Illegal Music Downloading Research Paper

Pages: 6 (1867 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Music

Illegal Music Downloading

Ethics and leadership analysis and application:

Illegal downloading of music

Ethics and leadership analysis and application:

Illegal downloading of music

Relevant facts

During the early days of the Internet, one of the most popular activities online was downloading 'free' music from popular file-sharing websites such as Napster. The website provided access to seemingly innumerable popular songs in an easily-searchable database. Almost immediately the recording industry began to worry that the new technology would threaten its ability to generate revenue. Attempts to regulate the online music industry resulted in countless lawsuits, several of which were eventually heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. In cases such as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) v. Napster and a&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., representatives of the music industry alleged that Napster's users infringed upon the copyrights of musicians and that Napster facilitated such misuse.

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With Napster, users were able to download files onto their own computers "and by connecting to the Napster system, allow any other user in any location to retrieve that file on demand…and can locate and obtain electronic copies of materials that any other person may have chosen to enter into the system" (Crews 2001:1). In the ethical and legal debate over music downloading, one of the unique features of the Napster debate was the fact that there was little dispute about the facts. Napster was open about the ability of the technology to be used for music downloading, and users were openly making use of the service. The question was whether copyright law was being violated.

Is this issue about more than what is legal or what is most efficient? If so, how?

Research Paper on Illegal Music Downloading Assignment

The central debate in the music file-sharing debate is of a legal nature, pertaining to the new technology of downloading which, unlike previous forms of music replication, allows for a 'perfect' copy to be created. "If each request is a technological means for making a copy and sending it to an individual elsewhere on the network, then the essential functioning of Napster seemingly creates a copyright infringement with each use. Barring fair use and other exemptions from infringement, the basis for a plausible copyright infringement claim was clear" (Crews 2001:3). Defenders of Napster's users stated that downloading was protected by 'fair use' laws, a fairly subjective term in which "1. The purpose of the use, 2. The nature of the work being used, 3. The amount of the work used, and 4. The effect of the use on the market for or value of the original work" must all be considered in determining the appropriateness of the use (Crews 2001:5).

Role of company leadership

The recording industry has been increasingly zealous in its attempt to bring legal sanctions against individuals whom it believes are threatening the industry with their actions. The appeals court in a&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., agreed with music industry that free and unregulated sharing of music through sites like Napster "results in at least two forms of harm to the music industry: the loss of sales of compact disks and a heightened barrier to entry by the music industry into the market for electronic delivery of music," and the loss of potential sales in the future, given the disincentive for established artists to produce more music, if they cannot earn more revenue from future releases (Crews 2001:6).


The most obvious parties with a stake in the outcome of the issue are the fans and artists. Popular musicians were understandably concerned about losing their livelihoods and the careers they had established. Record executives of the major labels and individuals within the industry were concerned that the loss of revenue would mean that artists would have less of an incentive to make new music, given that they would have trouble selling CDs. Musicians and music executives argued that ultimately, the fans would suffer from the lack of new, high-quality work. However, fans were angry about the high price of music. There were also allegations that the music industry was being overly punitive in its prosecution of individuals who allegedly violated copyright laws, as well as the creators of the technology. For example, "Jammie Thomas was ordered to pay $220,000 to the big record companies. That's $9,250 for each of 24 songs she was accused of sharing online" by a federal judge in Minnesota (Fischer 2007).

The utilitarian approach

One utilitarian approach to the ethics of music sharing is to point out that the circulation of 'more' music might actually be beneficial for the industry as a whole. Interest in the music business causes people to see concerts, buy fan-affiliated paraphernalia, and even to buy CDs as collector's items. The Internet allows new bands to flourish and disseminate their music, so the idea that people will stop making music because they cannot make huge profits only affects a tiny part of the industry. The free exchange of music might create a more democratic music industry, where more artists can flourish.

The legal methods at the industry's disposal to enforce copyright laws seem draconian such as demanding exorbitant penalties from violators through lawsuits, many of whom often have a dim understanding of copyright law. While ignorance is no excuse, the punishment does not seem proportional to the crime and is unlikely to produce beneficial results for the majority of society.

The rights approach

Musicians, it might be argued, have a right to make a profit off of creative content they have generated, and to protect their ability to make a living. However, consumers also have a right to use technology. Is coping VHS that different than file sharing? But the courts found that 'perfect' nature of the copy, the ease of transmission, and the number of files that could be generated was more potentially threatening to the financial health of the industry than previous forms of technology and this violated the rights of artists and music executives

Justice approach

From a rights-based approach, it might be argued that while websites such as Napster should be illegal, given their intent to transmit multiple 'free' copies of music, legally prosecuting individuals with no intent of passing on the music and who have little understanding of Internet copyright laws (which is still a murky legal area for experts) is questionable. Proportionality in justice is required to uphold individual rights.

Common good approach

The majority of society is better served by the free transmission of material -- even if current, highly-paid professional musicians are less motivated to create art because of a drop in CD sales, this merely levels the field for new musicians. The ability to make a huge sum as a professional musician is decreased, but the ability to listen to a wider variety of music is increased through unlimited access to shared files, as well as the potential ability of new artists to gain exposure online.

Virtue approach

However, ultimately, it is difficult to argue against the contention that an ideally virtuous person would honor the musicians who produce art, and remunerate them fairly for their efforts.

Group damage

The options seem to be a choice between two 'bads' -- between 1. stifling the free flow of ideas and transmission of content online, as well as the ability of individuals to make money off of Napster as a business or 2. potentially depriving creative artists from the ability to profit to the maximum degree possible from their art. The damage done to consumers by shutting down Napster is far less than the loss of a salary from professional musicians -- consumers will merely have to go back to paying for music.

However, in the case of prosecuting individual offenders vs. Napster as a whole, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. The costs to the system are astronomical, in relationship to the crime, and even the deterrence value is questionable, given that people may not fully understand what they are doing is illegal.

Considering all these approaches, which option best addresses the situation?

Shutting down online sites that allow for illegal music file-sharing thus seems to be the best option, given that it does not target individual users, but effectively prevents the 'crime' from taking place in the first place.


Ultimately, the current compromise solution, whereby consumers must pay to listen to CDs, but at a substantially reduced rate, through services such as iTunes, seems to satisfy the greatest number of stakeholders. Fans have instant access to music at very low rates. There are also options to access free online content of new bands, or even established musicians who release free songs to promote themselves. However, the recording industry retains enough control over the pricing of songs to ensure that they make a profit and are the songs are not 'free.'

The most powerful lesson I learned is that despite the apparent 'loss' to consumers of completely free websites, consumers did gain a victory in the era of downloadable music. They gained greater control over the transmission and selection of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Illegal Music Downloading" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Illegal Music Downloading.  (2011, March 30).  Retrieved November 24, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Illegal Music Downloading."  30 March 2011.  Web.  24 November 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Illegal Music Downloading."  March 30, 2011.  Accessed November 24, 2020.