Copy Right Infringement Should Be Illegal, But How Do You Enforce It?

File sharing has become an essential part of everybody’s computer life whether it’s that new Microsoft Office Suite, an internet security program, documents, or media files.  Each is distributed over the internet in a couple ways.  One way is distribution by the host, such as Microsoft, Norton, Apple, etc.  A centralized server is used as a hub for all of your sharing needs.  The other way, which I will focus on more, is peer-to-peer sharing through a network.  Most commonly, a middle man like Limewire, Napster, or Frostwire forms a connection between the host and the person seeking the file.  The problem arises when the searcher requests a copyrighted piece of media.  In accordance with copyright law, the distribution of such work is illegal.  Through specific facts, I will argue that the pursuit of these sharers is unnecessary and would be in vain.

In order to fully understand the topic at hand, it is first necessary to outline some of the important laws and preceding court cases regarding media file sharing.  The legal jargon is fairly complicated, especially for a high school student; therefore, I will be limited to the essentials of copyright law.  The writer of the song in question is the one who holds the copyright and any of its “derivatives”--a derivative is a song that is similar to the original.  That is unless they sell the rights of their song to the publisher who then holds the right along with the record company.  It is illegal to reproduce or redistribute songs or movies with the intent to make profit without paying royalties to the owner of the copyright.  Royalties are a fraction of the profit made from a sale that goes back to the copyright owners.  There are some exceptions to that rule.  In accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code Chapter 1 section 114, the re-transmission of sound recordings is legal, and one can record from that source.  The same exception is made for VHS tapes.   Many restrictions were added in 1998 when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was signed by Congress.  One cannot, “circumvent anti-piracy measures built into most commercial software” (UCLA Online).  The DMCA outlaws the production of “code-cracking” devices in order to copy copyrighted material.  One of the most important aspects of this legislature was that it did not find service providers could be held responsible for content accessed through them.  The people who are sharing them are the ones at fault.  In a later court case titled MGM v. Grokster, the courts found that if the company providing the service has the intent to infringe upon copyright laws, they can be held liable (Government Copyright Online).  In the case of Sony v. Universal Studios, the court ruled that the Betamax could not be proven to have the intent to recreate television shows or movies (Cornell University Online).  Most recently, the case of A&M records v. Napster has been concluded.  The judge ruled that Napster Inc. was responsible for the infringement of copyright works because it knowingly allowed copyrighted works on its network.  In conclusion, it is difficult to sift through all of the legal issues, and there are still holes in it.  No wonder many Americans are confused.  The government has not made it clear to its citizens what is legal and what is not.  According to law, if it is copyrighted, it should not be redistributed.

The infringement of many files being shared on various networks can be rationalized.  There are logical and ethical reasons that prove sharers are not the criminals recording companies make them out to be.  First off, should we really trust the companies that produce the CDs that we buy?  In the late 1990s, record companies were found to be fixing prices at an artificially high rate.  Robert Pitofski, former Federal Trade Commission’s chairman, claimed that the record companies had, “overcharged by $480 million” dating back three years.  They settled for nearly $100 million (David Lieberman Online).  It is not fair to the consumer that we should continually be overcharged by large corporate businesses in order to make money.  Consumers should be given a fair price; otherwise, it’s almost inevitable that some will turn to file sharing as an alternative.  Another factor concerning consumers lately is that albums have become a mush of a few good songs with many other average or less-than-average songs.  The problem is that the quality of songs has gone down because the music industry is urging it’s artists to churn out as much music as they can and as quickly as they can do it.  Sony’s US division president Don Ienner said that, “the public thinks albums have too much filler…and consumer research proves it.”  Many consumers make the case that they don’t want to purchase all of the songs on the album, so they think it’s only logical to turn to a source that lets them choose specific songs that they want.  In fact, many songs don’t even come on albums; therefore, the public uses sharing services to find hard-to-find songs which otherwise might not be available.  One argument that makes the most sense is if one can record off of the radio, why is it not legal to accomplish the same feat through a different method?  Either way, you walk away with a copy of the media.  To conclude, the music and film industries have pushed consumers to this extent.  It is only logical for many to turn to alternative sources of media.

Economic and monetary reasons are essential to this argument and it is important to factor them in.  It is a known fact that CD sales have been declining over the past few years, but what might cause it is where it gets complicated.  One might attribute it to legitimate downloads.  Others say the economy is to blame because people just don’t have the money to spare, still others will say illegal servers are to blame.  According to How Stuff Works, record sales barely even reach the artist; they usually only have a royalty of 5%-10%.  Only the artists who sell large amounts of records can benefit from these types of sales.  The Recording Industry Association of America claims that one song lost to download is equal to one purchase lost; however, they fail to recognize the fact that many would not by the album.  According to a Reuters report, Felix Oberholzer-Gee of Harvard Business School and Koleman Strumpf of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill conducted a survey in which they concluded that, “The economic effect is also small. Even in the most pessimistic specification, five thousand downloads are needed to displace a single album sale." That is a very large amount of downloads.  The impact on sales is so small; and the sales don’t even affect the artist, so the industry is seemingly unaffected by file sharing.  There is one major benefit to file sharing that many seem to overlook--many unknown artists can be discovered this way.  They use file sharing or even YouTube as a way to get their name out in discussion and to get their material out and into people’s living rooms.  For many struggling artists, this is the way to go.  Although many will claim that more successful artists and the industries suffer because of file sharing networks, the truth is that it is nearly insignificant and not worth the trouble.

The opposition will argue that copyright infringement is stealing and that those who do it should be punished as thieves.  Some would say that we should just shut down file sharing programs permanently, but the industries’ representatives don’t want to because it represents millions of untapped capital in lawsuits.  Also, it seems nearly impossible to shut down all of these networks, and so any attempt would be in vain.  Those who download are not doing this risk-free; they are taking many risks when they download files.  Files can be infected with spyware or a virus, so for the industries to claim that people are doing this without risk is ignorant.  Although certain file sharing might be illegal, there are reasons and explanations for its use.

In accordance with legal acts, the sharing of copyrighted material is illegal; however, the pursuit of these so-called “criminals” is unnecessary and seemingly impossible.  The community that is involved in such sharing is extremely vast, and an attempt to enforce the law could be costly.  While I agree that the distribution of copyrighted material should remain illegal, I do not think it is viable to enforce it.