Saturday, September 22, 2007

FILE SHARING | Evil or Harmless?

Sept. 22, 2007–Used to be a lot of tape and record stores. Now few survive. Hot CDs and DVDs are now sold in sections of discount supermarkets (the hip-hop CDs du jour are 50 cent and Kanye). For a full selection one must go to quasi-museums in bookstores or computer stores that retail classic albums to older listeners without the technology to search for and download music from the internet. The reason for the decline of the old record stores is, in a word, file-sharing.

The Recording Industry Association of America has tried to fight back against people–especially younger people, who grew up finding free music–using Napster-like peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks. Reportedly the RIAA has filed 30,000 lawsuits against downloaders. But the tape and record stores still languish. Should the government be intervening more strenuously on behalf of the intellectual property of music recordings? Or is this a victimless crime? Evidence of victims includes the shortage of opportunities for younger wannabe musicians with many fewer record-company agents ready to sign them up for big bucks.

The clothing industry has an analogous problem–knockoffs, i.e., items of clothing that are copied from well-advertised brand-name items. Some argue that knockoffs, like Napster devices, are harmless and have no victims. Possibly some knockoffs are "complements" to brand-name goods, i.e., they don't compete with them (Mom buys the real thing from Bergdorf's and as she emerges from the store she buys a copy for her teenage daughter on the street outside). But some knockoffs are substitutes, i.e., they interfere with sales. Also, the supply chain for knockoffs is unknown, raising safety and sweatshop questions, not to mention evasion of taxes for goods sold on the street or in stores that don't collect or pass on sales taxes. Any comments?