Retailers, consumers and the Recording Industry Assn. of America have been debating file-sharing issues ad nauseum. Now, it's the musician's turn.

Artists are sharply divided on whether they think file-sharing is a good or evil force for their careers, according to new research. The Pew Internet & American Life Project rolled out its preliminary findings on musician's opinions on copyright and file-sharing at the Future of Music Coalition Summit in Washington, D.C., May 1-2.

"These conflicting views make sense when you think that musicians recognize the need to promote their work (through file-sharing services) but also recognize the potential threats to the industry," says Mary Madden, Pew research specialist and co-author of the study.

The report comes on the heels of a new round of copyright-infringement suits the Recording Industry Assn. of America filed against 477 suspected file-sharers.

According to the report, 35% of the 2,755 people surveyed say peer-to-peer file-sharing services are not bad because they drum up buzz for artistic works. However, 23% say the services are bad because they let people take copyrighted music for free and without permission. The other 35% say they agree with both views.

Musicians were asked to respond between March 15 and April 15, 2004. They were contacted through industry groups such as the Future of Music Coalition, Just Plain Folks, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, CD Baby, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

The bulk of the respondents are artists who make 1%-19% of their income from music. Only 8% earn 100% of their income this way.

Acts are also split on who they think is responsible for illegal file sharing: 37% say both individuals and those who run file-sharing services are to blame; 21% say no one is responsible; 17% blame file-sharing services only, and 12% say individual swappers are exclusively at fault.

Madden notes that "many questions asked whether artists should have complete control over the material they copyright. And the vast majority do say they should have complete control. But in some situations, they expressed that they have benefitted in some way in letting the material out."

About 67% want absolute control over copyrighted material. But 28% says the copyright holder should have some control, while 3% said very little control.

Artists are also conflicted about how best to deal with illegal file-sharing. Some 60% of those surveyed believe the RIAA's suits won't benefit musicians and songwriters; 22% said the legal actions will help; and 18% said they didn't know.

Pew is a non-partisan group whose mission is to study the impact of the Web. For more information, check out www.pewinternet.org.

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