Perhaps it is a good thing at this point to point out that there are, in essence, actually two types of file sharers - the people who casually download the odd song or two, and the people who download whole albums constantly, adding about twenty albums to their collection a day. This article defends the first kind, as the second kind are evil. Full stop, no question.

It was started on a mass scale with the birth of Napster five years ago, and despite the shut down of Napster after legal intervention, the pirates recollected, like cockroaches after a nuclear war, and continued on in their "dirty" practices. KaZaA, Morpheus, WinMX, BitTorrent, DirectConnect, SoulSeek... the list goes on and on, making it ever so easy for the average person to receive music without paying a dime, penny, euro or yen to anyone. But does anyone stop to think this is wrong? The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) wishes someone would.

The RIAA say: "Each year, the industry loses about $4.2 billion to piracy worldwide -- we estimate we lose millions of dollars a day to all forms of piracy." By not paying for their music, the people of the world are not paying the record industry, and so, the record industry is losing out. But can they really prove that they lose money as a direct result of online piracy? After all, there are so many other arguments for why people are no longer buying music.

iTunes is the biggest reason, and the solid proof that the record industry isn't losing money solely to online piracy. iTunes is apparently the latest hip thing to hit universities, although it is also popular in other places in society. The principle of iTunes is that you download music, after paying a very small fee for it - usually in the regions of a dollar. Since the people using iTunes are still paying for music, it points to the suggestion that perhaps piracy isn't the reason for the loss of sales in the music industry. The industry is simply afraid of a little competition, and now the fact that people can buy music for much cheaper than the ridiculous prices the record industry offers, the industry is in panic. After all, they've been threatened by people who can sell music much cheaper than the mainstream shops before - who remembers a time when the industry tried to shut down the internet music shop CDWow, purely because they were selling CDs at a - shock - fair and - horror - reasonable price, thanks to the wonders of importing? Probably none of you, but it happened.

And then, there's the infamous argument that downloading music is destroying the musicians' careers - but where's the proof of this? The majority of money from the sale of a CD goes straight to the record executives, not the musicians. The musicians don't seem to mind either: Matt Bellamy of Muse, and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand have both spoken out, saying that file sharing is a wonderful thing. This may not seem like conclusive evidence, but remember that Franz Ferdinand are a band that rely heavily on mainstream, single-buying, teeny-boppers for their sales, so if they aren't against file sharing, who really should be? (Oh yeah, cheap shot at Franz Ferdinand! Score!) Unless you are a huge band, a lá Aerosmith or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you're not going to make much money from CD sales, whether file sharing existed or not.

The RIAA however, are not convinced that file sharing is superb, and are very set on the idea that downloading music is an evil quite akin to oppressing millions of people in a totalitarian state. Just take a look at one of their attempts to stop file sharing, which relies a lot on the common American hatred of all things Communist:

Advertising aside, the RIAA have also been suing people in the States left, right and centre. No doubt these people were the second kind of file sharers mentioned at the beginning of this article. Fair play to the RIAA, but they shouldn't use their scare tactics on anyone who casually downloads music, as the casual download is helping the common musician.

Now that suitable defence against the reasons why file sharing is bad has been provided, let's move onto the reasons why file sharing is a good thing, and hopefully persuade you (or reassure) that file sharing isn't as evil as some people would have you believe.

Many people simply download songs because they don't want to pay the price of a CD for only one or two songs that they like on that CD. (The quality of music of course is another point why the industry is losing money - the music produced today is quickly becoming total dirge, meaning no one wants to buy it - but that's another story altogether.) Is this so wrong? The industry is technically cheating you out of money, forcing you to buy things you don't want. Another reason people download is that it helps them find new bands. Many will hear about a band, download one or two songs, and then actually go out and buy the whole album. Now, the record industry claims that each downloaded song is the loss of a legitimate sale, yet this downloading just caused a legitimate sale. How does the industry like them apples, I wonder.

With the discovery of music a person might not have heard about without file sharing, it becomes obvious - file sharing is helping music and bands. In particular, the file sharing is helping smaller bands. For a loss of a little bit of money to the globally-known bands, the file sharing community is promoting and showcasing the music of the unsigned, and even the freshly signed. Touring is where bands really earn their money, and this can only happen through their obscurity being eliminated. So, rather than killing small bands, downloading music is actually allowing tiny bands a better chance at making it big than twenty years ago.

To sum up the situation, the casual downloading of music is allowing people to not be cheated by the record industry, and is also allowing the musicians a chance to make it big in the world of music, whether it be rock, pop, classical or jazz. The only real loser here is the record industry, but that doesn't justify them taking away the privileges of the casual downloader - their only real enemy is the hardcore downloader, the second type of file sharer mentioned at the beginning. So, please, don't see file sharing as evil - music is for everyone, not just the record companies' bank balances.