Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is the unrestricted distribution of music on the internet really a threat to the music industry?

The recent controversy about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States and its close equivalent in Ireland has largely been represented in the media as a battle between the rights of music consumers (who want to be free to do anything they want to) and the music industry (who want to be able to exert as much control over online activity so that they can protect their livelihood). While there is some accuracy in this portrayal, the reality is much more subtle.

The people working in the music industry can broadly be divided into two groups:

  1. The musicians who are involved in composing and/or performing music.
  2. People who are involved in facilitating the distribution of music e.g. people working for record companies or working in a music venue.
I think that the later group of people might have a reason to fear that the unrestricted distribution of music might threaten their jobs, because the internet makes music distribution so easy that they are not needed as much as before. However, I don't think that the musicians have anything to fear. On the contrary, modern technology means that the current generation of youngsters find that it is easier than ever before to create music and to distribute it to music lovers all over the world. Similarly, people are listening to more music than ever on their various different devices. Hence I think that the future of the music industry is very secure.

In recent years the number of professional recordings made by formal record labels has been actually  increasing. The number of home made recordings is increasing at an even more dramatic rate, because the cost of the equipment required is dropping and the equipment is becoming easier for non-experts to use. Of course, the record industry is not happy with their reduced profits because they are selling fewer copies of each recording. However, there is very little sign that the music industry is in decline and consumers have no reason to fear that the range of music available will decline.

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