No foul in illegal downloading
Posted Feb. 23, 2007

Even though the United States accounts for more than 35 percent of illegal downloading that occurs across the world, the practice may actually be doing the record industry more good than harm, according to a study co-authored by Harvard Business School professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee.

But wait a minute, hasn’t the all-mighty, all-knowing Recording Industry Association of America been crying that illegal downloading costs them millions each year? And haven’t they sued more than 2,000 people to date for illegal downloading?

Yes, but isn’t it possible that the record industry, obviously peeved at the thought of earning even 10 cents less than they could have, just wanted an excuse to come down hard and heavy for the theft of their profit?

Whether or not the RIAA knew it was using questionable logic in its war on piracy is a moot point, as we here in consumer-land all sat back in basic agreement with the companies and assessed that they were probably correct.

The threat of major music companies losing millions did not seem to bother Americans because we continued to download. Makes sense when you consider how the record companies have been gouging album prices over the decades. And when you consider how much they depend on the very existence of us, the customers, and how a few million dollars is pocket change in the context of the record industry, the RIAA and its members seem even less worthy of our pity.

Besides, it has become a phenomenon that most of us, being college students, have either taken part in first hand or we have friends who actively participate in the online negotiation of music between illegal downloading sites. The swapping of songs between friends has become increasingly popular with how easy it has become to email songs.

Illegal downloading has become a part of our generation; it is a sign of the times. We have become the Robin Hood of the information age. We steal our music from the rich and share it with the poor.

But now an Ivy League business professor says we’ve all been wrong? After all that time of thinking that we were fighting the power, that the man couldn’t hold us down, were we really helping the music industry?

Oberholzer-Gee’s study suggests that even though the number of illegal downloads continued to increase, so did the number of music sales.

Apparently most of the people who were illegally downloading (us and you) were the people who wouldn’t have even bought the music in the first place. Your average college and high school students don’t have a ton of money to be spending on CDs, so there was no real business lost.

Through illegal downloading, the music industry gained a whole new type of customer: “The samplers,” as Oberholzer-Gee calls them. They’re a slightly older crowd who downloads a few songs here and there, and if they like what they hear they go out and buy the music.

So if you ever showed your mom or dad how to illegally download and you thought you were doing them a favor, you weren’t. So much for sticking it to the man; all you did was do the record companies a favor.

Although record sales haven’t exactly skyrocketed since the illegal downloading became available to the masses around the turn of the millennium and the creation of the original Napster, it has still increased.

When we hear one to 10 percent we don’t think epic proportions, but in relation to the mass industry of music we should think millions.

Even though downloading does not have the same moral justification behind it, we will still continue to do it. But hopefully now we won’t have the threat of being sued hanging over our heads, because the RIAA has to face the music and realize that we’re all potential customers.

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