The Ethics of Having Copyriting Protection in the Music Industry

According to Wikepedia, an online encyclopedia Copyright is defined as, “A set of exclusive rights granted by governments to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally ‘the right to copy’ an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration.” In the last few years the music industry has been dealing with the issue of ethics in copyrighting as it pertains to downloading songs without the compensation to the owners who hold the copyright for the material. Using material that an other artist has copyrighted is unethical but should the music industry have copyrighted protection for music that is heard? The music industry is losing millions, if not billions, from material that is free to download, as this takes away a source of income from the music industry as the person listening to the copyrighted music is not purchasing the content but downloading or burning it without the industry making a profit off it. Critics state that with more copyright protection a handful of corporations will severely hinder creativity in the digital age.

The issue within the music industry recently has been the copyright issue as they believe it is unethical to download, swap, or burn music in which they have the copyright on. The music industry is “on the brink of collapse, waging an unwinnable war against technology.” This according to Wired Magazine. The way fans get music has changed from in the past with the advent of Internet file sharing and Compact Disc burning as the music industry feels this is stealing music. The music industry’s response has been to hire many lawyers to file lawsuits against those, who they feel, are stealing the music through file sharing. The Recording Industry Association of America has brought copyright infringing lawsuits against thousands of those who share files and have been trying to get Congress to penalize them as well as the technologies they use.

The two ethic aspects in which the music industry compares to stealing is Compact Disc burning and file sharing.

Compact Disc burning is making copies of CD’s using a burning devise. By the end of 2001 it was estimated that were more CD’s that were burnt than there was being bought as well as the fact that since 1999 the sales of CD burners has increased threefold. Considering this fact the music industry is losing out on more than half of it’s sales since music consumers are burning the discs rather than purchasing them.

File sharing is the act of sharing files so others can download music from that individual file. It is shown that over 3.5 billion songs a month are downloaded illegally in the United States alone. The Music industry and the major labels are not taking this sitting down considering all the money they are loosing.

The large record companies are devising technology for the specific purpose of being anti-pirated so the copyrighted music will be protected as the industry tries to shift towards a more user-friendly digital software and hardware. Some of the larger music labels are also trying to work against the file sharing networks with Sony and BMG implementing copy-protection systems, and Vivendi Universal has announced their intention to use technology which is restrictive to the user. All of these programs that make the ability for a CD to be played only on a CD player rather than a personal computer which makes it harder to copy music onto that computer, therefore, making it harder to download it to and from the Internet. Another device being implemented is a “freeze device” which freezes a computer that tries to download music or a “silence” device which scans a computer’s files for illegally pirated music and then erases them. These are just some of the ways that the music industry combats the piracy of music.

While file sharing and CD burning are the ways to obtain music by piracy and the music industry fights this by differing software and hardware technologies and devices what do the artists say about the new downloading revolution that is happening in the industry? In 2000 Lars Ulrich made headlines for suing Napster, a Internet music service, for copyright infringement on their music. Thus the band sued they have seen the popularity by the fans of their music and they might soon be on the Net. As their spokesman states, “Metallica understand what their fans are asking for and we are working on addressing those needs.” Some of the biggest names in music do not have their music available for downloads such as The Beatles, Radiohead, Garth Brooks, and Led Zeppelin. There are differing views from artists about music piracy.

In terms of copyrights some believe that the music industry, as well as the Motion picture Association of America, is using this argument of piracy to restrict and make more profit from data that should be available to all for free. In an interview for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, a fighter of Internet freedom, said this about the media, “Dominant media is a huge threat. Record labels and Hollywood studios make their money because of the control they assert over the production and distribution of artists’ work. In the music business, a handful of companies control more than 80% of the music in the world. These companies control not just distribution but a market where artists have to sell their souls to a record label just to have a right to develop music that can be distributed.” He also states on the issue of needing a new vision of copyright definitions by stating, “We don’t need a new vision. We just need to recognize what the traditional vision has been. The traditional vision protects copyright owners from unfair competition. It has never been a way to give copyright holders perfect control over how consumers use content. We need to make sure that pirates don’t set up CD pressing plants or competing entities that sell identical products. We need to stop worrying about whether you or I use a song on your PC and then transfer it your MP3 player.” Critics state that with more copyright protection and strengthening copyrights a handful of corporations will severely hinder creativity in the digital age.

Within the music industry, from songwriters to executives, there is a misunderstanding of the importance of copyright law has on their careers as there are misconceptions about the basics of the law. An example of this is the belief that the law allows people to control ideas which is wrong as copyright laws only protect the ways the idea is expressed not the actual idea. This is a fundamental argument by those who feel music should be able to be downloaded and burned without copyright protection.

Another way the industry is trying to deal with piracy is appealing to the government that this form of piracy is unethical, illegal and should be penalized. In 1998 U.S. Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as the bill was originally supported by the software and entertainment industries, and opposed by scientists, librarians, and academics. The music industry has used this act, designed to stop piracy, to bring thousands of lawsuits against individuals which have downloaded illegally. The music industry has won many of these individual cases winning monetary compensation. The Recording Industry Association of America cited the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act to bring legal action against Verizon trying to force them to reveal the names of subscribers possibly downloading illegally, arguing the act gives movie studios, record companies, software developers and other copyright owners the right to subpoena Internet service providers without having judicial approval. More and more of these cases are brought but the thousands that the cases are against do not compare to the millions who still download. In the recent file sharing case of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. The Supreme Court had the continuing copyright question of how are the interests of creators, innovators, and the public balanced best? Considering File sharing is increasingly used for legal purposes the Supreme Court sided with Grokster and refused to protect the music industry further.

Critics of the copyright laws that prevent piracy and laws being passes that the United States will have to deal with the consequnces. Yochai Benkler, a professor at Yale Law School states, “We are at a moment in our history at which the terms of freedom and justice are up for grabs.” Benkler goes on to say that each communication innovation such as the printing press, telephone, and radio, was then followed by openness and then the regulations of their usgae were set and the alternatives done away with. Benkler states, “The Internet is in that space right now.”

The ethics in the form of copyright protection is seen through different lenses from the participants in the debate as the music industry is for more protection and others who feel that by more protection brings less freedom and the fact that the media giants will have a larger control over artists and hinder creativity. The fans that download music free and many times illegally have a say in it as well as they are obviously against more protection yet it is a form of piracy, or stealing, which is unethical.


1. Wikipedia “Copyright”
2. Goetz,Thomas “Sample the Future” Wired Magazine, Nov. 2004
3. Hall, Tia “Music Piracy and the Audio Home Recording Act” Duke Law & Technology Review 2002 00230023 0023
4. Sorkin, Anderson Ross “Software Bullet is sought to Kill Music Piracy.” New York Times May4, 2003
5. Endelman, Michael “The infinite jukebox is riding high-so why are many major music acts offline?” Entertainment Mar 17, 2006
6. Interview, Lessig, Lawrence “The “Dinasours” are taking over” BBC Business Week May 12, 2002
7. “Protecting copyrights in a digital age” The Economist June 23, 2003
8. Moser, David S. Music Copyright for the New Millenium, Vallejo, California, EM Books
10. PBS Newshour “Copyright Angst” April 24, 2003
11. Belzley, Seth Robert. “Grokster and Efficiency in Music” Virginia Journal of Law & Technology Vol10 No.10 Fall 2005
12. Boynton, Robert S, “The Tyranny of Copyright?” New York Times Magazine Jan 25, 2004

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