Rob Walker has an interesting take on file sharing in the NY Times Magazine. First, he dismisses the notion that file sharing represents the first step on a slippery slope toward the degradation of capitalism:
- For that to be the case, a couple of underlying assumptions must be true. One is that file sharing is at its heart a problem of reckless youth who simply do not understand that what they are doing is wrong and dangerous. Another is that the habits of college are the habits of a lifetime.
We can dismiss right away the notion that most file swappers would stop if only they understood that what they’re doing is wrong. One of the most amusing research results from the various studies of music piracy is the finding that most file sharers apparently don’t care if they’re violating copyright laws. But this attitude doesn’t mean disdain for the marketplace. Earlier this year Forrester Research surveyed 12-to-22-year-olds and adults 23 and older and found that while about half the kids had downloaded songs in the past month (compared with 12 percent of the grown-ups), nearly half of the young downloaders said that they were buying as many CD’s as ever. (Members of what Forrester dubs Young Samplers on average bought 3.6 CD’s in the past 90 days.) What’s more, while 67 percent of the young cohort think ”people should be able to download music for free,” the same percent claim they are very likely to buy a CD as a result of a recent download.
Why is file sharing dominated by young people? Duh:
- But the biggest factor, as any baby-boomer politician will tell you — in fact, as most baby-boomer politicians have already told you — is that youth is a time of experimentation. If everyone carried their college-age behavior patterns into adulthood, then half our elected officials would be current recreational dope smokers. Which is probably not the case. Certainly we have all absorbed the lesson by now that it’s possible to party, get crazy and shrug off responsibility all through college and still grow up to be president.
The lawsuits do make downloading riskier, but a major component of youthful experimentation is a liberal attitude toward risk that mellows over time. Just as important is run-of-the-mill rebellion. An unnamed 16-year-old female in Forrester’s report summarizes her defense of downloading this way: ”RECORD COMPANIES ARE UNFAIR AND ARE PART OF THE SYSTEM, GO AGAINST THE SYSTEM!!!!!!!!!”
I discussed similar matters of youthful experimentation in a post on Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.”
But while most expressions of youthful rebellion and experimentation fade with age, some don’t. Walker sees file sharing as here to stay and the RIAA is just gong to have to learn to live with it, which, since most people who file share still spend money on music, they should be able to do. The current legal route is a waste of time, money, and good will:
- The urge to cast downloading as a kind of black-and-white moral issue that simply needs to be made plain to the kids so that they will knock it off is understandable, but it’s also wishful thinking. An estimated 60 million people have downloaded songs illicitly, which makes the phenomenon bigger than a youth fad. It’s more like speeding or marijuana use — activities that many people in a wide range of ages know are ”wrong” in a technical sense but not in a behavioral sense. By now, even if the music industry is right on the legal argument, it can’t win the moral one.