2/28/2005

Downloading Music. Good or bad?

One controversial issue I have a hard time finding a standpoint on is downloading music illegaly. I have yet to illegaly download music via internet myself, but being a music lover and a poor college student, I have been tempted. According to an MSNBC article, internet piracy costs the music industry about $2.4 billion a year. I do not wish to encourage illegal acts, but is $2.4 billion really all that much in comparison to what the industry takes in? Could there possibly be bigger problems? I personally think the money shouldn't be the focus. Can internet piracy really have a big enough effect on the economy to cause concern? Even if songs are downloadable illegaly, for free, I still want tangible items such as the disc, artwork, and the rest of the package that comes with it. The legal downloadable music, the music I pay for, has been more of a comlimentary good than a substitute, encouraging me to go out and buy the album at a store or order it online. So would any music I downloaded illegaly. Downloadable music hasn't decreased my demand for compact discs. Most music lovers I know still love going into music stores. To me it's about the "clicks" complimenting the "bricks."

8 comments:

stockton said...

Downloading music can be good and bad, depending on how you look at it I guess. It's good because technology has allowed us the ability to do so and with ease. We still have to go out and buy the cd's to burn music onto. But, on the other hand, it can be bad in the sense that we're taking money away from the music industry. Like the publisher stated though, is it really affecting that industry? In my opinion I don't think it is hurting them-they are still there and making tons of money.

Harry said...

It really depends on who you ask if it is a bad thing or a good thing. I personally know that it is not honest and it is illegal but it is so easy to do. So someone once said to me "who cares, they are still making more money than me."

Dr. Tufte said...

-2 on Sandy's post for multiple spelling errors.

I'm really conflicted about this. I've downloaded more music than most (although in my defense, most of that was before it was definitively ruled as illegal in summer 2000). Yet, I also have bought a lot of music legally; online now, and on CDs in the past.

There certainly is an argument in favor of protecting intellectual property here. However, that argument is abused in public discussion. That right is about forbidding other people to profit from your intellectual property. It does not give you a guarantee that you will be able to do so. So, in that sense, if I don't resell music I download, then I haven't done anything wrong. This is the legal position that is generally considered defensible, although the record companies have lobbied hard (and won) a more expansive definition.

There is also the price versus marginal cost issue. Song reproduction has a marginal cost close to zero, and the market will force the price to this level if allowed to. I think the record companies are defending their position to price at higher than marginal cost (which is great for them), but which I am under no obligation to satisfy.

So, I'm conflicted because it is illegal, and it is labeled as stealing, but I'm not sure that it is, or that it should be illegal.

BTW: the evidence in top economics journals is that downloading has not harmed the recording industry.

destiny said...

For me, the reason I download songs is because I want the one song off of the album to satisfy me for the time being. Most of the times I burn the song to listen to right then and there, and then I go out and buy the entire cd later. What's the difference between downloading a song off the internet or burning a cd from a friend? It seems like burning a cd would be more illegal than downloading a song off the internet. After all, you are taking the whole cd and not paying for it, versus one or two songs. Is recording your tv show the same thing as getting a song off the internet? Well as long as you are not benefiting financially from the process i.e. selling the songs to other people. I really think that being able to download songs off of the internet is almost a smart marketing move for the music industry. If I don't know what kind of music Incubus sings, then I go download a few of their songs and base my decision off of that. Then I will probably go buy their entire album and usually previous albums on top of that.

Jordan said...

Dr. Tufte said:

"There is also the price versus marginal cost issue. Song reproduction has a marginal cost close to zero, and the market will force the price to this level if allowed to. I think the record companies are defending their position to price at higher than marginal cost (which is great for them), but which I am under no obligation to satisfy.

So, I'm conflicted because it is illegal, and it is labeled as stealing, but I'm not sure that it is, or that it should be illegal."

I think the courts are right to say that downloading music for free should be considered stealing. Otherwise, it should be okay to make copies of software CDs to give away; or it should be okay to make copies of sheet music or books to give away. But these things are not okay, so we should grant the same rights to the music industry.

Isaac said...

Dr. Tufte stated that he’s “conflicted because it is illegal, and it is labeled as stealing, but I'm not sure that it is, or that it should be illegal”. I personally believe that downloading music should be illegal. I currently download music of the internet and because of this; I have not purchased a CD in years. The music which I download goes straight to my I-Pod and is sufficient enough for me. Tangible items such as a CD are not worth the $20 it costs to buy it. I do have to admit that I don’t know all there is to know about illegal downloading (or if I’m currently doing it); however, it is causing me not to buy the music.

Dr. Tufte said...

Jordan and Isaac have made good points. Like I said, I'm conflicted.

The entertainment industry has pushed its high prices on the basis of the consumers desire to own a product: buying a movie ticket is like a lease, while buying a CD is more like transferring ownership. My problem is that if I own a CD, I can do what I want with it: if I can't rip CDs, I probably shouldn't be allowed to take the pickles off the burger I own either. I'm conflicted because we seem to be changing our concept of ownership retroactively based on technology. I understand why the music producers want to do this, but I find it unethical.

The other issue is that ability to mark up. This is what music companies really want. Fine. Ripping and sharing doesn't directly interfere with this right. Obviously, it does indirectly. Is there a legal position to attack someone whose actions harm you indirectly? The answer is yes, but this is an externality, and Coase' Theorem suggests that it can be addressed through contracting. In some sense, the music industry has been trying various methods: iTunes is a way of contracting for music in a different way. This is good. Again though, as a consumer of potentially pirated music, am I responsible if their particular attempts at alternative contracting schemes don't work the first time, or even the first few times? I'm not sure I am.

Frederic Bastiat said...

Great Scott! And you people call yourselves economists. Tch. Look, it's ALL about property rights--and whether-or-not the buyer or seller possesses final, complete rights to the CD or DVD (the good). Morality, as far as it can be preserved (and NEVER created!) in the courtrooms, only applies as far as those rights are discerned and protected or betrayed.
Now, let me ask: is a particular basket-weaving method copyrightable? Why not? How about a particular set of choreographic moves in a musical? No? This is because both are IDEAS put into material form, which cannot morally be hoarded to one person, if they are shared with others. Stay with me. Just as a teacher passes an idea to a student in a classroom setting, so is a piece of music or a movie.
The only difference between those three are the forms, or packaging of the goods (yes, education and schooling are goods). Nothing can prevent a student from taking that new-found knowledge and passing it along, along with the same slides or powerpoint presentation used, just as the song, CD, or DVD. All three are merely packaged ideas.
To drive the point home, say I allow everyone to read this, but FORBID anyone to copy and paste the text, or memorize its content and rewrite it and deliver to others? I obviously cannot morally take that position. The ideas are now yours and whomever reads this, to do what they will, purchased for the price of time and mental effort exerted to read. The CD and DVDs are likewise mine to do as I will, PAID FOR by my money, OR the time and computational power spent in acquiring digital copies (free or otherwise).
Companies merely should hope that the barriers of entry into the movie or music industries are steep enough to dissuade new competition. Governmentasfiction@gmail.com for whomever wants to know more! Peace and love!