You know the old saw from the music industry: filesharing is a dirty nasty habit; it’s stealing from poor artists; it deprives the record companies of revenue they could use to break out new acts; it means the end of music as we know it, etc. If you pay close attention to these arguments, they all pretend to take the interests of the artist to heart (as if a record company had one). RIAA even trots out old warriors like Don Henley and Metallica as if to say: “See, even your musical heroes support our position.” The problem with such puffery is that RIAA doesn’t know what artists feel on this subject. It may know what a bunch of handpicked artists feel, but not the artists as a whole.
That’s why it’s especially interesting that the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the Future of Music Coalition have just released Artists, Musicians & the Internet, a survey of musicians and their attitudes toward the internet and filesharing. Now, we don’t have to rely on vested interests to tell us what artists want. We can hear it from their own mouths.
I first learned about the survey from this NY Times article: Pew File-Sharing Survey Gives a Voice to Artists. The Pew Internet site also contains a short description of the report and provides links to the full version and to the survey results.
Here are some of the salient results:
Artists and musicians on all points of the spectrum from superstars to starving singers have embraced the internet as a tool to improve how they make, market, and sell their creative works. They use the internet to gain inspiration, build community with fans and fellow artists, and pursue new commercial activity. American artists have embraced the internet as a creative and inspiration-enhancing workspace where they can communicate, collaborate, and promote their work.
For some artists, the internet has had a helpful social impact as they network with other artists, communicate with their fans, and stay in touch with loved ones and friends when they are on the road.
Artists and musicians believe that unauthorized peer-to-peer file-sharing of copyrighted works should be illegal. However, the vast majority do not see online file-sharing as a big threat to creative industries. Across the board, artists and musicians are more likely to say that the internet has made it possible for them to make more money from their art than they are to say it has made it harder to protect their work from piracy or unlawful use.
Now, let’s recap: musicians embrace the internet as a new tool to advance their art and careers. They do not see the web (including filesharing) as a threat to their work or livelihood. I wonder what the copyright monomaniacs will say to deflect this finding? If even struggling artists (not to mention major stars) don’t feel threatened by filesharing, what’s the problem? In that case, it appears to me that the music industry is left twisting slowly in the wind. And their arguments can be reduced to little more than self-serving verbiage that attempts to preserve their content monopoly and the cash cow revenue stream it produced.
This survey produced another interesting result: it revealed that 37% of artists believe that filesharing should be legal! Considering that these are the individuals who produce the content, hold copyrights on it, and would have the most to lose from such copyright violations, this is a remarkable development. Also, 43% agree that “file-sharing services aren’t really bad for artists, since they help to promote and distribute an artist’s work to a broad audience.” To be fair, one must also acknowledge that half of all artists believe that filesharing should be illegal. But this leaves the other half who are either in favor of its legality or who have no firm opinion on the subject.