business

File sharing, part two

Steve Rosenbush

I took a shot at the music industry the other day, as Grokster shut down its file sharing service. I suggested that the music industry, emboldened by its victory, would now try and force people to buy a minimum amount of music each other. TechTrader has taken me to task for being a snark, (guilty as charged) and argues that even if the entertainment industry is arrogant and shortsighted when it comes to file-sharing, that's no excuse for people to break the law. (The full comment is below.
It's a reasonable point. But what about the rights of the consumer? When people bought a vinyl record 25 years ago, they owned it. No one (seriously) suggested that high-school kids didn't have the right to make a cassette copy of record and give it to a friend. Does the rise of the Internet diminish the rights of people to own the music they owner of user? If so, the individual becomes increasingly at risk in the digital age, as rights and liberties of other sorts come under attack. In the past, the government has been reluctant to bring the Freedom of Information Act into the digital age. And no wonder. Instead of distributing documents over a period of weeks and months, the Internet makes information immediately available, and in massive amounts. The government, like the recording industry, wants the individual to bear the brunt of power shifts in the digital age.
For years, consumers have been encouraged to go out and buy faster Internet connections and powerful PCs with multimedia connections. File-sharing was a logical application of that technology. Most consumers have a hard time seeing file-sharing as theft because they simply used the technology for its natural purpose, creating and sharing rich media. The problem is that the consumer and the technology got away ahead of the entertainment industry and its outdated business models. File sharers have little in common with shop lifters who pilfer CDs from stores. They're more like people who wake up to find a big box of CDs in front of their doorstep with a note that says "don't touch."

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