Music at the Edge of Chaos: A Complex Systems Perspective on File Sharing

66 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2005

See all articles by Deborah S. Tussey

Deborah S. Tussey

Oklahoma City University School of Law


Peer-to-peer file sharing arose in the context of a system for production and distribution of music recordings. This article applies complexity theory and systems analysis to that system. It describes the music system as a complex system displaying universal characteristics of such systems, including nonlinearity, emergence, and unpredictability. P2P is an emergent phenomenon, which has fed back into the system and produced emergent responses, notably the iTunes business model and moderate digital rights management. These responses suggest that the music system is successfully adapting to the digital environment and has positioned itself "at the edge of chaos" where complex systems are most sustainable. Nonetheless, numerous proposals for legislative responses to file sharing are on the table. This article suggests several guidelines for successful regulation of complex systems such as the music system and applies those guidelines to current copyright reform proposals. I conclude that such proposals are premature and suggest that the current regulatory structure be left essentially intact for several years to allow the system reasonable time to adapt. During that period, Congress should monitor system conditions to ensure open competition and utilize independent observers to perform a thorough system analysis which could guide legislative intervention if it later proves necessary.

JEL Classification: O31, O33, O34, O38

Suggested Citation

Tussey, Deborah S., Music at the Edge of Chaos: A Complex Systems Perspective on File Sharing. Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Deborah S. Tussey (Contact Author)

Oklahoma City University School of Law ( email )

2501 North Blackwelder
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
United States
405-208-5422 (Phone)

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