December 5, 2004

Artists, Musicians and the Internet

Part 1. Introduction

This is the first large-scale study that looks at artists’ and musicians’ use of the internet and their views on copyright.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s interest in studying artists and musicians grew out of our previous work studying internet users’ consumption of music and other creative content online. Through a series of reports on music downloading and file-sharing, we have observed and documented the changing behaviors and attitudes of an American public learning to negotiate the ever-changing copyright landscape of the digital world.2

However, over the course of observing the explosive growth and persistence of peer-to-peer networks, and following the entertainment industry’s ongoing efforts to police these activities and promote licensed digital music services, we found that there were few sources of quantitative research directed at understanding how these issues affect both musicians and the greater creative community. We found ourselves hard-pressed to answer some of the most basic questions about artists and the internet. For instance, how many artists have access to the internet? How many promote and sell their work online? How are they using the internet to develop their work, their connections to other artists, or their connections to audiences and the world-at-large? How do they feel about controversies over copyright and fair use of creative material in the heyday of peer-to-peer systems like the original Napster and the current Kazaa and BitTorrent?

The debate about copyright in the digital era has primarily centered on the recording industry’s opposition to unauthorized file-sharing and downloading, a stance that has been both lauded and criticized by popular musicians. This clash over new technology grows out of a long history of disputes between business and artists about the proper balance between creators, the people who pay for and market creations, and consumers who want access to large catalogs of digital music files and argue that there are many non-infringing uses of peer-to-peer. While music has been at the forefront of this discussion, the movie industry has also recently began suing individual downloaders.

The U.S. Copyright Office Web site defines “fair use” as a limitation on copyright that allows for certain reproductions of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. 

In our surveys between 2000 and 2003, we found growing numbers of music downloaders who said they didn’t care about the copyright on the files they were acquiring. Technology firms accommodated this demand by creating and marketing an ever-widening array of devices to copy and store music files. Moreover, the growth of home broadband connections has made it progressively easier to share and download MP3 files.

The recording industry’s response to this apparent apathy towards copyright and the ease of getting free files online was to file more than 7,000 lawsuits directed against alleged file-sharers since September 2003. After the first legal actions by the RIAA, the number of people who said in our surveys that they downloaded music files dropped dramatically but has since rebounded to a degree.3

Economic analysis of recorded music sales data and its relationship to music file-sharing activity is ongoing. At the same time, there is much to be learned from studying developments on the ground level. In the end, the future of any industry whose content can be digitized hinges on the creativity and innovation of artists.

But there are strong concerns within the artistic community, and by prominent legal scholars, about the effectiveness of current copyright terms and their enforcement in the online world. Some argue that our understanding of copyright law has strayed far from its original purpose and that the internet calls for an inherently different interpretation of what constitutes copyright infringement and what qualifies as fair use of digitized works. Furthermore, many have raised concerns about the practical difficulties of the permissions process for creators and that too few new works are passing into the public domain.

Artists are avid consumers as well as creators of online content. They often borrow from previous works and use that for inspiration for their own creativity. They represent the leading edge of media consumption online. Yet artists’ perspectives and first-hand experiences with the internet – both those of musicians and the larger creative community – have rarely been examined at the national level.

There are good reasons for this apparent gap in studying artists as consumers as well as producers. They are a notoriously difficult group to define with objective measures and are often prohibitively expensive to contact in large numbers. Musicians, in particular, are often required to travel extensively, which makes them difficult to reach with traditional telephone survey methods. 

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has undertaken several research initiatives to begin to probe these issues of how musicians and artists use the internet and how they feel about the copyright issues that have emerged in the digital age. There were three core research instruments for this study: First, a random and nationally representative telephone survey in December 2003 of 809 American adults who said they are artists. Second, a non-random online survey of 2,793 musicians, songwriters and music publishers distributed through musician membership organizations was conducted on the Web from March 15-April 15, 2004. Our analysis focuses on 2,755 musicians and songwriters within that sample. The survey is self-selecting and non-projectable onto the general population of musicians. It is the first survey of its kind and brings many  new voices and perspectives into the debates about copyright and file sharing. The third instrument was a nationally-representative, random-digit-dial survey of 2,013 American adults (18 and older) fielded between November 18-December 14, 2003.

The findings from these three surveys, while covering similar themes, are discussed in separate sections of the report in order to emphasize the important methodological differences between the samples. Additionally, each sample serves a different purpose, so we anticipate that some readers will appreciate having the data presented discretely in the sections that follow.

The national sample of self-identified artists allowed us to ask questions of a broad, random, and representative sample of self-identified artists from around the country, to gather baseline data on internet use by a wide range of artists in the U.S. and probe their opinions on copyright issues online. However, reflecting both the well-known challenges of recruiting artists for research purposes and the conventional wisdom about the small number of career artists in the U.S., this sample was limited in its ability to include a large number of artists who rely almost exclusively on artistic work for their livelihood.

The sample of online musicians, while not representative, allowed us to reach several thousand respondents, including a substantial portion of career musicians (those we define as “Success Stories” and “Starving Musicians” in the report) who have a considerable stake in discussing both the positive and negative effects of free downloading online. The musician survey, because it was administered online, also gave us a chance to ask a more thorough list of questions about the internet that was uniquely catered to musical performers and songwriters.

Finally, the random and nationally representative sample of American adults provided a glimpse of how the views and experiences of average consumers compare to those of the creative public.