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Is downloading detrimental or beneficial?

A great way to open up the music industry – by Luke Labern

Living in what is often called ‘the information age’, piracy is something nearly everyone has come into contact with. Everyone either knows someone who pirates digital content, knows the software involved, or does it themselves.

It would be difficult (near impossible) to calculate the statistics of who pirates what, but it would be an incredibly useful statistic. By their very nature, the pirate does not want to be discovered.

At least, not by the law. But, saying that, many pirates are quite proud of what they do. So let’s remind ourselves why the pirate is unlikely to admit his hobby of stashing gig upon gig of music on their hard-drive to a policeman.

The outrageous fines. Individual people getting fined thousands and thousands of pounds for downloading a song or an album. A classic case of making an example out of an individual to scare the masses into subservience. Has it worked? I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that piracy increases year-upon-year, and some pirates are so offended by this disproportionate punishment that they actually pirate things with a little more spite towards these conglomerates and their heavy-handed approach.

The pressure placed on law enforcement agencies around the world is truly immense. Music and film bosses are adamant that those who pirate are collapsing the foundations of their respective industries. Their billion-dollar industries.

A quick detour. Who thinks that these industries are a good thing, when all is said and done? This might not be a popular point of view, but a glance at the synonymous world of football might win people over: do the music bosses really need million dollar salaries for what they do? I’m going to say no.

I know this is a controversial subject, but as someone who sees himself as an artist (of words, rather than music) I can honestly say that I would gladly spend my whole life grinding without fortune if I was able to spend my life pursuing my art. My passion. By extension, I’m going to argue that any real musician would work for 1% of the multi-millions that they gain through their lifestyle.

I honestly believe that artists would do what they do for free, as long as they make it to the end of the next month.

Of course, there are those who really are in it for the fame and fortune. Those who want the rockstar lifestyle. My defence of piracy is going to ignore these people, and this includes the music bosses and the men in suits who feed off other people’s creativity and gain extortionate amounts of money.

I think that the majority of pirates are against this too: they don’t want to support these outrageous salaries, but what they do want is music. More music. Good music.

They want to fill their mp3 players up and support the music aspect of the music industry. They want the best new bands to get their break, and they want them to have a career doing what they love. But isn’t this hypocritical? How can I argue that the pirate wants the big-wigs to lose their salary but that they want to support musicians?

Quite simply, actually. Take a look at iTunes. This is the digital age, and people can now download songs in under a minute, for under a pound. There’s no debating that this is a wildly successful venture: iTunes has topped over ten billion music downloads since it began. 10,000,000,000+ downloads.

None of that would have been possible without piracy. I’m wary that people are going to chirp that ‘iTunes isn’t piracy; that’s paying for music’. But I’m not defending the rebellious, destructive pirate. I wholly believe that pirating music is all about tasting it, discovering the vast amount of music out there, then giving back.

If you go on any torrent site, you’ll see people leaving comments saying ‘This is an incredible download – I’m going to buy it to support the artist’ – and that’s the point.

If you go into a book shop, you’re allowed to read as many pages as you want before you buy it. In fact, you don’t even have to buy it. But no one charges you or sues you for thousands of pounds for doing so.

I believe that piracy is a good thing because it allows people to listen to music they otherwise don’t have the opportunity to listen to. I know for a fact that the hundreds of bands I’ve discovered in the past decade I would never have known and come to love if not for pirating. My point is that piracy is only a gateway, not an evil.

People have a special, intimate bond with music. Most fans would do anything to see their favourites live: and that alone generates millions for the artist and everyone else involved. If a person really loves a piece of music, I don’t think they’d hesitate to buy the music they’ve had for months to support the artist and show their appreciation, then go and see them when they tour.

Everyone’s a winner: the listener gets the best music, the artist gets paid and music continues to evolve in new and fascinating ways.

Everyone except the fat cat in the suit with the cigar.

Downloading makes us socially impatient – by Alastair Gray

It will probably appear almost impossible to make the case against downloading. First of all, I wish to make clear that I am opposing all downloading of media that could otherwise be acquired from television, cinema or high street shops.

I am not opposing downloading per se as this would include files that need to be sent and received, for some reason or other, in a short period of time.

My argument is as follows: downloading is detrimental to society insofar as it enables and reproduces impatience in the consumer.

Consider the state of television twenty years ago, at the onset of non-terrestrial broadcasting; we were still limited to four channels.

Did we wish for more or were our wishes pre-constructed by those who stood to benefit from our eventual impatience? To many, a fifth channel made little difference.

Consider the state of cinema twenty years ago, when there was a significant gap (around 6-12 months) before a cinematic release made it into the home (through whatever medium).

Finally, consider the state of music twenty years ago. We wander down to the nearest record shop to see what new releases are available and purchase those we wish to regularly listen to.

Now (and for the past 12 or so years) we can almost literally click our fingers and within minutes, sometimes seconds, the media we ‘desire’ is ours, ready to be consumed.

Because this is what we are in such a situation: consumers. The recent queues outside local video game retailers to purchase the new Call of Duty game at the stroke of midnight are a testament to this impatience (along with the queues to buy whichever Harry Potter book was being published that year).

We would like to think of ourselves as free-thinking individuals, who still make choices about what to watch/listen to and when to do it; however, how many of us occasionally scroll through the songs on our MP3 player (or those still on our computer, waiting for their chance to be added to the list) and discover how few  we’ve actually listened to?

If, like me, you are one of these people then the chances are that you’ve downloaded far more than you can handle. Is your hard drive almost overflowing with television programmes and films that you plan to watch at some time in the future (if such a time ever exists!)?

This is the case against downloading. Not that which pertains to the question of whether currently illegal downloading should be made legal, but rather whether downloading itself is beneficial to society. Why do we need such things ‘on tap’?

Now, I understand a counterargument to my claim: namely, that the ability to provide creations for download (whether they be music, cinema, television or radio programmes) can be greatly beneficial to struggling artists, who can use downloading as a way to bypass the costs levied and time taken to produce, promote and distribute their work.

This is testament to the communal nature of the internet (you know, the one in which individuals set out to write and freely distribute programmes that will protect our computers from viruses and other malware).

I understand this, but I see it more as an argument for levelling out the complexities that would prevent someone being able to use the more traditional approach rather than compelling them to use the ‘newer’ way.

Where, I hear you ask, does impatience fit into all of this? Impatience circumvents free-thought, pushing it to the side in favour of our desire to consume (which is arguably not ‘ours’ at all).

Imagine the stereotypical ‘spoilt child’ who receives everything they wanted, no matter the cost and no matter whether they would forget about it within a month (and then demand another thing). Have we, as adults, become those children?

I conclude that we do not require downloading on a practical level as all the media we desire is available for purchase in shops (I include online purchases in this).

Following from this, I argue that impatience is detrimental to a healthy sense of self and our own personal and social well-being; given this, any activity which thrives on impatience is detrimental to society and the individuals who comprise it.

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