent developments in music sharing on the Web makes this fact obvious. In the pre-digital age, the acquisition of free music was a far less common occurrence and much more difficult to pull off. Recording songs onto a cassette tape off of the radio was an option, but in general, sales of albums and singles were significantly higher than in the current marketplace simply because consumers lacked any alternative methods of getting their hands on music. Nowadays, the incredible ease with which free songs can be attained has, unfortunately, taken a considerable toll on the financial and overall well-being of the industry.
Moreover, it is disconcerting to think of artists in the music business today who miss out on large sums of hard-earned money as a result of these peer-to-peer networks. In many cases, albums and individual songs leak onto the internet weeks or even months before their official release dates. While some die-hard fans download these leaks and purchase the music later anyway to support their favorite acts, there remain those who refuse to fork over even a cent for any of the music they acquire, and continue to exclusively illegally download.
Furthermore, it is crucial to keep in mind the opinions expressed by musicians themselves about internet piracy. One artist who has fought militantly against file sharing since the turn of the millennium is Metallica, an American heavy metal band who famously sued Napster in April of 2000. In their lawsuit, Metallica alleged that the site had encouraged piracy by allowing users to exchange copyrighted songs through its own servers. Lars Ulrich, the band’s drummer, was particularly outspoken during this time, describing it as “sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is. From a business standpoint, this is about piracy – a/k/a taking something that doesn’t belong to you; and that is morally and legally wrong. The trading of such information — whether it’s music, videos, photos, or whatever – is, in effect, trafficking in stolen goods.”
Metallica’s decision to take legal action made them one of the very first to strike back in the battle against file sharing. However, not all of their contemporaries share quite the same views. For example, Noel Gallagher, — best known as the principal songwriter, lead guitarist, and occasional singer for now-defunct English rock group Oasis — displayed a puzzling and somewhat humorous opinion on the issue when asked about it in a 2008 interview. According to Gallagher, the idea of internet piracy in general isn’t something that bothers him greatly – though he isn’t a huge fan of the sharing of his music.
“No, it’s one of those things,” Gallagher said while on the air with the UK’s Radio 1. “If it’s out there and you can get it, you know, go ahead…It would be absolutely ludicrous for a rock-star to demand that people pay money for albums because the kids haven’t got that much money to pay for an album, so if they can find it for free, go ahead! But don’t do it on Oasis records though – because that’s against the law.” Despite that last sentence from Gallagher, Oasis has never so much as considered taking their concerns to the courtroom. Gallagher even referenced Metallica when clarifying his comments, promising “I’m certainly not going to get into Lars Ulrich mode about this.”
Next, the illegal distribution of movies continues to be an issue. In some instances, DVD owners upload their films onto the web for others to stream or download onto their computers. Even movies still showing in theaters are at risk of surfacing on the internet, primarily as a result of unauthorized amateur recordings conducted by audience members. Though these developments certainly haven’t had a positive effect at the Box Office, the damage there is negligible next to the effect it has on aggregate demand for DVD’s. While most film aficionados are generally unwilling to settle for low-quality, camcorder versions of newly-released movies that surface on the Web, many find it quite convenient and satisfying to watch films that have been uploaded onto the internet via High-Definition DVD’s.
Finally, online sharing of TV shows is an increasingly common practice. For people unwilling and/or unable to pay for premium cable services such as HBO and Showtime, the internet serves as a venue to watch programs that are otherwise not easily accessible. Within 45 minutes after new episodes of most television shows air for the first time, they almost invariably pop up on one more of the countless video streaming sites on the Web. These sites are also visited by individuals who miss programs on certain days and wish to catch up on new episodes as soon as possible.
Additionally, many people enjoy looking into sites’ archive sections to check out previous seasons of shows. Before this convenience was available, the only real way for people to find older episodes was to buy them on DVD, and prior to that, VHS. Comcast Cable does offer an On-Demand service that allows subscribers to view some past installments of programs, but the selection tends to be a bit sparse, especially in comparison to the virtually unlimited supply found online.
In conclusion, internet piracy is a widespread nuisance, encompassing all forms of entertainment media. Nevertheless, the positives gained from the ease with which music and videos can now be acquired outweigh the accompanying negatives. With any advancement in technology comes some inevitable side effects, but side effects alone do not equate anything to a total failure. Ultimately, businesses move forward and industries with strong foundations find ways to persevere through problems that arise as times change. The entertainment business is certainly no exception.