11 February 2005

By Mat Bloom


In response to Mr. Lahnís and Mr. Amramís analysis of digital music file sharing of recorded music, I would like to comment further on who is protected by property rights in the music industry, as well as who the property rights should protect.Furthermore, should music files be protected by property rights at all?


Music has always existed.Music has always been written.Music has always been played.Music will always exist, regardless of property rights.As Mr. Lahn expressed, there is and always will be a drive in certain people to express their ideas through artistic means.


Although there were professional musicians who were commissioned to compose for royal courts and other patrons, popular music has been freely shared and played by the common people throughout the ages.A relatively recent example of this is the early Mississippi Delta Blues musicians who would share and play traditional songs for the sole purpose of playing the music and being heard. [This was true, of course, until the recording studios got hold of John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, and other blues greats.]It was not until recording music became possible that music became a profitable commodity with property rights.It was expensive to record, reproduce, and distribute music.Therefore, the recordings needed to be protected by property rights to make the practice of recording and distributing profitable.Despite Mr. Amramís concerns, it is no longer expensive for a musician to independently record or distribute music himself because of digital technology.With a PC, the proper software, and simple recording equipment it is easy and inexpensive to independently record high quality recordings.Moreover, once a music file is created, it becomes an infinite resource within the network of people who own the equipment to share music files.Most likely, this means the death of record sales.This, in turn, means loss of financial reward for the musicians.


The distribution companies, in an attempt to remain necessary, are attempting to treat music files as finite rather than the potentially infinite resource they are.Posner said property rights should only be assigned to resources that reduce the consumption by others as a result of consumption.The sun is an example of a resource that no issue of efficient use can arise.Like the sun, music files can be shared infinitely without depriving or reducing the consumption of others.The distribution companies are attempting to make a potentially infinite resource exclusive where there is no legal or philosophical justification for doing so, except that they are trying to survive.


Mr. Amram seems to be concerned with the survival of the professional artist.This is no need for concern. Only one percent of all working artists in the United States are able to profit enough from their work that they do not have to pursue other means of financial support.In Europe, this number is considerably higher.Not only does this mean that there is not much of an artistic workforce to protect, but it also furthers the idea that people will continue to create art no matter what financial benefit they receive.[Personally, if MTV is any indication of who is included in that one percent, then I have no desire to protect their interest.]Second, in a world where music files can be freely transferred, musicians can still protect their compositions through copyright.They can still be financially compensated through performances.Furthermore, a freely transferred file will act as publicity for the musician.


As far as the distributors are concerned, there needs to be a respectful integration and adaptation to the digital world.This means certain services will have to be abandoned, just as professions and trades have been abandoned throughout history during socially revolutionary times.Distributors of music will have to adjust to the freedoms digital technology has afforded us as a society.They cannot stand as roadblock to the evolution of information technology solely because it is detrimental to their business.They cannot apply a record sales strategy to music files because doing so would be inconsistent with the nature of the Internet and digital technology.


Fellow classmates and I thought an appropriate model would be to imitate online newspapers.For example, it was recently necessary to purchase a newspaper to read an article by a columnist.It is now free to read any article (by most publications) on the Internet.Print media has adapted to digital technology by finding other means of income (advertising).Why could music distributors not treat music files like newspaper articles and accept their freely transferable quality.They could derive revenue from advertising, as well as publicizing images of the pop stars they already own and profit from.


It is up to the distribution companies to be creative and find a market.Yet, the answer is not to create a market of digital music files by degrading and inhibiting the positive qualities of digital technology.We should allow the relatively low transference cost to exist, rather than impede on the benefits of the digital music file in order to save the distribution companiesí disappearing market.