Posted on November 13, 2007 in File Sharing, Monopoly by Brian RoweView Comments

File sharing as a way to free culture has been given an undeserved bad name by the propaganda machines of the RIAA and MPAA. I am starting to see academics parrot these lines while fleeing from any association with file sharing. The facts are that many people file share because they do not see it as wrong or harmful. The following list of reasons is an answer to the sad flight away from protecting and justifying what most people see as acceptable. In the fight to free culture it is useful to point out that distribution of information has become free of cost and the law is the only thing stopping the free exchange of information and culture(and is doing so very poorly at that). File sharing is an action that reinforces how free culture really could be.

Seven reasons file sharing is compatible with free culture:

1. Monopoly Market Solution:
File sharing creates real pressure on the monopolistic market players to use business models that do not rely on locking way culture.

2. Civil Disobedience (which I strongly agree with):
File sharing is a form of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a way for people to send a message that they do not agree with legally locking away culture.

3. Non-excludable Media:
File sharing reminds people that culture is by nature non-excludable. File sharing attacks the core principle of exclusive control of culture. When people see that culture is non-excludable they are more likely to challenge the rational behind the laws that lock culture away.

4. Social Justice:
Should someone be locked out of culture based on their economic standing? No. File sharing creates access for those who can not afford access.

5. Creators Benefit from Access to Culture (On the Shoulders of Giants):
Culture grows through building on the past. We are not mere consumers we are participatory creators. Access to culture broadens our set of tools for expressing ourselves and creating new works.

6. Fair Use Argument (which I strongly agree with):
Access to culture is essential for expressing your fair use rights. How can one parody or speak out against that which is locked away from them. Access via file sharing makes commentary and critique much easier and more effective.

7. Art’s uniqueness
A piece of art has a unique place in the heart of each person who experiences it. While open-licensed software can functionally replace closed-licensed software, nothing can replace music and art that is closed-licensed. Many famous works of art are no longer available commercially. What a detriment to society to forbid us to share those pieces with others who were touched by them.

Closing Note:
I am not stating that file sharing is the only, best or ideal way to free culture, merely that it is a way, with some logical reasons supporting it and a lot of people doing it. Why not work with them, instead of against them?

I personally and professionally advocate for many different solutions to the current problems related to locked culture. These solutions range from educating people, and organizations about the advantages of freeing their work, to legalizing sampling and non-commercial sharing. At the same time, I respect those who act in other ways to free culture.

Brian Rowe