The Challenges Of Distributing Digital Music Media Essay
This dissertation focusses on the challenges of distributing digital music in an era of unprecedented web use. Access to digital media is increasingly a part of peoples every day lives and the issues surrounding access to content and the legal implications therein are the subject of much debate. It is natural that the rights holders and their representatives would assume a position protecting their legal rights and the cases of pursuance of both individual and commercial rights infringers are well documented, however some say copyright law is dated (Negroponte, 1995) and beyond the task of policing the digital frontier of music distribution. This dissertation investigates the effect of copyright on audience and artist attitudes to digital music distribution in both legal and illegal forms. Using relevant literature and established studies it addresses the benefits of the chosen research for this investigation and provides results giving evidence for the various claims and counter claims made on both sides of the copyright argument. In doing so it is intended that my results will give a picture of current distribution methods and their ability to deal with copyright as well as rights holders ability to enforce it in an increasingly digitised age.
By gathering evidence using one-to-one interviews with two emerging artists as well as consumer interviews conducted at group level I am able to establish the artist's interaction with the process of copyright and the extent to which it alters their distribution of music whilst also engaging the audience in debate about their understanding and adherence to the existing issues surround accessing digital music. The involvement of both artist and audience provides a unique opportunity to pinpoint the present effect of the existing systems of music distribution and the copyright protection available.
Digital Music Copyright
At the crux of the debate surrounding digital music distribution is the issue of copyright and the infringement thereof. Arguments both for and against the current system of rights ownership and management are well documented and some clear division between the opinions of those who hope to gain capital from the ownership of rights and those who wish to produce and consume digital music is revealed. The representative bodies existing to support the rights of the artist , such as the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) have staunch views on the use of their intellectual property and defined by the BPI, copyright in its current form can be surmised as follows:
Copyright is the foundations which the music business is built. In its simplest terms, it is a form of intellectual property and, as such, gives the creator or the owner/ author of that work exclusive rights over how it is published, distributed and
adapted. (BPI - [online] 2009)
The collective gusto of the recording industry to enforce their stance on what they see as a critical issue to the music business has led to much bad publicity and a galvanisation of some copyright infringers as a group with a serious social point to make. Kembrew McLeod (2005) agrees that infringement of copyrighted material online presents a significant problem for the monopoly held by the industry giants, even going as far as to view this as a positive consequence of file sharing and distribution. Arguing in favour of a diminished corporate monopoly, McLeod uses examples of successes for smaller independent artists, helped in part by the evolution of media distribution methods available to cut out the middle-man. With both artist and audience interviews revealing a symRobhy for McLeodʼs statements, most participants demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the possible advantages that new distribution methods offer smaller/less established artists, who often work outside of the boundaries of the established 'music industry'. Williamson & Cloonan (2007) accuse the BPI of blurring 'its distinction between the ‘interests of British record companies’ - which it claims to represent - with a wider definition of the ‘music business’' . The process of recording, distributing and marketing music is one element of the music industry but it's inferred connection to grassroots music of all levels seems to be the bone of contention, as is borne out in my group research. The strength of language words and aggressive tone of both the RIAA and BPI in dealing with infingers, combined with the appropriation of the wider music industry for moral grounds (Williamson & Cloonan, 2003, p. 305-7) adds to a misunderstanding regarding what exactly the music industry is and how it affects users access to media. There is an obvious disparity in opinion on either side of the debate surrounding copyright law, with the nature of what copyright represents and who it protects and particularly how it is relevant to new digital models of distribution and consumption open to much debate. These diverging opinions are likely to have an impact on how consumers and artists understand the issues within this field, and clearly how they relate and react to them.
The history and development of studying audiences and their consumption habits is by now highly sophisticated and the subject of much debate and research. Using the work of others as a guide as well as theory and research my aim is to understand how audiences are accessing digital content and if their understanding of the legality of so doing , alters how they interact with the content. Longhurst (2007) observes that the most significant contemporary change to [music consumption] is coming through downloadability (p. 205). The pervasive nature of digital consumption in today’s culture is displayed throughout both artist and audience responses showing high levels of use and understanding of the medium. An RIAA commissioned report (Siwek, 2007) carried out in the United States by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) suggest that online copyright infringement costs the industry $12.5 billion annually(online). It is fair to assume the the access to both legal and illegal digital music is affect the industry greatly but these figures are open to criticism for there bias.
The research of Huang (2005) into file sharing as a means of music consumption through group interviews of college students concludes that music file sharing is now a facet of music culture from a social perspective. My studies have some support for this claim with even artists describing extensive p2p use and one actively embracing it as a means of propagation of his material. Mascheroni et al (2008) conducted a comparable ethnographic study digital television consumption. The study concludes that young viewers are capable of defining their relationship with media based on present developments in the field rather than existing paradigms and traditions, and in doing so perhaps goes some way to explain the findings of Huang's research on college students. In similar ethnographic profiling Harwood (1997) compared television viewing Robterns of different aged groups, finding that decisions are representative of perceived ʻsocial identityʼ. It is arguable that similar influences are at play in consumers interaction with digital music consumption and with the increasing convergence of digital content, user generated content, and the social influences aforementioned, copyright infringement and any repressions appear to have very marginal impact on consumption habits. Based on the highlighted works the interaction between consumers and the legal implications surrounding content access are likely to vary in line with social perception and experience led understanding of the field. The fact that the artists were so Robert about file sharing, their involvement with it and it's potential for positive use, adds weight to the claim copyright regulations for digital music are past their prime and lacking in effectiveness.
Unique Online Considerations
Various possible explanations for the ways in which digital media access has changed consumption habits have been covered previously. Increased media access has inevitably led to increased temptation to use nodal connectivity for illegal file sharing, although if the enactment of this abuse is as widespread as the BPI and RIAA would like us to think is another matter. Borne out of this peer to peer system of file distribution new products are being brought to market that provide alternatives to illegal acquisition of content. Analysing the manner in which consumers access content and services online has led to , sophisticated modEmmang of the accessibility and demand for said content and services. Andersonʼs (2006) presents a 'long tail' model which serves as an example of such studies. The model refers to online commercial distribution with the most popular and commercial, products at one end of the graph with the highest volume of sales. The graph extends to illustrate the almost limitless potential for online sales in specialist or minority markets.
Fig i. - Long Tail Model (Anderson, 2006)
Anderson further sets forth an opinion that the broadening of potential promotion and distribution online has increasingly opened up more possibilities for for both artists and consumers. Applying the long tail theory, it is obvious that it proposes a different system of economics to the traditional retail sector. Adding to this the obvious advantages of products being available around the clock, often irrespective of regional restrictions and the idea of a new economic model is further strengthened. The ability to cover areas of minuscule interest with little additional overheads enables retailers to offer huge depth of choice as well as broadening the idea of ownership of content through streaming..
Clearly the economics of online commerce are very different to the traditional model, however the rules of engagement surrounding copyright are expected to fit both models. two is different, yet the laws of copyright remain the same. Illegal sharing of content is viewed as an infringement of rights and therefore a form of theft as attested by the RIAA. The case that eventually closed the late nineties file sharing platform Napster, as detailed first by Merriden (2001) and then Menn (2003) illustrates the ramifications and interest in the first high-profile case of file sharing. Speaking of Napster Wall states;
The record companies proposed that the Napster system ripped off artists and would kill music, while they made the legal argument that Napster encouraged the infringement of copyrights they held. Napster countered by arguing that members of Napster were making fair non-commercial use of the rights already assigned with
the original sale of the record that had been converted into mp3 files.
(Wall 2003, p223)
Continuing where the Napster litigation left off, cases between the industry and p2p networks are still widespread today, showing that the industry has moved on little in the intervening years. The Swedish prosecution and proposed imprisonment of the creators of infamous file sharing tracker The Pirate Bay (Johnson & Kiss, 2009) is perhaps the highest profile case today and could be seen as the modern Napster. In an attempt to bolster the music industries grasp on digital distribution a number of new models have been brought to market., Many mobile phone operators worldwide now offer unlimited music bundles with cell contracts and the emergence of streaming services mentioned such as Last.fm and Spotify, are seen in the group interviews to have a positive influence on peoples adherence to copyright. Gerd Leonhard (with Kusek 2005 & 2008) is describes these services as ʻfeels like free.ʼ Advertising and premium service upgrades present the creates potential for capitalisation of music. Spotify has been a particular success in Europe, with the BBC reporting figures that already 5% of its users have upgraded to a premium service, giving it some 320,000 users paying £10 per month for its full offering (BBC, 2010, online). This small percentage provides and annual turnover in the region of £38,400,000 excluding additional revenue provided by advertising, proving that Spotify is a serious force in the online distribution business without even launching fully in the United States. By looking at audience habits and interaction with both copyright and media we can see that the new media model and the traditional approach to distributing music are increasingly unable to keep up with the consumer driven demand for online services, leaving companies such as Spotify to move in and become a type of 'new music industry' for the 21st century. The difficulty inherent to their role is that the copyright for the material they wish to distribute is often owned by one of their more traditional predecessors.
In this chapter I offer justification for the effectiveness of my methods for the collection of audience and artist responses to their interaction with digital music copyright. I use two groups of participants; one younger (16- 25) as well as a group from an older demographic of consumers (40-65) with both groups being representative of consumers as well as two individuals representative of artists. As this study represents a small cross section of the many people who are involved in roles as both consumer and artist definitive conclusions solely gathered from my findings alone are difficult to ascertain. The value however, of conducting the comparative interview types, is the provided overview of responses, and how they interplay with the core arguments surrounding the debate. Work by Huang (2005) and Macheroni et al (2008) would suggest that younger audiences are less concerned about the implications of peer to peer sharing and thus more likely to use the distribution method. Using relative methods I build upon their work, highlighting and supporting claims by providing complimentary evidence and similar findings. Huangʼs (2005) use of groups interviews highlighted specific areas of interest with direct interaction with audience members, whilst Mascheroniʼs (2008) research adopted ethnographic studies of online, as well as off line interaction in a more one to one manner. Due to the nature of copyright interaction online ethnographic study of users could be applied to researching users of file sharing services. The problem with this is the anonymity in this type of cinteraction, discussed by Watt, Lea and Spears (2002). Although there is potential for some light to be shed on how audiences share music online, it would be difficult to rationalise the reasons for this activity, providing little evidence to illuminate the reader on audience behaviour.
My own studies, made use of extensive one on one interviews allowing unsigned artists a mouthpiece within the debate. The benefit of exposing the artists to the one on one interview process was expected to be a greater understanding and experience of copyright yielding technical data on the subject. This was then coupled with group based research. With guidance from Bertrand and Hughes (2005, p81), the group interviews, were expected to benefit from inter-participant discussion allowing some involved to make up in shortfalls of technical knowledge. As a well established means of audience research, group interviews can help garner natural responses from participants. It must always be considered however that these discussions do not take place in unmonitored environments and so must be viewed as having the potential to be polluted by the participants knowledge that what is being said is also being recorded. A particularly pertinent issue given the legal climate surrounding the issues covered. The legal aspect of my research may encourage participants to shy away from full, Robert answers, however the focus group environment should also foster greater candour and less inherently solicited responses than that of one on one interviews for instance (Boubour 2007) although the combination of the two means of study should have a balancing effect on the results.
Research & Findings
Here I present the findings of my primary research investigating the interplay between copyright issues and digital music consumption. The material put forward here is the product of the two group interviews and two individual interviews with consumers and artists respectively. The discussions centred around the same key themes including the participants access to and use of digital music as well as attitudes and understanding of the related legal issues. Of particular importance for my study are responses they may have relevance towards legal the constraints and considerations surrounding the notion of digital music access. Providing the the structural basis of this chapter my aim is to discover any visible Robterns between the responses of the two types of interviewee.
Consumption & Listening Habits:
The primary question for the interviews is one of use and involvement in digital music. It is essential to establish the extent, if any, to which the interview subjects interact with digital music content, irrespective of its origin. The following section examines participant music consumption routines and in particular, digital music consumption habits. Based on their replies, I address the stereotype that older audiences are less willing and able to undertake interaction with new delivery methods whilst isolating comparisons between the groups in other forms of music consumption. On broaching the subject of use of digital music with the older group, it was clear that most participants were involved and responsive to the means of content distribution. Many of the group cited the iPhone or iPod as an influence on their ease of access and enjoyment of digital music, proving Apple have a huge say in how this market is set to develop. either using mp3 players or their mobile phone to consume digital music. When the group was asked if they had access to a digital music player the response was as follows,
Howard: Of course ... Iʼve had mp3 phones for a good 5 years now and players for a bit longer.
Dominic: Yeah me too I would say, not the players but the phones, I use an iPhone for everything now.
Howard: I still use my player for jogging though, I don't like to be bothered by phone calls but I still want my music with me.
Most made some use of access to digital music on a regular basis. This helps to dispel the myth of a generation gap regarding digital media use as alluded to in the work of Mascheroni et al (2008). Although this establishes a commonality in usage of devices we are yet to establish meaningful connections between access and consumption habits. In the older group. The concept of digital music consumption representing the mainstay of their listening habits produced varied responses. For the older group the response was as follows:
Dominic: For the car or the house I 'spose real music, sorry I should say CD's and stuff I 'spose, real music is normally what I go for.
Robert: Yeah the same really.
This is similar to the attitudes of both artists interviewed.
Biometrix: Yeah it's really all about vinyl for me but that normally means I have to rip the vinyl if I want to listen to it on my phone or anything like that
Gecko: I collect all sorts of CD's and records, when we go on tour I normally come back with a pile of discs I've either bought or been given.
With the artists and the older audience still actively engaged in the acquisition and collation of music it is clear that there is still a space for tangible products within the music industry.
Such observations are notably absent when dealing with the younger of the group studies. In this group there was evidence of a fractured landscape of media access with no commonly held method of consuming music. Youtube, Spotify and Soundcloud provide a number of 'feels like free options' for home use along with the ubiquitous iPod/Phone, however the access to music was overwhelmingly digital amongst this group. It can be said that both groups access digital content in a number of ways, with the younger group being more selective and more aware of different delivery methods, perhaps indicated by the greater disparity in the services and methods of consumption they chose. Within this younger group, extensive different ways of acquiring digital music were referenced, including demonstrable evidence of Leonhardʼs (2008) ʻfeels like freeʼ streaming services such as Spotify and Last.fm. The following extract is taken from the opening stages of the younger focus group;
MarT: Spotify, mainly. Youtube too, but there is much less music on there now and when you find something you like it gets deleted after a while for copyright stuff. Spotify have made it so easy and if they have pretty much everything so you can just go there, and if you canʼt find it ain’t on Spotify there might be a live version or something on Youtube but the quality is always ropey. The only bad thing about Spotify is that you get ads but it''s still free and it's much safer than downloading audio files.
Steve: Everything is so joined up on Spotify, like suggested artists and playlists and stuff, I 'spose it's similar on Youtube, you can spend hours exploring.
Claire: And you don't have to buy anything or give your card details over.
Similarly both artists are avid users of Spotify amongst other streaming services:
Gecko: I know the money is peanuts for getting played on there but it makes you accessible to so many people, some of them don't have enough money to pay for your album or your mp3 or whatever but the fact that they can still access it is important to grow as an artist. It's like playing a gig and barely making the petrol money to get home. We all do it but some of us are a bit more relaxed about the good it does for us.
Biometrix: I use Spotify all the time, really it's stopped me stealing a lot of music really. It's so much easier than actually downloading something so normally I just do that because I can't be bothered finding what I want and then waiting on it to arrive on my computer.
Clearly Spotify offers an innovative model that can fit into both of Myškaʼs (2009) subscription service model categories. A monthly fee can be paid to allow listeners to enjoy uninterrupted music without advertising and also allow access to feature rich content such as mobile streaming and offline listening, as well as Leonhard's (2009) ʻfeels like freeʼ model that is funded by advertising. Of the myriad methods of media access identified, use of Web 2.0 music consumption models such as Spotify demonstrates a fall in favour of traditional peer to peer networks, contrary to the testaments of the recording industry (Siwek, 2007.) This goes some way to enforce the claims of Leonhard (2009) that these new, lawful access streams provide an attractive alternative to illegal downloading and also allay industry concerns about copyright protection. The interview subjects also cited the simplicity of these new methods in allowing them to locate music without the extensive searching that is commonplace with peer to peer access to media.
Engagement with File Sharing:
In this section, we assess the subjects involvement with the file sharing. I present rationalisation of the participants use or otherwise of file sharing networks and investigate their understandings and interactions with the legal ramifications of such actions. As the conversation developed, unexpectedly within the older group, many of the participants had used peer to peer services in the past, whilst perhaps their usage was limited, responses seemed mixed.
Shaun: Iʼve used Megaupload in the past... Yeah. Subscribed to that. We didn’t download without our subscription, but now lapsed, I don’t about the kids but yeah, Megaupload. I used to et a lot of other stuff there like films and ebooks so it was great.
We can see that the participants have an understanding of file sharing as a concept, if not perhaps the finer points of nodal networking. There is an inference that by purchasing a subscription the subject considers themselves to have bought their downloads. This is however false and the subscription simply provides faster download speeds.
The artists had a more sophisticated understanding of how rights related to downloading and sharing content, however it is notable that this greater insight did little to dissuade them from partaking in file sharing.
Biometrix: Yeah I do download stuff, not as much as I used to but if there’s something I can't find on Spotify or Soundcloud or that stuff then I will just go on a torrent site but I feel bad about it, I reckon, well I reckon because I think about what it would be like if the musicians were like me, just starting out or something.
The guilt mechanism in this response shows a belief that the RIAA/BPI position is correct and that the copyright issues surrounding this kind of media access is universally illegal. This shows some support for the industry having a direct influence over peoples online interactions despite their diminished market share.
One of the artists in particular also uses p2p sharing to promote and distribute their own material.
Biometrix: I try to make a couple of free songs every month and put them on soundcloud for people to download. Its pretty much a thanks to all the people on Facebook, Soundcloud and Youtube who like my music and keep my profile hits high. I know they're on the torrent sites but I don't mind, they were free anyway.
This positive use of filesharing allows the artist greater exposure with virtual nil as an overhead, undercutting the top-heavy music industry and presenting the egalitarian model favoured by McLeod (2005).
Responses to Legal Issues & Industry Implications;
This section aims to build on the responses in the previous section by filling out the subjects understanding of the legal issues involved with file sharing. Particularly noticeable in these answers is the difference between the artist and audience categories. As mentioned earlier there have been many examples of litigations against providers of p2p services, such as the media-circus trial of ʻThe Pirate Bayʼ founders. Whilst the audience groups had little knowledge of such cases the artists seemed far better versed in what was going on within the industry to shape the distribution of music.
Biometrix: Yeah, Iʼve know a lot about it actually... The pirate bay have been found guilty of copyright abuse and they're appealing their jail term now I think. It's a pretty big deal, all of the big film companies have been after them. The site is still going though, so it doesn’t seem to have done much good does it?
Gecko: Pirate bay is huge. It's not just pirating things, they do all sorts, politics and freedom of speech stuff and all of that. I think it was started by activists but I don't know who's involved nowadays. As soon as something gets taken off it seems to come straight back up. Loads of people use it.
Infringement and theft are put forwards by McLeod as tactics to enforce the monopoly of the recording industry. Of the subjects opinions on the significance file sharing has for the music industry, the various subjects displayed an array of responses. The following extracts are taken from the older subjects;
Dominic: Small bands don't have a bean basically. Those are the people you are robbing off, not the execs or anything.
Emma: They must be getting paid somehow, the music is still out there.
Robert: But the money doesn't go to the band.
This passage underlines the fact that members in this group believe that the majority of income for musicians, particularly less prolific artists, is provided by their record sales. This understanding of the revenue streams available to music industries also demonstrates a finely tuned understanding of what the ʻmusic industryʼ entails. Williamson and Cloonanʼs (2007) arguments against the wide spread use of the term, based on my findings, suggest older generations are indeed more inclined to understand the term equating to the recording industry.
The actions of the recording industries and the responses from audiences can be seen as an example of Michel de Certeauʼs idea of ʻstrategies and tacticsʼ (1984). The strategies of the power structures within the relationship, in this case, the industries retention of traditional retail models and the discourse that it equates to the music industry (BPI, 2009), in contrast to the tactics of audiences. This investigation finds between age demographics the response tactics identifiable and noticably different. The older group creates their own space through a sceptical approach to recording industry practices, methods of media access and opinion demonstrate stronger ties with the recording industry discourse crime and punishment. The both the artists and younger group members seemed much more separated from these established means of operation, shown in their symRobhy for file sharing, anti-corporate comments and reluctance to trust established regulations regarding copyright infringement.
Based on the findings outlined above, the suggestion is that audiences are highly aware that there are legal implications surrounding the sharing of files, but their opinions and responses to the validity of these implications are generationally split. The evidence provided by the younger demographic of both audience and artists provides support for the views of McLeod (2005) whereas the older group demonstrated a much more accepting response for the necessity of copyright legislation as a protection against theft. Applying music retail and commerce theories presented by Anderson (2006) and Dubber (2007), most of the participants appeared to be informed of the changes online distribution was experiencing, although there was rejection of the industry's reluctance to develop progressive content access agreements along with them. The divergence of opinion in the application of rights enforcement between the two groups adds weight to the arguments presented by Garofalo (2003), acting to set the balance between the two sides of the rights argument, preventing the financial exploitation of free music, whilst also managing a free channel of access to consumers.
It can be established from the results of my investigation that audience and artist opinions are divided on the justifications for rights protection and the enforcement thereof in relation to digital music access. Whilst there is clear evidence of a move towards digital media consumption, there is a distinct generational gap in the manner in which different age groups access music digitally. Older generations seem to fall into line with traditional models of product capitalisation, purchasing physical formats and viewing transgression of copyright online as theft. Younger subjects more immersed in digital media and having grown up during the internet gold rush have a far less strict attitude to the acquisition of digital music. They may understand that they are acting in opposition to the wants of the recording industry, however they seem to show a contempt for the industry's methods and motivations. Their attitudes towards free services such as Spotify and Last.FM do however, indicate that they are easily capable of adapting and developing their outlook on delivery so it is arguable that they are also quite capable of reordering their views on the ownership and distribution of digital music.
Organisations such as the Open Rights Group or ORG, are publicly recoiling against the new laws in the Digital Economy Bill, arguing that a disconnection of peoples internet connection as a deterrent for infringement of copyright is a ʻdisproportionate response to alleged copyright infringement and will breach citizens’ fundamental human rights, including their freedoms of expression and association.’ (2010)
Online infringement is the result of the absence of legitimate markets and licensing regimes.The legal market has failed to satisfy the desire of music fans to use new technological possibilities to access music as easily as possible. Illicit use of peer-to-peer technologies has filled the gap.
(Open Rights Group, 2010)
Such a reaction to these new measures, along with the results put forward by this investigation, support the argument that the audiences and artists are increasingly disengaged with the current copyright system, perhaps leading some to 'opt out' by downloading illegally. Further to this it appears that an overhaul of rights for digital media is imperative, and the new bills attempting to address this issue all fail to address these needs. Many of the theories discussed throughout this dissertation point towards an argument that the recording industry at large has flunked its opportunity to to adapt to the new means of content distribution successfully (as can be seen through revenue loss) or even adequately (more clearly illustrated with audience and artist dissatisfaction) paving the way for the audience to find their own solutions to these problems.
As time moves on and the younger audiences and artists become the old guard of tomorrow the gap between industry and audience will only increase, unless copyright is suitably adjusted to perform the necessary balancing act between the two (Fisher, 2001 & Garofalo, 2003). The use of copyright presently seems structured around the need to protect the means and methods of the recording industry itself, arguably responsible for the division and cause for debate in the first place. The increasingly aggressive tactics proposed in new legislation on both sides of the Atlantic can only furthermore enhance the widening of this gap. It is almost impossible to predict the future based on the past, widespread use of services such as Spotify may perhaps produce noticeable changes in audiences access to and demand for digital music whilst also reducing the use of file sharing in the near future. This study shines a light on many areas for further investigation, particularly in the way different generations are taught to use new models of media consumption and how different devices alter the interplay between copyright and consumer. A wider more comprehensive study of a bigger artist quota would also strengthen and challenge many of the presented arguments. Whilst no one can tell exactly where copyright, audiences, artists and the industry will find themselves after this turbulent period of invention and reinvention, progress will, and must occur.
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