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File sharing continues to be music’s biggest issue

A decade removed from the Napster saga, the music industry is still reeling from the phenomenon it launched.

File sharing has ravaged music and several other industries, the RIAA alleges. Be it Napster, Audiogalaxy or Kazaa, many different peer-to-peer services have been shut down because of the copyright infringement caused by free sharing.

Truly, the ethics of file sharing have never been agreed upon within the music industry. Artists like LL Cool J and Lily Allen have vehemently spoken out against it, though Allen’s stance in her MySpace blog post from last fall was noncommittal.

“If this sounds like I’m siding with the record bosses, I’m not,” Allen wrote. “They’ve been naive and complacent about new technology — and they’ve spent all the money they’ve earned on their own fat salaries, not industry development.”

She brings up a common argument in favor of file sharing — that the lack of progression and innovation by record labels and artists within the industry has more to do with the recent decline than illegal downloads do.

Prior to iTunes, Napster was certainly the biggest non-artist phenomenon to hit music in a very long time. Since then, there has still been very little done outside of Steve Jobs’ corporation — that is, aside from the attacks the RIAA has launched against illegal downloaders.

In a situation dubbed RIAA v. The People, the organization launched lawsuits against hundreds in the early part of the decade, suing them for thousands in damages to the industry. Later, they would begin to send warning letters first, following stinging criticism from Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., that questioned the “bullying” techniques of the RIAA. Today, letters are not always part of the process.

On college campuses, the RIAA has been able to reach agreements with many ISPs, mostly the universities themselves, to try to curb file sharing. Many times the schools take their own actions against the practice — IU enforces fines and a temporary loss of University Internet access if caught.

Still, some artists in the industry are making it difficult to combat the practice. Radiohead has volunteered support for file sharing, and its last album, “In Rainbows,” was famously first released by the band themselves on their website, allowing customers to name their own price.

Murray Chalmers, the spokesman for the group, said at the time that many fans were still ordering the physical “disc-box” of the album and that in context, very few fans had tried to pay nothing for the album.

Allen pointed out in her blog post that artists such as these have years of commercial success to fall back on when they offer this kind of support, but long-term sales reports of “In Rainbows” suggest Radiohead lost little, if anything, in terms of dividends from the album.

Others may suggest that it is the lesser-known artists who suffer, but supporters will again argue that file sharing can help these groups gain exposure.

“I’m never going to buy a small band’s album if I’m not sure how good it’s going to be,” senior Tom Adams said. “But I’ll listen and possibly see them in concert or buy merchandise if I like what I hear.”

Again, the future of the industry seems to depend on BitTorrent trackers and web-based torrent indexes, services that decentralize the sharing of music to the users, making it more difficult to press charges and increasingly efficient to be able to share music.

Due to the constantly evolving nature of technology as a whole and an inability to thoroughly fight file sharing based on sheer numbers alone, it would seem the onus is on the music industry to evolve and find other ways to create an income away from record sales.

Artists have already found ways to minimize both their cut of and dependence on sales, while services such as Grooveshark have made online streaming easier than ever in the hope for legal alternatives.

Public Enemy leader Chuck D told Wired that he believes in and supports file sharing’s continued existence in the industry.

“I’ve been spending most of my career ducking lawyers, accountants and business executives who have basically been more blasphemous than file sharers and P2P. I trust the consumer more than I trust the people who have been at the helm of these companies.”

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