When people finally began to get sued for file sharing, it suddenly became a hot topic. It’s good that this issue is finally on the radar screen. For all of the attention it is getting, however, it appears that the underlying cause of file sharing is either hidden or misunderstood. Many words are used to characterize file sharing. Some call it stealing; others say that it’s just like recording songs from the radio. Both are right in their own way and yet both do not see the entire picture. It seems that the proper term for the file-sharing phenomenon is entirely different. We should call it a rebellion.
Sounds ludicrous? Well, what about: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it” or, in other words, to rebel. These, as anyone who has lived in the United States for a significant period of time recognizes, are the words of the Declaration of Independence. It is easy to dismiss these words as a ceremonial relic of the past. Yet I would venture to guess that most Americans consider these words to transcend time and thus be just as relevant today. Rebellion is an acceptable form of voicing one’s discontent.
To be sure, a rebellion does not have to consist of burning a governor’s house or tarring and feathering a stamp distributor. Even during the early days of the Revolution, the brunt of the rebellion manifested itself through the refusal to buy British goods. Oppressed masses of the Soviet Union never rebelled with arms in their hands. Instead, their rebellion that ultimately brought down the system was simmering for decades and manifested itself through simple refusal to work hard (or to work at all) at their jobs.
The file-sharing rebellion is different. Americans are rebelling not against the government, but against the entertainment industry. It is difficult to fathom in how many ways the entertainment industry has bent the rules in their favor. Why do you think Disney still has exclusive rights for Mickey Mouse? It appeared over 70 years ago and by all reasonable standards should be public by now. Why aren’t Beatles songs freely available? They were recorded before all Yale students and even some Yale professors were born. If it were up to the entertainment industry, we would still have to pay for a copyrighted CD in order to listen to the Yankee Doodle. Why is this happening? Part of it has to do with the American entertainment industry having successful lobbyists writing big fat checks to American politicians, but it’s also not the whole story.
The entertainment industry in general and the music industry in particular expect consumers to follow the rules that they created. This is not a classic free market economic model of consumers and producers haggling over price. Given that their product is unique, music industry behaves as any monopoly would. Why do we have to pay for the entire CD full of mediocrity to get one decent song? Why are CDs considerably more expensive than cassettes used to be?
At some point Americans have said: “We’ve had enough!” Internet and file sharing have appeared and they have became the most obvious way for people to voice their discontent. This isn’t immoral. I don’t think people are thrilled to be taking something for free when they are expected to pay for it. They simply do not have any other choice. I am not advocating breaking the law or file sharing. What I am saying is that the entertainment industry needs to realize what is going on. They may kill off Napster and sue KaZaA users. The root will still be there. People will find safer ways to share. For the entertainment industry, it is time to face the cause, not the effect. It’s time to wake up.
Boris Volodarsky is a junior in Trumbull College.