All the time on Slashdot in various discussions it is said that P2P is the best thing for artists and consumers alike. In reality, it's only good for consumers in terms of price, and not good for artists at all. I believe that if you download copyrighted work from P2P, you're hurting artists and legitimate fans but not hurting the recording industry one little bit. Most peoples' justifications for it are specious and based more around justifying people getting stuff for free than any kind of moral argument, and I intend to dissect some of the more common arguments for P2P in this post.
The "P2P is civil disobedience" argument
Trying to claim that P2P is a form of civil disobedience tarnishes the idea of civil disobedience as a form of political protest, and instead attempts to shift its focus to an act of selfishness (that is, getting free music). You're not hurting the record industry with your "protest"; the record industry, rather than scaling back lawsuits, will simply see the rise in P2P usage as a cause for alarm. Instead you're hurting the artists, who quite reasonably expect a return on their investment of time and money for entertaining you and all the other fans of their work.
The "Artists don't make anything from me buying CDs" argument
It is true that artists make a comparitively small (around 20 percent) amount of money for making a record. However, it is wrong to say that "middlemen" needlessly take the other 80 percent. Quite simply, there are more people involved in the making of a record that sounds good than just the artist and a record company.
For a start, we have studio engineers, who make sure all of the recording equipment is in good shape, who make sure it's all set up correctly and overall just make sure things work. Then we have the producers, who turn what may at the start be a rough-edged collection of songs into a saleable record. Imagine, for instance, what the Beatles would sound like without George Martin. The songs would sound far different to the versions many of us know and love.
Moving on from producers, we have the people employed by the studio in auxiliary tasks (for instance, tea ladies, secretaries, cleaners), cover designers (I imagine people such as Storm Thorgerson, who has created album covers for Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and Muse among others, don't come cheap), marketers and of course the record company and its shareholders. Yes, I include them as a deserving recipient of money from the sale of a CD; the label and its shareholders not only organise all of the above people for the band, but also bankroll them and invest money in them. Is it not unreasonable for them to expect a few cents a copy in return?
My point in all this is that by downloading instead of buying, you're not sticking it to the man. You're sticking it to lots of men and women who set out to make a good record, and making it very clear that you don't value the time and effort they've put in to helping make something they hope people enjoy.
As a sidenote, even if artists do only get 20% of the cost of a CD, I would imagine they prefer that to the nothing they get from P2P.
The "I download from P2P to get away from DRM" argument
DRM is nowhere near mandatory when buying music. If you buy and rip CDs, you not only get a choice of formats (you could rip to MP3, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, WMA, FLAC, Musepack, Monkey's Audio, or whatever format you have an encoder for) but you also (so long as you're not using Windows Media Player with its DRM setting switched on on to rip) don't get DRM on your music files. None whatsoever; no DRM, at all. You're free to do what you like with your CD, and you're able to exercise your fair use rights as you see fit.
If you don't like DRM, you need to realise that the music industry does not listen to posts on Slashdot. They only really have one concern, which is the bottom line. Simply don't buy music from DRMed places (or AllOfMP3, they're just as bad), maybe send them an email saying exactly why you don't want to buy DRMed music (again not stating P2P as your chosen alternative) and you'll get your point across. (By the way, the Sony rootkit is not an effective argument against buying CDs. Maybe it is against buying Sony CDs, but the rootkit is no longer present on Sony's CDs and wasn't ever present on EMI/Universal/independent CDs).
The "information wants to be free" argument
This type of argument usually states that P2P should be used because culture should be free, and sometimes because copyright laws are immoral. Quite simply, this argument is usually based more around a desire for free (as in beer) music than any overriding moral concern, and is an argument driven by selfishness more than anything.
This argument shows a complete disregard for an artist's choices when they release music; it is up to them, not you or anyone else, to decide how they do or do not want their music distributed and under what terms. By P2Ping music under the pretence that "information wants to be free", you're giving the finger to the artist, essentially saying "I enjoy your work, but I don't want you to have copyright over it so I can get it for free". Basically, you're thinking you're entitled to something when you clearly aren't.
If you don't like the idea of copyrighted music, there's plenty of artists who release their work under Creative Commons and similar licenses. You just shouldn't feel that you're entitled to major label or other copyrighted music under the same terms.
The "P2P helps spread new unsigned bands" argument
This argument completely ignores the motivation of most people who use P2P. They do not want to discover new music or help distribute unsigned bands; they want the same music that's in record shops for nothing. The people who do use P2P to discover new bands will have a very hard time. Most P2P software is built around simple keyword searches, not genre searches, and pirated music is overwhelmingly the most available form of music on the major networks. If you want to discover new and unsigned bands, you'd be better served having a browse through MySpace Music than P2P.
The "Try before you buy" argument
Again, overwhelmingly most people use P2P instead of buying music, instead of using it as a precursor to buying music. How many times have you heard people brag about how many songs or albums they've downloaded off BitTorrent or LimeWire? The people who do use P2P to sample music before they buy are almost certainly in the minority; if not on Slashdot, then in the world at large. Even so, there's no need to listen to a whole album all the way through to decide whether or not to buy it. Listen to the radio; buy singles; listen to previews on iTunes or Amazon.com. All of the above are perfectly legal and give you a good way to sample an album before buying it.
The "CDs are too expensive" argument
There's nothing stopping you buying used CDs off eBay or from Amazon. And the prices for CDs are reasonable, at least in my opinion. Consider the amount of work that went into making a record; well worth the money, especially considering you're getting a lossless copy of a work of art, complete with album art, unDRMed and most importantly sellable. If you don't like an album any more, you can sell your CD and make some money back. Also, many CDs are now available on mid-price, meaning they can be had for around £7 (about $14); this applies to albums by bands like Joy Division, The Smiths, Rage Against The Machine, Gorillaz, Radiohead, Muse, David Bowie, AC/DC...the list goes on and on.
I firmly believe that by downloading from P2P instead of buying music, all that happens is that artists and others involved in the production of works of art that people love are hurt financially. P2Ping devalues the time, effort and money invested in making music, and rather than acting as an effective protest against RIAA lawsuits and DRM simply strengthens the music industry's case for both In a more simplistic sense it is, of course, illegal. You may disagree with the idea of copyright and DRM, but you can't really disagree with the idea of respecting the wishes and choices of recording artists. If you don't like the recording industry, you don't have to illegally listen to major label music; there's plenty of independent music which you can listen to legally and for free, no P2P required.