Webwatch: Down to the Wire

Following Limewire’s recent demise, Emer Sugrue examines whether the end is nigh for illegal music downloadingLast week saw the demise of the bafflingly popular Limewire. After a four-year battle with the Recording Industry Association of America, a federal court in New York issued a “permanent injunction” against them, shutting the operation down permanently.Although this is just one of many peer-to-peer downloading services, this ruling is ominous. The US recorded music sales fell from $14.5bn in 1999 to $7.7bn in 2009, and the blame is being laid squarely at the internet’s massive omnipresent feet. But how fair is this accusation?For the first time in human history, people have been able to separate a physical property from the intellectual property. In the past, if you wanted some music, you would buy a record or tape. You weren’t just buying the music, but the company’s production costs. Each extra record would cost the company a small amount of money to produce and you ended up with a physical entity in your hand. Now producing extra copies has no cost at all. One MP3 costs the same to make as a hundred million.Other production costs have fallen too. Music can now be recorded cheaply by artists themselves while being distributed on MySpace and YouTube with no studio or money changing hands. Studio backing is still the way to make it big, but it’s now possible to go it alone.Over the last century, the idea of music has changed enormously, from being indivisible from a person playing an instrument or singing nearby to a piece of plastic, to nothing – it is a digital file essentially, a series of ones and zeros. It’s very hard to make people pay for that. With the rise of the internet age, it’s imperative that the existence of purely intellectual property is recognised. How to do this? I have no idea. Maybe steal all those hippies’ DeviantArt drawings, see how they like it.As for piracy itself, the Limewire decision probably won’t have much effect. There are better ways of downloading anyway, though it will probably inhibit the more technological inept among us. Most will move on to Bittorrent, and illegal downloading will continue full flow. But the net is closing in.