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With a coke in one hand and the computer mouse in the other, Jack Napster is busy downloading Mp3's from Limewire with his super fast college Ethernet connection. Jack Napster lives for his music and consequently makes use of file sharing programs in order to keep up with current musical trends. He can access all the new hit songs and even some underground artists that his friends have recommended to him. Jack feels that file sharing is an ethical practice even though it is deemed illegal by the law. He feels that the downloading of music does not hurt the music industry; on the contrary it actually helps promote smaller artists. Most important, he knows that mp3's are free, and what college student does not like the word free?
College campuses all across the nation are full of Jack Napster's. On October 8th, 2002, a letter was sent out to over 2,300 colleges and universities across the nation by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association (MPA) informing them of the legal issues about on-campus file sharing programs. The letter seeks the support of the colleges’ to help fight against file sharing and outlines a set of policies for the schools to adopt (MTV.com). In light of these recent incidents, I choose to delve into this controversial issue by creating a survey to give to college students at James Madison University (JMU).
The purpose of my survey was to determine the ethical beliefs of the Jack Napster’s at James Madison University in response to file sharing programs. The survey was administered to both female and male students as well as students of every undergraduate level. The demographics are as follows; eight males and seventeen females were surveyed for a total of twenty five completed questionnaires. The survey was distributed in my hall in my dorm, the laundry room, in my friend’s dorm, at a theater rehearsal, and at a super bowl gathering. The survey was administered from January 24th through January 27th, 2003. I feel that this variety of settings, ages, and gender provide for a more balanced survey.
Going into the survey, I was sure that everyone on campus used file-sharing programs, but to my surprise only 18 of the students actually did.
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It seems that most JMU students agree that despite its illegality, they feel it is moral to download Mp3’s. One interesting thing I found was how many times I heard this statement: "What if I don't think that file-sharing is ethical, but I do it all the time?" It was as if everyone thought deep down that what they were doing was wrong, but could not find the means to justify it.
One of the questions in which results were pretty mixed was whether or not the mass burning of Mp3’s is hurting the music industry. 60% of the students believe that it is hurting the industry, while 40% believe it is not. I must admit that I too have mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand, artists are in essence loosing money, but on the other hand they have so much cash to begin with. Another question that returned mixed results was whether or not students felt that it was a legitimate cause for bands to take legal action against file-sharing programs. 44% of students believe that it is not a reasonable cause while 66% believe it is. I think that every person has their right to protest, given that their case is truly valid. My qualms with the band Metallica’s legal battle stem from the fact that when they first started out they threw out free tapes at their concerts and told their fans to copy the tapes and give them to all their friends. It seems quite hypocritical for a band whose popularity rose due to the distribution of free music to suddenly turn against the process. Perhaps specific background knowledge on the current issues with file sharing and a better overall understanding may have influenced the student’s decisions and provided for less of a divide. These two questions proved to provide the most separated results of students with differing ethical opinions.
One issue in which virtually all students agree on is whether or not Mp3’s promote smaller bands. Most surveyed (88%) believe that Mp3’s promote smaller bands and over half said that they download music so that they can check out new artists. Most believed that Mp3’s provide a forum for newer artists to get their songs some exposure in hopes of promoting their CD’s.
When asked whether a compromise is possible between completely outlawing file sharing programs and complete freedom, a little over half of the students believed that it was possible. Possible compromises offered by the students surveyed include regulating the amount of music available, showcasing certain songs (not entire CD), displaying songs only with the author’s consent, and the most popular answer: charging a small fee to download. The amounts that some people claim they would pay monthly for file-sharing programs shocked me. While the 33% majority said that they would pay 1-5 dollars, many people claimed that they would pay as much as 10 or even 20 dollars monthly for these services. It is tough to say whether or not these individuals would actually pay these fees if that became law. I feel that the most feasible solution would probably be a small fee of 1-5 dollars sense most people, in theory, say that they would pay this fine to download music. After all, it costs three times as much to buy CD’s!
While I expected to find more of a gender gap in the survey, the only question that proved to create a differing opinion among gender was the question of how much one would be willing to spend on file sharing programs. All males, with the exception of one, would not pay more than 5 dollars as a registration fee to download music. It seems that the females were much more willing to spend, if it came down to it since their answers were generally in excess of 5 and up to 20 dollars.
The most shocking results, in my opinion, were those produced by the question asking which students listen to more, Mp3’s or CD’s? 80% of the students surveyed said that they use Mp3’s more often than CD’s. Also, I found that the freshman and sophomores were much more likely to answer Mp3’s than the upperclassman who mildly favored CD’s. This reveals an alarming tendency for the recording industry and music retailers who are targeting the college age person. It seems to me that the record industry must enact a powerful campaign to win back it’s most prized demographic in order to preserve their flow of income. If this is not changed, then it seems the next generation will be primarily listening to downloaded music, making CD’s a dying medium.
So the final, key question is… Why do we download music? The overwhelming majority of the surveyed students said that they download music simply because it is free. A large amount also said that they did not want to buy the whole CD while a smaller majority said that they downloaded music from an artist to see if they wanted to buy the whole CD. A few of the students claimed that they wanted music to study with on their computer. Whatever the reason, JMU students are downloading songs from file sharing programs in mass quantities. While most feel that it is ethical, they are willing to make some compromises in the future if the need arises. Each new year brings more users to the file sharing community and a loss of the guilty feeling of pirating music. I feel that with each passing year, the once held belief that file sharing is unethical comes closer to death. With a new generation of Jack Napster’s appearing everyday, only time will tell what will happen to the future of Mp3’s and file-sharing programs.
D'Angelo, Joe. “ MPAA Get On Colleges' Cases Over Student File Sharing.” October 14th, 2002. http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1458094/20021011/story.jhtml
Johanson, Mark. File Sharing Survey. James Madison University, January 24th-27th, 2003.