I've long held this view myself. If we're serious about this, we should face it head on and defend the right to send files to one another as we please. The line I would draw is between commercial and noncommercial copying.
Copying someone else's work and making a profit off of it should be illegal. That, effectively, is what copyright law protected up until digital copying became a reality. Copyright violators used to be well-capitalized businessmen running their own printing presses. They were in it for the profit and could reasonably be said to be directly taking profit from the copyright holder.
Today, everyone is, or can be with trivial effort, a copyright violator. With that, the motive behind copyright violation has shifted from profiteering to sharing.
Not-for-profit sharing of copyrighted material should be legal. Such sharing results in wider dissemination of cultural works. It also does not directly take profit from the copyright holder: a free download is not equivalent to a sale.
As for the perceived threat to artists, you are right to point out that most of what we consder classic art did not depend on copyright for its creation. I would add two things:
- Great artists are often driven to create. The popular image of a starving artist exists because many artists do do this: many artists ignore commercialism and wages entirely and live very poorly, simply to be able to devote their time to their work. Put another way, it is crass to assume that the quality or quantity of art produced is directly dependent on money that is spent on it.
- Nevertheless, there exist ways for all types of art to make money. Many here have heard of these ideas, but here they are again:
- Movies are better in theaters because of the screen & speakers, and the joy of the collective experience; people will always pay for that.
- Music is fundamentally different when seen live; there will always be a market for live performances
- Books are, to many, easier and better to read in the physical format. This may change, though, as e-readers improve
- All cultural creators can still, of course, make money through the old methods: commissions, merchandising, as well as new methods, like self-publishing (Cory Doctorow has some interesting writings on his own experiences with this)
Fundamentally, though, we as a community have to move away from nit-picking takedowns like these, and address the issue head on. Copyright should be abolished for non-commercial copying.