back to article Economists say P2P file-sharing fuels art

A pair of economists have released a report arguing that file-sharing doesn't stifle the creation of music, films, and books. On the contrary, they say, weaker copyright protection has benefited society. Felix Oberholzer-Gee of Harvard University and Koleman Strumpf of the University of Kansas recently published a working …


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  1. Ed 17

    Smells like bullshit to me.

    Sounds a lot like the open source "Give away the software and sell t-shirts' line of crap.

  2. John H Woods

    @Ed 17

    The protagonists present an interesting argument and one which is clearly open to challenge. Ed17 thinks that the fact it smells like bullshit to him is a valid challenge. Maybe someone else can have a better go?

  3. Alistair Young Silver badge


    Of course the entertainment Cartel aren't interested in art, they only care about profit, which is why they've been screwing the musicians and their customers since recorded music was invented. The Beatles comparison was not a very good one either, as no one expects zero copyright. If copyright was a sane length of time, (say 14 years, as US Congress enacted in the original act over there), the Beatles would have continued to benefit from their recorded labours for the life of the band, and then some.

  4. frank ly


    "..For example, the United States Constitution states the intention of copyright law is "To promote the progress of science and useful arts,...."

    Is this verbatim from the Constitution (and I assume this is an amendment) ?

    If this part of the Constitution is used as the basis for any legal action then how do the courts interpret the words 'progress', 'science', 'useful', 'arts' and the expression 'useful arts'. This must have been written by lawyers to give them lots of work in the future.

  5. Gareth Pye

    Smells like roses

    Its not so bullshit, plenty of web comics operate by that model.

  6. Chris C

    So many wrong "points"

    "Even if a weakened copyright regime turned out to reduce industry profitability, it is not obvious whether a decline in profits would undermine the incentives to create, market and distribute artistic works."

    I'm sorry, but that sentence fails the BCS test -- the Bullshit and Common Sense test. Virtually every artist -- be it an author, screenwriter, musician, actor, or otherwise -- wants to make a living off of their talent. Lack of profitability equals lack of income. Lack of income equals no rent and no food. I don't know of any artist, or anyone at all, for that matter, who is willing to go homeless and starve so that some little twit can get entertainment for free.

    "For instance, as music becomes effectively available for free, the price of concerts, a complement to music, is likely to rise, and artists who earn income from concerts might not be hurt by a decline in music sales. Similarly, authors might be better able to supplement their income from books through speaking tours if many more readers are familiar with their writings."

    Fail again. Prices of concerts are already ridiculously high. Do you honestly expect that people will be willing to pay, on average, $100 to see a 45-minute concert? Not to mention the "make money with concerts" idea only helps a select group of musicians. It does literally nothing for the studio musicians who actually play the instruments for most of your popular music (pop, country, and even a good amount of rock). It also would do literally nothing for the actual songwriters (you do know that your most popular artists don't write their own music, right? Most pop and country musicians, and a lock of rock musicians, do not write their own songs). As mentioned in the article, this also wouldn't help those musicians who simply don't want to play concerts (yes, there are many musicians who make music because they actually enjoy making music, not because they want to live in a tour bus for 18 months straight).

    Similarly, writers want to write. I know that may be a difficult concept to understand, but it is true. I would venture a guess that most writers have no interest in book-signing tours or speaking engagements.

    "They do claim there's 'clear evidence' that income from compliments have risen in recent years. 'For example, concert sales have increased more than music sales have fallen,' the paper states. 'Similarly, a fraction of consumer electronics purchases and internet-related expenditures are due to file sharing.'"

    Might I venture a guess that many of those concert tickets were for 80s-reunion tours? Something which wouldn't have happened if copyright was nullified because those bands never would have made it big in the first place. And what do consumer electronics purchases and internet-related expenditures have to do with "complements"? They do not benefit the artists at all, so how can you possibly consider them "complements"?

    And since we're talking about copyright in general, and not specifically about music, how would the film and TV industry receive revenue if there were no copyrights? It's not as if they can tour and play concerts the way musicians can. The same goes for software engineers, painters, sculptors, etc.

    Finally, I find the very idea that we should eliminate copyright ridiculous and completely unfair to those who actually create things (whether said "things" are music, film/TV, literature, paintings, sculpture, software, etc). The patent system exists to give a person a temporary monopoly on their own invention so that they can benefit financially from their investment (time, talent, and expenditures). Trade marks exist to give a person or company exclusive rights to their marks so they can protect their investment. So why shouldn't artists be able to benefit from their work or protect their investment (the time and creativity required to produce their artwork, and any expenditures they incurred along the way, such as musical instruments and recording equipment)? Similarly, without copyright, anybody could take any song, movie, software, etc, and pass it off as if they made it, effectively robbing the true artist of any potential sale or additional work. Similarly, a person or group may use an artist's work in a way the artist doesn't agree with (such as McCain using Boston's music in his campaign). That can hurt the artist because it will appear to the public that the artist endorses and/or supports the person/group/whatever, possibly resulting in a boycott of the artist's works.

    I'm sure that without copyright protection, there would still be some people willing to create various forms of art, but it would be as a hobby only (like most open source programmers today). Simply put, free entertainment doesn't generate enough revenue to sustain the lifestyle necessary to create said entertainment. In other words, free entertainment doesn't put food on the artist's table or a roof over his head. The only people who would benefit from a nullification of copyright would be the freeloaders (individuals and corporations) who don't want to pay for anything.

  7. Ian 37


    Perhaps. But if their figures measuring growth are to be believed, it does appear to be clear that even with all this rampant p2p the industries still believe in releasing more albums, movies, etc.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd say they have a point.

    "Piracy" doesn't look like it's stifling creativity as claimed by the music/film industry, but then again, I never thought it did, any more than I believe that every unlawful copyright infringement is a lost sale, but it won't stop the music/film industry claiming that their bullshit is true.


    As an aside, I see FACT are claiming that they are abandoning their "you wouldn't steal a handbag" campaign on DVD, as it has been a success?!!! They measure that success by whether you are aware of the campaign or not. That's unfortunate, because I'm aware of it and it's one of the main reasons I prefer ripped copies of DVDs than to the real thing. I don't want to have to watch a film that I can't skip, which warns me not to be a criminal, WHEN I BOUGHT YOUR FUCKING DVD IN THE FIRST PLACE. Replacing it with a "thanks for buying a real DVD" film is no less annoying, you patronising twats. I don't want your little films, preaching to what you think of as your own little private captive market, so FOAD.

    I just want the movie I paid for you wankers.


  9. Filippo Silver badge

    The Beatles

    If musicians end up mostly making money from concerts, and they refuse to do concerts - why, yes, they should be kicked to the curb. In any job in the world, if you refuse to do key bits of it because you don't like them, you end up out of a job. I don't see why music should be any different.

  10. Edward Barrow

    correlated does not always mean causes...

    The raw numbers of products made - albums, films - etc has gone up as filesharing has gone up. But is it causal?

    Technology has greatly reduced the cost of production; you can do on a Mac what used to need kit worh 100s of thousands. Any fule can make an album with Logic (and the quality of most of it shows). This is a good thing, but it's not filesharing that's caused it.

    Intrinsically costly productions - classical orchestral pieces for example - have almost certainly declined over the same period.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bye bye boy bands.

    So if freetardism means the music biz finds it hard to successfully create, promote, exploit attractive young-uns with limited talent producing bland commercial music eg Spice Girls, New Block on the Kids, then let freetards rule!

    What a music industry that is only attractive to talented creative musicians aka artists that produce quality music, not for potential mega stardom but because of an unselfish desire to be creative eg Pete Seger ? Heresy!

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Here, listen to this

    I love, I'll buy the album.

    True story, I have to be honest, most people are freetards and will take what they see as free with no consideration for the morality. However a lot of people will buy music that you punt their way eventually. Some take a while to do so (mostly those who got a computer when they had more money, or as a gift) but overally among the right sort of people, free sharing increases.

    What's more indie and specialist labels are doing fine, better than ever, because they're supported by this sort of sharing. Overall sales have dipped because, well why buy? But small labels artists tend to get more publicity thanks to the internet, and sell more. As they sell more the labels grow and so while overall sales dip, lots of smaller releases become viable.

    Anecdotally I've known a lot of people who wouldn't buy music because the stuff put out in mainstream channels is shit, but with the internet have become avid consumers at times, perhaps stealing but definately increasing sales revenue.

    I fell that pirates should be ashamed of themselves but weak copyright laws are great, they're kill the large cancer like majors while creative minors who like their music (they like money too, but they're the sort of labels who listen to the stuff they sign rather than evaluate it for money making purposes like $imon Cowell), be it jazz, indie rock, norweigian black metal or hip hop, or all of the above, are doing fine. If we push stronger copyrights the economists are right, it will be against the purpose of copyrights, the only people who benefit are majors who care not for the music they make.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    The level of commentators is despicable (see Ed 17), I guess that's part of the reason why the greedy music companies that are already making billions can and do trample our rights/freedoms by lobbying and passing laws that people like him think are OK (e.g. ISPs being Police, etc)

  14. Anonymous Coward

    I Command You to Halt!

    Instead of wasting time with analysis of the facts, producing reports and asking people to consider the results and provide valuable feedback, I will solve the P2P menace by sitting in my chair and commanding it to stop.

  15. Chris 21


    'Similarly, a fraction of consumer electronics purchases and internet-related expenditures are due to file sharing.'

    And yet when artists ask for a piece of the iPod pie or broadband tortilla (or the Google-Advertising-Revenue-Tiramisu) they get spat on. Still, as long as someone's making money, eh?

    'For instance, as music becomes effectively available for free, the price of concerts, a complement to music, is likely to rise'

    This one has always confused me - if more artists have to give live shows to make money, if the supply goes up, wouldn't the price go down?

  16. mmiied

    refuses to do concets?

    how about I "refuse" to come to work on a wed?

    or I refuse to read papers

    or if I am an arthor and I refuse to do book signings

    I make less mony thought my own stubbornness and refusing to give the paying customers what they are asking and willing to pay for

    bissnes 101

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chris C

    Thanks for letting me know, right there in your title, that you intended to list many wrong "points" ;-) .

    From reading your post I would have to conclude there were no valid writers before the invention of the printing press and no worthy music before the invention of vinyl. History claims otherwise. The writers and musicians before the 20th Century created their work within different social conditions. The writers and musicians who will continue to create art after the 20th Century are living/will live in different social conditions, some of which we have yet to even imagine. Through these reports we can look at recent history and try to understand where society is heading, so we can prepare for it in advance. In my opinion you seem to be clinging to the economic model of the 20th Century, which is increasingly outdated, in almost every industry, not just music and art.

    Which came first: art or copyright?

  18. Alec Harkness
    Thumb Up

    @Chris C

    Your points are valid but, like all the record industry's protestations, are based on the assumption that the current status quo must be preserved.

    No industry has the unalienable right to exist. q.v. Polaroid and the old photographic industry. Digital technology overtook it, and it's now more or less extinct.

    Similarly, the music *industry* will sooner or later die, and that's just too bad. Times change.

    Music as *art* however is a different matter, and an altogether more noble one. What this report says (at least how I read it) is that file-sharing may be killing music as an industry, but music as art is thriving.

    Which I don't think is a bad thing.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Hasn't this been tried before?

    It's true that filesharing boosts sales of computers, peripherals, broadband, iPods, etc, while reducing sales of music. But I'd rather my money goes to musicians than Microsoft or Sony. Imposing a tax/levy on the former to fund the latter has been tried in the past and rejected, but if there's to be quality music that doesn't rely on t-shirts or concert tickets, we may have to see pop music funded like classical music (and poetry, visual arts, etc) from the public purse. The alternative is pop music funded largely by its use in advertising (which seems to be the means to fame and fortune for many new artists these days).

  20. Ray0x6

    Death of a salesman

    Since all the little indie shops got smacked out of town by Fopp (may their business continue to rot in hell), the only places I now buy records is at gigs. I will pay for the ticket and often buy CDs/LPs at the gig as a souvenir. The majority of performers I go to see these days do not have records in the shops, anyway and exist outside of what one might call the traditional record industry. Their careers have been built on sharing their ideas and music on Myspace, Facebook and other social networking media (in which I include P2P), with friends, acquaintances and fans resultantly organising their gigs for them - all, crucially, without the use of agents. Promoters deal direct with the band. I buy records at these gigs because I know I am supporting a tradesman that has a product I want and that all that money is going to them, direct. It's the buy local ethic and, in the context of art makes absolute sense: art is a personal, not a mass commodity! (in case anyone is wondering: Coldplay do NOT count as art)

    The argument that the economists make is good: the Internet has indeed given more artists a chance, those who do have appeal but maybe not the right sound/ideas/image to make it within the confines of the traditional record industry infrastructure (viz homogenised mass market). This is not just a good thing, this is a great thing! Diversity is where it's at... a mirror to life itself. Conformity, the opposite of this, is the means by which majors consolidate talent into the smallest possible package to sell to the largest possible number of consumers: check out MTV, the "voice of youth" or whatever the fuck it is, for proof. It's a very simple ROI arrangement with meeja executives and absolutely fuck all to do with art or human expression. It is sterile, plastic, cheap to reproduce. Non-expression. Culturally void. Industrial, generic and anti-creative.

    I do wonder whether the steep increase in rate of albums/movies produced in the last 3 years is due to majors desperately searching for the next big thing before their game blows out for good. If it ever does (their model definitely will), I think no-one will mourn the death of EMI or BMG. Compare the number of useful careers these people have cut short to the number of artists they have actually made successful. It is an undeniable fact that majors been ripping off the public and the real creatives for years - remember the excitement in the 90s when the news reported that whole CDs could be pressed for about 20p each, but the RRP was about 50% higher than a 12"? These undeserving dominant few are being knocked from their ivory pedestals by those same musicians and fans that they have been dicking for 100 years. I think it's great poetic justice and not before time. Fuck 'em all and good riddance. If you still have any doubts about where your money actually goes when you buy major, I suggest reading "The Problem with Music" by Steve Albini, freely available online.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    @Chris C

    "It also would do literally nothing for the actual songwriters (you do know that your most popular artists don't write their own music, right?"

    You mean the guys who write the generic guff that manufactured "bands" with no talent (other than their youth and looks) continually churn out? Or do you mean shit covers?*

    Bring it on, I say. We need LESS of that kind of music anyway!

    *I'm thinking Madonnas version of American Pie - an insult to Don McLean (and to everyone who has heard the original

  22. Richard Kay

    Right to get paid ?

    Only if you do what others are willing to pay you to do, and not based on coercion.

    The rights of someone who can't make living other than through the creation of music, art or literature to get paid doesn't extend to surveillance of my private non-commercial communications or the ability to police and block anything similar or any kind of fair reuse for a century. It doesn't override the principles behind data protection law.

    Overlong copyright blocks reuse which blocks new creative work. DRM blocks heritage preservation work. Legal protections of DRM (DMCA) lock down freedom of speech in respect of the ability of security researchers to publish their findings or consumers to know how remotely controlled equipment they think they own is spying on them. Secret copyright police surveillance of private Internet communication is not compatible with a free society or human rights legislation.

    The fact that 8% of the Swedes recently voted pirate shows that a backlash is starting.

  23. JohnG

    "Home taping is killing music"

    Same story, different technology but still wrong. Everybody knew that it was bullshit then because several record companies were in industrial groups that also manufactured blank cassette tapes. Much like the music publishers of today who also happen to be manufacturers of CD and DVD media, USB sticks, etc.

    For new artists, P2P might be a good way to get heard: share your own track with the correct track title but labelled as being from a well-known artist in a similar genre.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Stephen 10

    @Edward Barrow

    Edward, what you've written is undeniably true, costs have plumetted to produce music at a professional level. The authors don't take this into account as it has no bearing on their argument - which is that file sharing is not reducing the amount of music being produced. The raw numbers back their assertion, not the music distribution industries.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    A few points.

    1. Quantity does not equal quality.

    2. There are other factors which influence the output of musical works. For example, cost of music production has dramatically decreased, while ease of music production has substantially increased over this time period, due to new technologies (such as Apple's Garageband). Similarly, cost of opening and running a record label or simply reducing a record has substantially decreased.

    3. We may still be seeing a parasitic effect: The purported "success" of the new model, in that so many new releases are appearing, may be motivated still by memory of the old model, wherein one could actually hope to make a living as a recording artist or music producer.

    4. Regarding "complements": Not every artist/musician wants to play live. Not every music project translates well from record to live performance. There are projects and producers which are studio-only.

    Thank you for the article.


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