The pros and cons of downloading music can be explored based on a few criteria, with the most controversial being if the downloaded music is legally acquired. Since Napster, the first peer-to-peer file sharing network made its debut in 1999 and subscription and pay-per-download technology like iTunes exploded, many have become involved in the debate concerning the logistical, ethical and financial repercussions of downloading music.
A pro is instantaneous access to the downloaded material. If you purchase an entire album online, you save money. The increase in file sharing availability has served to generate publicity for artists, particularly unknown or unsigned bands.
Those who appreciate packaging and liner notes or want to support their local record store should opt to pay a bit extra to own the album. Having all your music in electronic format threatens to wipe out your collection if something happens to your computer (or requires spending time backing it all up.)
Pros of Legal Downloading
Some artists are in support of controlled legal downloading and will release special tracks or entire albums available for online use only. Legal downloads save on cash and remove ethical questions from the equation.
Cons of Legal Downloading
Many artists and labels are against the practice and will not even allow paying and subscription sites to sell their music. Most profits from licensed downloads will go to the record label as opposed to the artist.
Pros of Peer to Peer Downloading
Peer-to-peer file sharing is often used for remixes, live performances, out-of-print recordings and alternate versions of songs that are not readily available for purchase. An instance of a beneficial use of downloading music that does not concern copyright infringement would be a Music Appreciation instructor having increased access to open domain music to aid in instruction.
Cons of Peer to Peer Downloading
Downloaded songs on peer-to-peer networks are often of low quality. A major con is that in giving other users access to your computer, viruses and pop-up advertising can be downloaded along with the music or required media players. With the increase of record labels pursuing lawsuits against those downloading music illegally, a con is the possibility of having to pay a hefty sum far exceeding the cost of an album or song purchased online.
Effect on the Music Industry
For those concerned about music downloading affecting the artist's pocketbook, advocates point out that bands get the bulk of their income from live shows and radio play and note this additional exposure increases the likelihood the listener will buy a concert ticket. CD sales do have an impact on the artist directly, with sluggish sales leaving record labels less likely to pay for those other sources of artist revenue. However, advocates point out that with the increase in technological advances and fans seeing the Internet (and sites like Last FM and MySpace Music) as a launching pad for new favorites, unsigned acts are in a better position than ever to self-produce albums and turn to the Internet to create a following.