I would gather Neil Gaiman’s perspective on Internet piracy starkly contrasts with many of his contemporaries. It’s still a popular argument among content creators and producers to say file sharing is killing the music industry, driving up ticket prices at the movies, and is generally the mechanism by which we’re destroying the creative class’s ability to create new works.
I don’t subscribe to these theories nor do I feel the Web has somehow impeded the flow of new material to consumers. But there’s a prevailing cynicism peer-to-peer technologies are stifling creation and are contributing to the rapid downfall of these industries.
While there’s no doubt technologies like BitTorrent are having an impact on the music and movie industries, and soon (if not already) electronic book publishing, it’s just too easy to dismiss file sharers as ‘pirates’ responsible for depriving artists of adequate compensation for their works.
Are publishers worse off now than before the Internet and file sharing came around? Did analog recordable cassettes, VHS tapes, and more recently DVD ripping software kill off music and movies? No. So why does file sharing and the BitTorrent protocol in particular have such a bad rap?
I am willing to concede file sharing has become a double edged sword. There are those who stand to benefit and those who stand to lose out, but file sharing isn’t all bad. There are opportunities as Gaiman explains. Most notably though is the idea file sharing has the capacity to widen the audience exposure for a given set of creative works—material that may have been largely inaccessible under the old distribution models prior to the Web and peer-to-peer networks. File sharing, as Gaiman can attest, increases discovery of material (e.g. books, music, movies) thereby encouraging sales that may not have been possible otherwise.
Perhaps it’s time we stop demonizing peer-to-peer networks and social applications that encourage the sharing of copyrighted material. I suppose the bigger question is, how relevant are copyright laws in the digital age? And, to what extent should media conglomerates continue to seek out and prosecute the file sharing public at large, under what are clearly antiquated copyright laws.
Video clip via ORGzine