RIAA must embrace file sharing

Expensive lawsuits fail to solve industry woes; a more balanced approach is needed.

U-Wire

College students everywhere are mourning the tragic, soon-to-be loss of the Pirate Bay, an online file sharing legend that has recently come under some insurmountable legal scrutiny. For many college students, this may signal a change to a more respectable, legal lifestyle, but for countless others it will simply mean subscribing to a different Web site, located in some other remote European country with other servers and even more inscrutable legal policy. But this article was not meant as a lecture on the morality of piracy, and it was not meant to browbeat pirates into becoming upstanding citizens. On the contrary, I believe that there is merit in piracy; that artists, programmers and directors can all collectively benefit from the vast peer-to-peer networks that exist now and that a balance can be struck between users and providers as long as policy makers are willing to listen to some progressive solutions. File sharing is utterly inevitable: enormous lawsuits have been unable to deter users. Hobbyist programmers will continue to dedicate free time to âÄòcrackingâÄô and distributing illegal copies of software, and as technology develops the ability to share anonymously will ensure that not even the Recording Industry Association of America will be able to detect pirates. The endless streams of donations that are given to file sharing Web sites by loyal users are indicative of the demand for such services: people arenâÄôt going to change their unlawful habits any time soon. WhatâÄôs worse is the RIAA, despite suing more than 20,000 music and movie fans, has not made a single cent for artists. Instead, theyâÄôve infringed upon digital privacy by coercing internet service providers (ISPs) into providing the identity of individual pirates, and theyâÄôve disproportionately handed out punishment to a few users, many of which were not even aware that they were pirating. Yet, the goal is not to abolish file sharing; the current mechanisms that are in place to distribute software, music and movies are pivotal to the creation of a compendium of digital information. As is frequently proclaimed, file sharing is a crucial tool that may result in the construction of a modern âÄúLibrary of Alexandria.âÄù To believe the RIAAâÄôs claims, that piracy is going to devastate the music industry as a whole, is to believe home cooking would destroy the restaurant industry. There will always be music, and there will always be file sharing. The only question is how to strike a balance. So whatâÄôs the solution? How do we prevent the entertainment industry from stifling innovation, bottlenecking our legal system with outrageous suits and suppressing economic growth? How do we ensure that artists are fairly given a cut of the profit for the fruits of their labor? And how do we ensure that no innocent individuals are caught in the crossfire for legitimately using file sharing services? The solution lies in a proposal advocated by âÄúdigital freedomâÄù- promoting nonprofits such as the Electronic Freedom Frontier, Voluntary Collective Licensing. The idea is simple: Music industries (or any other industries that wish to be involved) aggregate to create a âÄúcollecting society,âÄù which would offer its services to users for a reasonable fee of $5 to $10 a month. Given that 6 million users currently pirate music, the revenue stream would be massive, and because all this is a purely digital endeavor, savings could be made on advertising, CD creation, shipping, etc. In return, users are able to freely share music to anyone they please without fear of legal reprimand. The money collected monthly would be allocated to the artists depending on the popularity of the music. The more that people share, the more the respective artists get paid. It should be noted that this concept is not without precedent. During the advent of the radio, the same opposition by music industries was formed in response to the broadcasting of music. However, the âÄúcollecting societiesâÄù model soon proved to be incredibly effective âÄî small segments of the population could be exposed to music they had never considered, artists were compensated fairly and were not obliged to license their music to any radio station with which they disagreed, and all of this could be provided without long-winded legal battles. Further, independent artists could distribute their music without having to sign on with financially draining record labels. The equal-footing competition provided by this digital platform would incentivize the development of better sharing programs, more sophisticated networks and greater quality products. ISPs could even encourage this process by offering a file sharing package with the purchase of its service. Our current system is fundamentally flawed and must be changed. You canâÄôt blame the players for a game that encourages abuse. I encourage students to research for themselves about Voluntary Collective Licensing, to support the Electronic Freedom Frontier, and to steal, modify, share and distribute these ideas. Until then, pirates, argggh! This editorial was originally published in the Oklahoma Daily at the University of Oklahoma. Please send comments to [email protected]