Intellectual property rights
My boyfriend bought the latest copy of Wired Magazine, in part because it has a mix disc on it with artists we like and in part because it has some articles about file-sharing and the movement to rewrite copywrite law. It's all very interesting, but they manage to skirt around the real issues at stake here when they just call file-sharing "stealing" and leave it at that. The real issue that's been exposed in the file-sharing battles is whether or not the concept of "intellectual property" can survive in its current form.
The idea that creating something gives you ownership over it is a convienent lie that was crafted in order to give artists a way to make money at what they do and also to keep people from taking work and passing it off as their own. In the latter case, though, we don't really need to give someone "ownership" over something to protect them. All we need is a general rule that creating something gives you the right to call yourself the creator, a right no one else has. But the notion that a creator has some kind of "ownership" over things like music or writing just isn't likely to survive the current battles. In the fight over file-sharing, everyone is beginning to deconstruct the concept of "authority" and "intellectual property".
The recording industry is trying to force smart people to accept that music is something that can be owned and restricted in the same way that something with physical heft, like a car or a plot of land, can be. But music is temporal--when you go see a band perform, everyone in the audience "owns" the experience as much as the performers do. It's Criticism 101--interpretation is part of creation and the audience for something lays as much claim to it as the artist.
In the pre-digital era, it was easy to straddle the line between the legal lie that an artist "owns" their work and the reality that everyone who listens to a song takes some part in the "ownership" of it, all because there was actual physical property that was required to experience the music that symbolized these concepts. You didn't purchase the music, you bought a piece of vinyl. You couldn't steal music itself, but you could shoplift a album from the store. But digital recordings have no discernible physicality, which means that music is once again being perceived as an experience, a temporal thing. Even downloading is temporal. You can pay to have an experience, sure. But you can't "own" it.
I don't know what the answer is to make it so that artists can get paid for what they do. But I think it's clear that you can't undo what's done--the concept of "intellectual property" is damaged beyond repair. Instead of trying to turn back the clock, it's time to start looking for new methods to pay people for what they do.