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The Curse of Digital Media
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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Piracy of digital content is flourishing in the United States and around the world even as the entertainment industry aggressively continues to fight it. Mike Godwin, the author of "Hollywood vs. the Internet" says "If you have a fast computer and a fast Internet connection, you make Hollywood nervous (173)."A vast number of people are using shareware programs and the Internet to download and share various forms of digital media including games, music, books, movies, etc. These media pirates have devised many different ways of uploading, downloading and sharing music and movies via the Internet with little chance of getting caught. The entertainment industry is aggressively fighting all forms of media piracy primarily through lawsuits against the largest business and individual offenders. However, contrary to Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) claims that piracy is hurting the entertainment industries sales of music and videos, record sales have continued to climb, even with digital piracy growing at an exponential rate. The one thing that is certain is that media piracy over the Internet is having a profound affect on the entertainment industry, and the affect is for the better. Regardless of the growth of piracy, the entertainment industry will continue to evolve, grow, make a profit, stop piracy and find better and cheaper ways of delivering digital media to the general public.
The government and the entertainment industry are trying to figure out different ways to stop pirates from downloading music and movies via the Internet. Cable and movie companies are planning on adding watermarks to digital media that are unseen to the viewers, but cannot be viewed or copied without specially designed equipment. Such a system has not been developed yet, and obviously, there would be problems implementing it. Also, inserting encrypted unpleasant noises on music CDs is becoming popular, so that when someone attempts to copy (rip) them to a computer the unpleasant sounds are exposed. This is similar to the watermarking method in that music players will not be able to read the disc unless it is watermarked, so that hackers will be discouraged by unpleasant noises whenever they attempt to copy CDs.
Although the RIAA is desperately trying to stop piracy with lawsuits, it has little effect on most digital pirates. According to Grant Gross, IDG News Service: "The RIAA has filed more than 1,500 lawsuits against alleged music uploaders since January (2004)" (Gross). Still more people than ever are downloading music and movies via the Internet. According to Peter Galuszka in his article "The War over Internet Piracy," "Some schools have turned to their IT departments and in-house computer geeks to come up with arsenals of new electronic weapons to fight piracy. Among the tricks, schools have deliberately slowed down their IT systems to frustrate pirates during peak download hours, usually from afternoon into early evening" (Galuszka 25). Universities have their own methods of trying to stop piracy, but there are still those few intelligent students, who know how to work computers very well and can find ways get around it and continue downloading. Even if the computers are slow to download, that does not mean that they cannot download, it still goes through, just not quickly.
Based on the study by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf, there were 1.75 million downloads in the later months of 2002, they estimated that for every 5,000 times an album is downloaded, the music industry loses one sale. The rest of the downloaders either end up buying the CD anyway or would never have bought the album in the first place. Some collectors like to have the whole CD for their CD collection, case, cover and all. The same goes for DVDs. Most movies that people download via the Internet do not come out in very good quality. They are typically fuzzy or the aspect ratio is off. Songs and games are a different story. Songs and games usually come out fine unless something is added to the CD before it is ripped, for example, the unpleasant noises. Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf study shows the initial proof that downloading music is not the reason for the decline in music sales in the last few years. In past months music sales have increased as have music downloading. The number of pirates continue to grow, and will not stop any time in the near future. Most people have a computer, and if their computer literate and like music and movies, they probably know how to and where to download what they are looking for. Downloading songs is a worldwide thing, and has not impacted the sales of the entertainment industry by much.
There are many different ways to get free music, movies and software via the Internet. From downloading Kazaa or Bearshare for MP3s, to downloading a music player like Winamp or Windows Media Player to play MP3s. People can also get a news reader and everyone that has the same reader can put their media in specific folders for each type of thing and then download it from there. People who are trying to stop piracy will not be able to stop everyone that pirates media via the Internet. There are still going to be ways to get around it, like someone else designing another program for people to download from. Even if programs like Bearshare and Kazaa get sued like Napster did, people can still download from them, it just costs a little money but not near as much as it would for a whole CD. Napster is still in use, and people are paying to get digital media from it. Songs from Napster are priced around $.99 which is nothing compared to a whole CD for twenty dollars that someone only wants one song from.
As music software designer Selene Makarios puts it, Hollywood's effort to watermark all digital media represents "little less than an attempt to outlaw general-purpose computers" (Godwin 173). Can the government really outlaw people's general-purpose computers? Some people's lives and jobs revolve around computers; the entertainment industry cannot have computers taken away simply because they do not like that people download free music. Burning mix CDs via the Internet is not lowering CD sales by a significant amount and there are many hours of research supporting this claim. All downloading music and movies via the Internet is doing is not letting Hollywood sell CDs and DVDs to its fullest potential, which it does not need to. Music sales will continue to sell at a high rate, just not as much as they can sell. Music downloader's will still download music because there is no way to stop it from happening. Hollywood and the government should just let people continue to download music and not give anyone grief about it.
Piracy may or may not be a major problem for the music and movie industry, but some big people in Hollywood want to make it hard for people to copy or download music and movies by putting invisible watermarks on DVDs and unpleasant noises on CDs. Generally, in our free market economy, if the music and movie companies lower the cost of CDs and DVDs and make them easier to get, many media pirates would stop downloading via the Internet. It is obvious that artists need to make a living and Hollywood needs to make a profit, but it is also obvious that DVDs and CDs can and should be produced and sold for less than twenty dollars apiece. Just lower the cost and they will have more sales.
Piracy of digital media over the Internet, especially music, has already had a major and positive impact on the way that music is delivered. No longer does the consumer have to drive to the store and pay twenty dollars for a single CD from a single artist. The consumer no longer has to buy an entire CD with fifteen bad songs to get the one song that they want. Consumers are no longer limited to a few songs on each CD all by the same artist. Digital piracy has created brand new industries, products and jobs. New products like Apple's iPod MP3 player have exploded onto the market. New industries for delivering digital music have been spawned, like mp3.com, iTunes, and even Wal-Mart have gotten into the act. These changes, driven by the advent of digital piracy, have driven down the cost of music for the consumer and improved the quality of the product while the music industry and the artists are still getting paid for their work. Instead of trying to stop the digital revolution, Hollywood should embrace these changes, learn from the music industry experiences and evolve. Music was first, movies, books, games, etc. will be next. Watch out Hollywood!
Galuszka, Peter. "The War over Internet Piracy." Black Issues in Higher Education 21.2 (2004): 24-27.
Godwin, Mike. "Hollywood vs. the Internet." Speculations. Ed. Jason Landrum.
Iowa: Kendall/ Hunt, 2003. 172-79.
Gross, Grant. "RIAA files 896 new file-trading lawsuits." Yahoo News 25 Aug., 2004. 11 Sept., 2004
Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, and Koleman Strumpf. "The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales." (2004): 1-52. UNC.edu. 11 Sept., 2004
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