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Survey: Many US Recording Artists Favor File Sharing

Many American musicians do not share the views of the recording industry when it comes to downloading music from the Internet. A new study finds that approximately one third of all U.S. recording artists believe that free downloading should be lawful, and half believe the Internet is a valuable marketing tool.

"A lot of people think of the Internet as their 24-hour business card, their 24-hour-a-day music shop, because there are so many ways musicians can sell their music online," says Kristin Thomson, a guitarist in a rock band and a member of the Future of Music Coalition. The non-profit group took part in the survey, which was organized by the private Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Many recording industry executives insist that unlimited file sharing on so-called "peer-to-peer" networks on the Internet is nothing more than stealing - and undermines the ability of many musicians to earn a living. Ms. Thomson says the public does commonly believe that free file sharing hurts musicians and reduces record sales. But she says perceptions are different among artists themselves.

"There are some musicians -- about a third in this case -- that think file sharing is okay because it helps them promote their music and it helps them find out about others' music," Ms. Thomson says. "87% of the musicians say they actually provide samples or short snippets of their music on their own websites so people can get a snippet of what they sound like. So I do like it. I think it's a great inspirational tool."

Industry executives - like attorney Jay Rosenthal of the Recording Artists' Coalition -- argue that peer-to-peer file sharing is diminishing the career prospects of young musicians. The group represents musicians with contracts to major studio labels. "Because of peer-to-peer, five to ten years ago you had a chance to sell a million records and become a national star," says Mr. Rosenthal. "But today you only have a chance to sell 20,000 records and you'll probably be playing regionally for the rest of your career. That's a tough thing to look at a young artist and say."

Mr. Rosenthal believes the whole system of creating and selling music in America has gone into "a downward spiral" because of what some digital music users regard as harmless acts of sharing over the Internet: "They try to rationalize it by saying, 'It's just the record labels, we're not hurting the artists, the artists get paid anyway,'" he says.

Instead, he argues, it ends up hurting emerging artists. "The major acts who make the big money fund all the young acts that are signed to the label," Mr. Rosenthal explains. "A major act, for instance, who used to sell 16 million copies of a record and is now only selling five, maybe that still helps that particular artist. But it stops that label from signing five to ten new artists to make sure there's new art coming through the system."

Guitarist Kristin Thomson agrees there are drawbacks to giving people free access to music on the web. But she believes the technology has helped boost her career because it compensates artists in other ways -- such as helping them connect with fans and offering a venue for music that isn't played on the radio or given shelf space in major record store chains. "So here comes the Internet -- unlimited shelf space, unlimited bandwidth," she says. "As long as you have a promotional plan of some sort and a way to attract people to your website, it's much easier for bands to sell music in CD or digital form, to let them know about shows, and to let people hear your stuff."

The Pew Internet and American Life Project conducted the survey by contacting nearly 3,000 musicians online through organizations that include the Future of Music Coalition, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and other musicians groups. Representatives at Pew acknowledge that, of the musicians surveyed, most were not signed to major record labels and supported themselves in jobs not related to music.

That leads Jay Rosenthal of the Recording Artists Coalition to criticize the study for not representing the interests of professional recording musicians. But independent artists like Kristin Thomson say she is glad the survey exists. Before legislative decisions are made about peer-to-peer file sharing, she says a voice should be given to the majority of artists who may not be making money, but are still making music, with help from the Internet.