In recent years many studies have shown that a large chunk of Internet users share copyrighted files on P2P networks, and this number is rapidly increasing every year. The results of a Canadian study published today show that 45% of all those surveyed use file-sharing networks to download movies and music. Also, this behavior is widely accepted since only 3% of the people who participated in the study said that file-sharers should be punished by law.
These results are not unique to Canada either. A few weeks ago a Spanish survey found pretty much the same results (pdf). Of the thousands of Internet users questioned, more than half admitted using file-sharing software regularly. In fact, 28% said they use it every day. Only 1% of the respondents saw downloading copyrighted files as criminal behavior, while 43% said that the development of P2P networks should be promoted.
The results of these two reports clearly show that public opinion is changing in favor of P2P users. So how did this happen? Could it be that the Internet has changed the way we interact with digital media? Unlike 10 years ago, people are now used to unlimited access to all kinds of information, much of it thanks to Google. The Internet allows people to access an unlimited library of information, and at an increasing rate people demand the same experience for TV, music and other forms of digital information, as the studies show.
Meanwhile, entertainment industry lobbyists do all they can to get tougher copyright laws in place, and to get repeated copyright infringers disconnected by their ISPs. They argue that filesharing is hurting content creators, even though research indicates that the opposite might actually be true. So what’s going on here? Could it be that the bosses at the record labels and movie companies are trying to slow down innovation simply because they want to preserve their old business models?
The people who actually create the movies and music want their content to be shared, only the large corporations behind it are too afraid to move on. Lobby groups such as the MPAA and the RIAA represent the distributors of movies and music, NOT the creators. They even pay politicians to support their cause by voting for or against laws so that legislation is made with their interests in mind. Is that moral? When some of the most successful musicians start their own lobby group to take on the record labels for their alleged extortion practices, there’s clearly something wrong.
So should sharing copyrighted material be legalized? Not per se, but the entertainment industry should focus on monetizing filesharing networks instead of bringing them down. The Internet has drastically changed the way people consume music and other forms of entertainment. Every piece of information is only a few clicks away, and people demand the same for their music and other types of media. There are no boundaries anymore. 15 years ago it was unthinkable that someone could have access to millions of songs, on demand. Now, this has become reality, but the music industry is still hesitant to offer such a service.
The answer really is to compete with piracy. Right now most of the online music services don’t offer a very good experience or are simply too expensive. Most of them still include some form of DRM, no unlimited access, or a limited library. “All you can eat” plans are the future though, either for a small fee or ad supported. If it’s done right, the motivation to download something illegally will simply disappear, at least for the majority of the people. This aside, it is likely to generate more revenue for the artist and labels. Everybody wins.