Fair use protects competition by guaranteeing that companies can reverse engineer software so that their products will work and ‘interoperate’ with the products of their competitors. Fair use guarantees journalists, scholars and ordinary citizens the right to quote and abstract from others’ writings, and so buttresses basic rights of free expression. And fair use guarantees that technological innovations such as the Internet itself, whose very function is to copy information from one place to another, can operate normally without running afoul of copyright law. Fair use thus helps to ensure that the benefits of copyright accrue to the public. It produces a multiplier effect without which we would all be poorer.
from Fair Use in the US Economy: Economic Contribution of Industries Relying on Fair Use (pdf), a report prepared for the Computer & Communications Industry Association. Commentary from Ars.
Is it that clear cut? Are most illegal downloaders expressing a desire for a fairer use, or are they simply digital criminals? Although the argument can be made the the music, tv and film industries are slow to adapt to competition in the digital era, they are, by at least some perspectives, making less money. Maybe a more relevant question is, will this issue be resolved through legislation, or simple economics consequences of the “darknet?”