File Sharing: Friend or Foe?

Early last week, the offices of The Pirate Bay in Sweden were raided and subsequently the site was shut down. The website provided magnet links and torrent files to enable peer-to-peer file sharing using the BitTorrent protocol, or in English; a website where you could download films, television programmes, music, games and much more. Obviously the site was illegal, and after years of creating alternate sites after the originals were found out, it was eventually completely shut down last week. For some people – mainly artists of the industries – this is a God send, however, for the many of us who can barely afford to feed themselves, this is a living nightmare.

Yes it is illegal, and yes it is technically stealing, yet there are so many people who do it. The industries may be making less money, but I don’t think it’s going to bankrupt Beyoncé or Brangelina anytime soon. When a cinema ticket for an adult costs around £8-10, can you really blame people for wanting to watch a film without having to pay this extortionate price? And the price doesn’t just stop there. Firstly you have to get to a cinema, which unless you live opposite one, you’re going to have to travel to in some way. Then you get there and would quite like to be able to have a drink or a snack whilst watching a film, so you then fork out a ridiculous amount for a Coke and a packet of sweets; it ends up being a pretty expensive 2-3 hours. Thank God for Orange Wednesdays though, right? Oh wait, as of February 2015 that will no longer exist either! I do enjoy going to the cinema and you really can’t beat watching a film on the big screen, but I can only ever afford to go once or twice a year. Just as it can be argued that it isn’t fair for people to not pay to watch films, it’s just as unfair that people who struggle financially have to miss out on such a prevalent part of popular culture.

In my first year of uni in one of my media classes, the room was divided in two with one side being for online file sharing (which I was a part of), and the other against it. We won. Our argument mainly discussed the music industry and the downloading of songs and albums, but I think we made some pretty good points. Online file sharing provides an opportunity for new and aspiring artists to become well known and create a fan base. With online file sharing often being free, it is accessible for so many people and through word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends, new artists can so easily get the recognition that they need to start their career. Our opposition then, of course, argued that these new artists would not be making enough money, but we argued that while they may not initially be earning a lot of money, this would come with time. In other words, by building up a devoted fan base and getting themselves ‘out there’, they would then have the foundations to gain money from events such as concerts and festivals, and from merchandise that they could sell at these.

I think that in the technology reliant society we live in, the film and music industries need to be prepared to accept the fact that if something is available to someone for free, they will take it. Where efforts have been made with platforms like Netflix to create an affordable viewing experience, I think that there is more that can be done. People who download films for free often do so because of the ease of access in terms of both affordability and the fact that you don’t even have to leave your bed. If there was a service where you could buy or rent films online at the same time that they were out in the cinema, and for a fraction of the price, this could start to bring in money. Cinemas offer a member scheme where you pay a certain amount a month for unlimited viewings, so why not make this accessible at home?

I’m not saying that illegal file sharing and downloading things for free is a good thing, because of course it is not. But I am saying that I can understand why it is done, and that surely there needs to be an alternative which suits both the industries and the consumers?