Who is hurt by copyright infringement?
Depending on who you ask, the answer to that question could be either “Everyone!” or “No one!”
The amount of harm that copyright infringement and activities like illegal downloading creates for creative professionals and the media industry is up for debate. There are vocal members on each side of the debate who argue that the nation’s economy and the entire American public is harmed by copyright infringement. Conversely, others persuasively argue that ignoring copyright laws makes information free and more accessible, which can benefit the individual artists, the general public, and even the entire world.
Understandably, the most vocal advocates in support of the argument that copyright infringement hurts people are the people involved in the industries most affected by infringement: entertainment, media, journalism, and publishing.
Some advocates for strong copyright laws argue that infringement is the principal factor in the collapse of the major music and newspaper industries, and that infringement has been an influential factor in the decline of both the film and publishing industries. They argue that copyright infringement has created a situation where these industries can no longer afford to create new work because consumers no longer provide enough money for them to run their businesses.
It's hard to accurately tell how many people illegally download music (which is a form of copyright infringement), but music sales have been steadily declining for the past several years. Reportedly, in 2009 a market research study showed that only 37% of music that people acquired was paid for, suggesting a possible correlation between decreasing sales and illegal downloading. Meanwhile, as album sales in the UK are also on the decline, a study found that, in 2010, over 75% of downloads occurring in that country were illegal.
The vocal opponents of copyright laws, who argue that copyright infringement is good for society, are more varied. Usually though, they all share the belief that any limitations on the ability for information to be disseminated is harmful to the continuing progress of science and culture. They believe that the ability to build on culture without restraint allows culture to evolve more quickly and allows everyone’s lives to be enriched.
Some might argue that, in some cases, copyright infringement can actually be helpful on a monetary level. For example, in the software industry, some people in high positions at Microsoft (including chairman Bill Gates himself) hold the opinion that they'd rather people illegally download their software than their competitor's, especially in developing markets like China where a free option like Linux could be a viable alternative. They take this view because they hope that users will one day be impressed enough and devoted enough to the software that they will simply pay for it when the next version comes out. Because consumers usually seek out the lowest price possible when making purchases, one can argue that piracy helps Microsoft's computer operating system compete with Linux, which is a free, open-source operating system.
One could make the same argument that some illegal downloaders of music can be similarly swayed. It's not hard to imagine a curious listener illegally downloading all of a musician's back-catalog, being converted into a fan, and then going out to purchase the musician's newest CD. In other words, some might argue that illegal downloading can help a musician expand his or her fan base.
However, as with all debates, the best answers might lie somewhere in the middle.
If you are a journalist or just an interested citizen who has questions about the two sides of the copyright policy debate, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.