Let me ask you a question…
Suppose you could download all you like using BitTorrent, KaZaa, LimeWire or any of a number of peer-to-peer network clients. Would that be a good thing?
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Did you answer 'yes'?
Basically you want to get music for free. Whether you should be entitled to have it for free is another matter that I will deal with later. But basically you want to get music, and you don't want to pay for it.
Did you answer 'no'?
Then clearly you are involved in music making. You want to make enough money from music so you can do it full-time, without having to work at another job. You realize that if other people can download for free, that is potentially depriving you of a valuable source of income. Either you are involved in music-making, or you support those who are.
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At this point I need to make it clear that this website is for people who want to take music-making seriously. If you can make some money from your music, you can spend more time doing it, and use better quality equipment. If you only listen to music and do not create it, you're very welcome too, if you support the people who make it and believe that the creators of music are entitled to try and make some money from what they do, if they want to.
But suppose you do feel that you should be able to download anything you like, without having permission or paying to do so. How justified are you?
Let's look at the argument in a couple of different ways. Firstly let's take the view that copyright law says that downloading without permission or payment is illegal.
Well that's true. It is. And the penalties if you're caught can be severe.
On the other hand, lots of things that are commonplace now were illegal only a few years ago. The democratic process can eventually arrive at all sorts of solutions, but there's nothing like some good, honest law-breaking to get things moving. After all, if something is technically illegal, but the majority of the population thinks it's perfectly OK, then it isn't immoral to break the law surely.
So although downloading without payment or permission might be a breach of copyright, maybe that's a sign that the law might just need to be changed in the near-term future.
On the other hand, you could say that copyright is an outmoded idea and should be abolished completely.
This is interesting. Suppose you make a thing. It's your property. You own it, and you can sell it if you want.
Suppose you write a song. With copyright in place, it is your intellectual property. You can license it or sell it if you want.
But without copyright… then although you have created something out of nothing, it isn't yours. Anyone can use it without your permission, and without paying you.
Should anyone mind?
Well you could say that as long as you're still credited as the writer of the song, you could achieve fame and fortune through performances and recordings. Yours would be the 'must have' version. And you would be able to sell merchandise too.
So it's not all bad, is it?
But the thing is that copyright – in this scenario – doesn't exist.
Anyone could make a video of your performance and sell it – profit for them, none for you.
Anyone could copy your recording and sell it – profit for them, none for you.
Anyone could copy your logo and put it on a t-shirt – profit for them, none for you.
The problem with abolishing copyright is that it benefits people who leech off your talent and creativity, vastly diminishing the rewards for you.
And of course you won't see a penny from the downloads. But you can bet that smart operators will be surrounding your songs with advertisements and making a killing.
Don't forget that with copyright as it is, a creator can always place his or her work in the public domain. Yes, you can choose to give it away.
But the key is that you have the choice.
Copyright may allow the world's major record companies to dominate the market and sue downloaders.
But copyright also allows the small guy to make a little money from music. To buy a new guitar, spend more time writing, make a CD, set up a download site, buy some beers…
If you are a small-time musician, what are your views? Is copyright helping you, or would you, like so many, like to see it abolished?