Illegally Downloading Music Essay Writing

History and Hypocrisy

A first point to note is that accusations of piracy are by no means new; and they certainly did not begin with iPod’s and Mp3’s. Right back since the time Gutenberg invented the printing press – an invention which allowed more than just a small few professionals to publish books – people have been accused of piracy.

The introduction of the Gramophone in the early 1900’s led John Philip Sousa, the leading composer of the time, to claim: “Because of the laxity of your laws and because of the perseverance of your music pirates, my royalties have gone a-glimmering”.

And so on with every new form of technology designed to spread and share culture: FM Radio, the VCR, the cassette-tape, right up to now, with the internet. Each of these new technologies, it was predicted, would destroy the worlds of literature, film and music. But, alas, they didn’t. And in fact, each new innovation massively expanded the reach of the industry and provided new ways to produce, distribute and even monetize creative works.

Hollywood itself – leader in the war against piracy – was founded by ‘pirates’. A group of rogue film makers fled New York in the early 1900’s to avoid paying license fees to Thomas Edison, inventor of the first film-making machine. They set up in California, free of federal enforcement and gave birth to a new industry.

As Larry Lessig, a prominent copyright law scholar put it: “The usual story has been last generations pirates join this generation’s country club” (Free Culture). But this time, last generations pirates are doing everything they can to avoid accepting new members.

Intellectual Property

The reason, however, that piracy has been such an ever-present issue in human society since we began recording thoughts and ideas, is because intellectual property is just simply not the same as other, tangible forms of property. As much as P. Diddy, Rupert Murdoch, Dr. Dre, Metallica and others would like you to believe that downloading a song is the same as stealing a handbag, it isn’t.

Firstly, when you steal a handbag, the shop has one less handbag to sell. In contrast, when you download an album from a computer network, the network does not have one less to sell. There is only a loss if you would have purchased the album legally otherwise. But this is hardly always the case. The industry relies on this false equivocation in order to make their losses seem far worse than they are.

This is certainly not to say that it is ok to take someone else’s work for free, or that piracy should be ignored, or that artists don’t deserve to be paid. There is a definite property right here, absolutely.

But it is not as simple as it is being made out to be. Copyright governs a unique and complex form of property that plays, and has always played, a significant, yet nuanced role in human culture.

Sharing ideas or ‘intellectual property’, and taking inspiration from the thought and creativity of others are inherently natural human instincts; it is the foundation of human progress in the arts and sciences. Thomas Jefferson once said: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” So while there is a property right, it is of a special kind.

This unique nature of intellectual property is also evident from the fact that when Copyright was first introduced in 1710 (Statute of Anne), it came withterm limits. Originally, the term was 14 years, so that after that period the work would be free for all to use, adapt, share or publish: all for the sake of the public good. The law does not set such limits on someone’s ownership of physical property; when you buy a car you own it forever, not for a limited time.

The reason for term limits was because the law was aware of the unique nature of creative property and its role in society. Also, they feared too much power in the hands of a few publishers would mean a small few would control what ideas get shared, what works deserve publishing and what price to charge for knowledge.

Term limits balanced the rights of the creator, the public good and the unique nature of intellectual property. Today, however, after successive lobbying from the entertainment industry, term limits are on average 95 years for (Sonny Bono Act).

The Internet

So, along comes the Internet: arguably the greatest human invention, in terms of communicative and cultural potential, since the written language, or at least the printing press. We can now, not only record music, write blogs, make movies, put together slideshows, create memes, author political critiques, and so on, at the click of a button, but we can share these creations with millions of people, around the world, instantaneously.

The internet represents the peak of our ability to communicate and share with each other; and it is this notion of ‘sharing’ that is central to the copyright debates. People feel, when they download, that they are participating in the sharing of interests in music, and T.V shows.

 It is like if, 20 years ago, you called around to a friend to watch a new film or listen to a new album. But nowadays we don’t need to call around. We can meet online. Someone in some part of the world uploads their copy of some song and allows anyone to download it, i.e. make a copy.

'Sharing’ with this new technology has become the same as copying. This is a problem for those who are used to the old ways of distributing culture, when it was far more difficult to copy creative works (taping from the radio was the closest they got).

It is a problem caused by the architecture of the internet: to share, we must copy. But it is a problem that can be solved without harming the potential the internet has to spread ideas and creativity.

This is what the big media corporations have failed to understand: the majority of people have not suddenly become immoral crooks and thieves. A new technology – the internet – allows a very natural human act – sharing culture – to happen in an extremely efficient manner. This has vastly changed the entertainment industry, yes; but, for the better.

If we can take advantage of this efficiency, then more people can participate in creating music, writing journalism, editing film, etc. We can be exposed to more influences from a wider range of styles, and take inspiration from many different cultures.

Competing Against Free

Many businesses have already realised this potential and instead of treating people like thieves, and using lawyers and politicians to try to control the internet, they have come up with ways to compete in this new market.

Convenience is the key.

Businesses who want to compete in this industry need to make it just as easy, if not easier, to legally download music and films, as it is to do so illegally; and,importantly, at a fair and reasonable cost. CD’s, DVD’s and cinema tickets have traditionally been way overpriced.

If they do this, people will pay. As Paul Tassi of Forbes Magazine said, “‘Easy’ can beat, or at least compete with ‘free’”. If you think that sounds naive, look at bottled water. We buy it because it’s convenient, easy and not that expensive, even though it’s freely available in our homes.

Netflix is a great example of a business model that is succeeding, right in the face of the illegal downloading market. By ‘subscribing’ for a nominal monthly fee, you get access to thousands of movies. You simply hook it up to your TV and that’s it: movies on demand, to watch on your schedule. It’s reasonable and convenient, so it works.

As our internet connection becomes more and more universal, it is possible that this ‘subscription’ model will point the way forward. If we are always connected, through phones and laptops, we won’t need to download copies of songs and store them; we can stream content from websites to which we pay a monthly subscription. Spotify, Pandora,, are great examples currently making this work.

There are ways to compete in this new market. It is true that some traditional players will lose out as this transition is made, but maybe that is not such a bad thing. It is not like the entertainment industry never wasted any money.

Maybe we can do without mega-pop stars, supported by massive marketing campaigns, earning multi-million dollar deals every year. Maybe A-list actors can survive without earning over 70 million dollars in a single season. Maybe Hollywood will be a bit more cautious about throwing 300 million at a film – John Carter –, which lost 170 million. Imagine if some of that money was spread around to more independent artists: that is what the internet can do.

The ‘entertainment industry’ is by no means dying. Some would even say it is expanding. A recent report by, titled The Sky Is Rising, argues that the industry is indeed growing. According to their figures, there are more creators producing more content than ever before, and more content for consumers to choose from than ever before.

The ‘business’ is just bypassing traditional routes, i.e. going around the gatekeepers. For example, a website called Kickstarter allows artists to fundraise for new projects by directly connecting with the public. It is known as ‘crowd funding’ and has proved extremely popular. If people are interested in some artists work, they can contribute towards their project.

Many artists are keenly aware of this shift in the balance of power. As Graham Linehan, creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd recently said: “These people aren’t pirates, they’re fans”, and some artists are starting to treat them as such.

An American comedian, Louis C.K. experimented with the release of his latest DVD. He went to online forums and communities, such as Twitter and Reddit and engaged directly with fans. He acknowledged his DVD was freely available to download illegally, but asked fans to spend 5 dollars on the DVD if they liked it.

He was open and honest, and purchasing his work was cheap and easy. It worked. He made over a million dollars in 12 days and forged a great relationship with his fan base. Radiohead did something similar with their pay-what-you-want model for their album In Rainbows. Most people contributed something. (Of course it doesn’t hurt to be a funny comedian or make great music).

Also, there is evidence to suggest that releasing stuff for free encourages a more dedicated fan base, who are more likely to attend concerts, buy merchandise and support artists in other ways.


The internet and ‘illegal downloading’ have vastly changed the entertainment industry, there is no doubt, and we do need an honest discussion about how to protect and incentivise artists. However, gaining a historical perspective on how we have always shared culture shows you that this is not a change to be feared. Public discussion needs this historical perspective so that we can appreciate the relationship that has always existed between new technology and intellectual property and so that we can write law that acknowledges this relationship.

We now communicate digitally; it is our language, and more so for the younger generations. Larry Lessig put it like this: “You could send an e-mail telling someone about a joke you saw on TV, or you could send the clip. You could write an essay about the inconsistencies in the arguments of some politician, or you could make a short film that puts statement against statement” and so on in lots of different ways (memes, slideshows, gifs, etc.). The problem with all of this seemingly normal behaviour is that it is all presumptively illegal, and this makes it difficult to live both normally and legally today. This needs to be readjusted so that we allow the internet to flourish while making sure artists and creators are protected and paid for their work.

The resistance which this new form of sharing and distribution is facing is based on the assumption that record companies and major studios are essential cogs in the wheels of culture production. They are the financial motors behind the attempts to regulate and stifle the internet, yet, it is merely their own interests that they are serving while they attempt to retain their privileged position as gatekeepers. It has never been the government’s job to legislate against new technologies in order to protect old ways of doing business, nor should it be now. If we get this right, it could lead to a more open, democratic and cost effective configuration, which may yet herald humanity’s most fruitful era of cultural expression and collaboration.

At present, illegal music downloading has become an unstoppable and a widespread activity specifically among the young generation that includes university students that have been discouraged by the legal actions taken by the industry.

The key purpose of this research is to observe the current condition of illegal downloading and the impact of the consumer attitudes and the ethical orientation towards the activity of illegal downloading. The report also aims to provide an understanding about why the consumers choose to download illegally rather than buy music.

Research Objectives:

1. To examine the relationships between ethical orientation, attitudes towards piracy of MP3s and illegal downloading activities.
2. To investigate the causes of illegal downloading.
3. To investigate the impact of illegal downloading.
4. To determine why the customers are disagreeing to pay for digital music.
5. To investigate the effectiveness of legal consequences on illegal downloading.

Incidence of Digital Music Piracy

Over the last few decades there has been a drastic change in the music industry. The quick diffusion of fast Internet connection facilitated file sharing and online downloading. According to survey by the Office Of National Statistics, in 2009 over 18 million UK households were using broadband Internet access, this boosted Internet usage among the consumers, which discovered an increased convenience in digital and online purchasing (Palenchar, 2009; Reardon and McCorkle, 2002).

Around half of the people that accessed the Internet prior to this survey had downloaded, legally or illegally, music and movies. The development of the software that allows the free distribution of music has changed the relationship between the supply and the demand chain. Hence, this has increased the problem of illegal downloading: this type of distribution of music is also known as ‘Peer to Peer’ as it allows the consumer to share music with other internet users (A. Dilmperi, 2009). This type of illegal distribution is believed to be responsible for the decline of the music sales (IFPI, 2010): a decade after the launch of Napster and the beginning of the Peer to Peer file sharing, digital music piracy has caused up to $10 billion losses to the worldwide music industry and is believed to be responsible for the decline of physical CD music sales (Mckenzie, 2009; Graham et al, 2004; Lysonski and Durvasula, 2008). Currently, other files sharing networks have emerged and have become popular for free music downloading such as eDonkey, Limewire, Ares, and Bit-Torrent. (Knopper, 2004; Helm, 2005).

The causes of Illegal Downloading:

Piracy is seen as the greatest threat that the music industry is facing, so it is important to understand why some consumers choose to download illegally instead of purchasing music. Research about this matter has focused on the comparison of different consumer groups and on the psychology of decision-making; especially students’ behaviour received a great deal of attention. Most researchers decided to apply the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen, 1991) in order to study the attitudes towards downloading pirated music.

Research conducted by Cronan and Al-Rafee (2008) indicated that attitudes regarding intellectual property, perceived risk, and previous behaviour, impact the willingness to pirate digital music. A recent IPFI (2010) report asserts that the key motivator for consumers to engage in illegal online downloading of files is the fact that it’s free. This is supported by the economic view that consumers constantly seek value, making price a key factor of consumer dissatisfaction (Yu-Chen et al, 2008). When consumers decide to download illegally ethical codes of conduct are clearly involved in this process.

Ishizuka (2004) found out that according to the 2003 survey, around 83% of young generation considered that downloading the music for free is ethically acceptable whereas 29% of the young generation considered this activity to be wrong suggesting that the generation Y has the recognisable attitudes towards the Internet associated misbehaviours and e-ethics. Specifically, it was established that the Generation Y customers were more liberal towards illegal downloading as they considered that this activity is causing no harm to anyone, on the contrary they consider that they are the victims of the high music prices that have been enforced by the music industry. Hence, in the cyberspace illegal music downloading is considered as the smallest offence (Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008).

According to Ouellet (2007) respect for the artist was the main element for a consumer to prefer legal over illegal networks, valuing their copyright policy. Nowadays the music industry is trying to convey a sense of guilt in the consumers suggesting that innocent singers are losing money when consumers download the music online for free. Researchers have found that social consensus and personal morality have an impact on the consumers ‘decisions to get involved in digital piracy and the possible outcomes of their actions, such as legal prosecution (Chiou et al. 2005). It is possible to say that individuals do not perceive the act as being illegal as a norm has surfaced over constant repetition across the population, therefore they may consider file sharing to be equal as stealing without seeing it as a real criminal offence.

According to La Rose and Kim (2007), prescriptive and descriptive social norms have no direct impact on the consumer behaviour and recent research has suggested that the legal threats discourage the consumers to download illegally together with the personal morality factor (Bellemare and Holmberg, 2010; Chiou et al 2005; Lysonski and Durvasula, 2008). However, it appears that news of famous lawsuits have a short-term effect on deterring the amount of illegal downloading, so it has been established that preventive measures are not able to discourage all the consumers (Bhattacharjee et al. 2003), and instead they might encourage illegal behaviours among other consumers (Levin et al., 2007; Sinha and Mandel, 2008).
The consumers’ individual characteristics also play an important role in decision making. A study conducted in the United States found that race had absolutely no significance in determining the attitudes towards digital music piracy as ‘both white and black groups demonstrated generally equally favourable views toward illegal music downloading’ (Gerlich Et al., 2007). A second study on student’s behaviour in the United States found that generally there were no major gender differences in the attitudes towards illegal downloading although a man’s use of downloaded content was different from a woman’s (Kinnally et al., 2008). In consumer behaviour the effect of gender is a well-researched topic, therefore differences in attitudes are expected between a male and a female (Powell and Ansic, 1997; Richard and Chandra, 2005; Saad and Gill, 2000; Palan, 2002). According to Powell and Ansic (1997) men have a tendency to be more willing to take risks in comparison to women.

Generally different levels of education are believed to have an impact on the downloading behaviour (Childers et al, 2001) as some researchers suggest that income affects the online consumer behaviour (Chittenden and Rettie, 2003; Kim and Kim, 2004; Dennis et al., 2009; Swinyard and Smith, 2003), thus people with a better education background and higher income levels are less likely to engage in digital music piracy than people with lower education and poor economy, as they would seek cheaper ways to obtain digital music.

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