Saturday, September 23, 2006

TECHNO ETHICS: The Price of Free Downloads

The internet has rapidly changed the way we live our lives, including work, communication, information gathering, and entertainment. Virtually anything can be found with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks – not all of which is completely legal. Yet many of us are prepared to fracture the odd law or two if it means easy access to a desired song, television program or blockbuster movie. This is something that Executives of music and media organisations have been slower to catch on to than what fileshare software designers have been. From a consumer perspective, the key to illegal downloads isn't just the fact that they are free (or very cheap), it is the fact that they are so easily accessible.

Today’s blog entry has been inspired by a web site called which for a lifetime joining fee of £4.95 will show any live Premier League, as well as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese football matches that are being broadcast, this may be great news for those who do not wish to subscribe to subscription or pay-per-view sports channels – but it is not such great news for the channels themselves, or the football clubs that rely on television revenue. This is not the only site offering such services, another site called Live Footy offer a free service but to fewer channels. The main ethical consideration that many of us simply choose to ignore when utilising such services is the fact that somebody somewhere has taken the time to create the entertainment that we download for free, and our not-paying-for-it means reduced revenues for media companies which in turn means reduced royalties to artists and entertainers.

The music industry have finally cottoned on to the fact that people are downloading more and buying less, and so have sites like iTunes and other music download sites are beginning to appear. The TV industry is also catching on to this, and in the US certain TV programs can now be downloaded for a small fee. How long will it be before pay-per-view and subscription sports channels take up this also and begin to offer services via the web at a reduced cost? Lessons to be learned from the music industry would suggest that doing this sooner rather than later may help to reduce the number of people who live in a culture that accepts free and illegal downloads as the norm.

There are numerous web pages dedicated to the impact of downloads on the music, broadcast media, and cinema industries, some of which are linked below.

Other pages of interest and relevance (I'll add more as I find them):

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