How Can We Make MP3 Technology Work?
"I WILL GET YOU!"
MP3. Nothing else in the world is able to send shivers down the spines of recording labels, music publishers and songwriters quite like a MP3 file can. In 2004, when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported that CD sales have dropped for the 4th year running, they were quick to put the blame on MP3 file sharing (RIAA, 2004). This led to an industry wide crusade against individuals involved in peer-to-peer (P2P) MP3 file sharing. RIAA relentlessly tracked these people down and sued them. Record companies such as Sony also started implementing Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies in their products, in an aid to curb the problem of illegal copy and sharing. But these measures have done little to turn the industry around, as CD sales continue to dwindle (RIAA, 2005). So, in an industry worth billions of dollars, the question is: How can we make MP3 technology work?
Copyright Laws: The Fundamentals
"The law states that..."
To understand why the recording industry views MP3s as a threat, you will firstly need to understand copyright laws. Copyright Laws are confusing but essentially they exist for two main reasons. One, to benefit the public and secondly, to give creators exclusive rights to their creations for a limited time (Ovalle, 2005). This is important because by giving exclusive rights to creators for a limited time, creators can stand to gain financially, thereby providing them with motivation for creating future works. The limited time clause is significant because after the time frame has passed, the public is free to make use of the creator’s creations. The ultimate aim of copyright laws is to balance the interests of the public and the creator, by ensuring parity between both parties. With this in mind, let us look at how MP3 technology is affecting the recording industry.
Recording Industry & MP3: A Real Threat?
"Please buy my CDs, i beg you..."
MP3 is a threat to the recording industry because the industry believes that by sharing MP3 files over the internet, record sales will invariably be affected. Consider this: if you had the choice, would you download a record free of charge or would you go down to your record store and purchase a copy? For many, it is a no-brainer. And this is the chief argument against MP3 file sharing. People downloading songs for free harm the industry by depriving record companies of potential sales, and thereby affecting their returns on advertising and promotion. Musicians themselves suffer because they are not awarded the royalties that they are entitled to. To sum up things up from the recording industry’s point of view, the balance of interests, between the public and content creator, has very much shifted in favor of the public.
But is it really so? Is it right to blame MP3 file sharing for falling sales figures? Research done by Felix Oberholzer-Gee of
Clearly, there is an incongruity between RIAA’s claims and actual research figures.
Stop copying! Digital Rights Management
The industry's biggest mistake...
In a drastic attempt to stop the widespread problem of MP3 file sharing, record companies began implementing Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies on their CDs, which prevents the CDs from being duplicated.
Unfortunately, DRM was a complete failure. Consumers complained that these CDs were unplayable on computers, or that it would involuntary cause Windows to crash; while consumer rights organizations were unhappy because DRM prevented consumers from making copies for their personal use-a right which they are entitled to. In addition, DRM was not fool proof, and hackers soon found ways to circumvent the protection which was costing record companies millions to implement. The final straw however would be the Sony DRM fiasco, in which Sony CDs containing DRM software were found to be capable of compromising a computer’s security (Russinovich, 2005).
In December 2006, EMI became the last major record company to stop releasing CDs with DRM technology (Digital Rights Management, 2007), saying that it does not find DRM to be particularly effective in preventing piracy. Nevertheless, most record companies are optimistic that DRM will improve in the future, making it a more viable technology for preventing illegal file sharing (Christian, Ferguson & Thompson, 2006).
The Solution: Adaptation and Change
"Lelong! Lelong! One song One dollar!"
There is a need to reevaluate the current strategies in place. Suing people involved in file sharing is often seen in bad light by the public. The press often reports such stories as ‘David vs. Goliath’ struggles, and this in turn could be counter-effective. On the other hand, implementing DRM technology has proved to be useless because hackers constantly find ways to circumvent it, making such protection redundant. In summary, attempting to fight off MP3 file sharing is like fighting the mythical multi-headed hydra, where cutting off every head results in two more being spawned in its place.
So, in order to maintain its competitiveness amidst illegal file sharing, the recording industry needs to change its mindset. Instead of fighting it head on, the industry needs to refocus its energy on making CDs more value-added and finding ways to make P2P file sharing obsolete.
Increasingly, we now find CDs that include special features that can be downloaded off the net if you happen to have a legitimate copy and a CD key. These features make CDs more value-added and will enhance the overall experience for buyers. But more important than this, is how record companies can make P2P networks obsolete for its users.
In 2003, the Apple iTunes music store was born, after Apple signed deals with EMI, Universal, Warner Bros, Sony Music and BMG. It was a huge success and today, sales from iTunes account for more than 80% of worldwide online music sales (iTunes Store, 2007). iTunes is not only extremely affordable, its supremely extensive catalogue, which now has over 3.5 million songs, (www.apple.com/itunes/store/) also made it possible for consumers to find almost any song they wanted. It was a revelation of sorts and with iTunes, record companies would be able to reap the investments they spent on promoting the artistes, and the artistes themselves will receive the royalties that they are due. The iTunes music store has reinvented the way music is sold, and it is innovations like this that will help the recording industry in its combat against P2P file sharing.
In addition to these reforms undertaken by the recording industry, there is also the need to educate the public on copyright laws. This is especially important because children today are growing up in a world where P2P file sharing is so prevalent and everything you need is just a click of a mouse away. Hence, there is an urgent need to inform them that such activity infringes on the rights of record companies and musicians.
It is overly optimistic to think that such measures will completely eradicate file sharing. There will always be free-riders, and such is the basic nature of people, but at the very least, such measures can help win back consumers and restore some balance to the interests of the creators and the public.
Digital Rights Management. (2007). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from
iTunes Store. (2007). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from
Mark Russinovich. (2005). Mark’s blog: Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from
Oberholzer-Gee, Felix., & Strumpf, Koleman. (2005). The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales, An Empirical Analysis. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from
Ovalle, C. (2005). “What is copyright?”.
RIAA. (2004). The Recording Industry Association of America’s 2004 Yearend Statistics. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from
RIAA. (2005). The Recording Industry Association of America’s 2005 Yearend Statistics. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from