Oh dear he doesn't look so happy.

In the last few days since the Demos study was released showing that Pirates spend more on music per year than those who choose to source their music legally, discussion about Piracy has become popular on the Internet once more.  Now that Piracy has been well and truly thrust into the public eye it’s given people like me an opportunity to see and hear for myself what the average person thinks when it comes to Piracy.

What I have seen concerns me somewhat in that people don’t really seem to understand what Piracy actually is.  The average person who claims to be against Piracy and p2p sharing lumps it in with simple theft, something that angers me and just isn’t true.

  • Piracy is not theft.
  • Theft takes the original.
  • Piracy makes a copy.
  • Piracy is Piracy.

What this all boils down to is copyright law as it stands today.  Media is produced by an artist or a director and the rights to that content are owned by a single organisation, whether it be a record company or a film studio.  The current model is based on capitalism and the scarcity of content.  The analogy i tend to use when explaining this is of diamonds and water.  Diamonds are scarce and water is in abundance, so because the current market works on the basis of supply and demand, a vendor can sell a diamond for thousands of pounds and this is generally accepted by the people.  You wouldn’t think to sell a bottle of water for anything close to the price of diamonds because it is in abundance and so readily available.  No one in their right mind would pay £1000 for a litre of water but would happily spend that amount on a diamond.  So, in this respect the current system works.

However, when it comes to digitally produced content such as a film or a piece of music which can be reproduced ad infinitum, the current system crumbles.  Because the product is no longer scarce the justification for an album or a movie being sold for their current prices goes out of the window.  In the days of Vinyl and reel-to-reel where copying was an expensive and time-consuming practice, the system worked perfectly.  Today however, I’m almost certain that even the most novice of computer users can take a CD, store its contents in near-CD quality on their hard drive and host it on the Internet for the world to share.  At this point the copyrighting system crumbles and is obsolete.

When the RIAA and the MPCA tried to clamp down on this and make examples of people a couple of years back, fining downloaders hundreds of thousands of dollars for filesharing, the Pirate community and those in favour of free distribution of idigital content went up in arms.  Anti-piracy organisations the world over have tried to thwart filesharing and p2p activities by sharing hoax releases and monitoring known p2p and Bit Torrent ports, but time and again the Pirate community has managed to find ways around these methods.  Applications such as Peerguardian hide your computer’s personal information effectively making you invisible to anti-piracy organisations and can be freely downloaded from multiple websites in a matter of seconds.  Some websites even promote applications like these and guides to new Bit Torrent users often include links to apps like Peerguardian in efforts to protect the members of this ever-expanding community.  It certainly seems that the people will always find ways around even the most extreme methods employed by anti-piracy organisations.

Governments and copyright protectors need to understand that the current system absolutely must change.  In a time where more and more people are employing Piracy as a means to aquire content, we cannot stand idly by and let these organisations make criminals of us all.  I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t downloaded something through illegal methods, whether it be ripping a YouTube video or a program from the iPlayer, using Kazzaa or Limewire, Bit Torrent or even FTP and Newsgroup applications.  I am more than aware of the effect that digital reproduction and p2p has had on the music and film industry, but I am skeptical of the scale of its impact.  I also do not agree with the argument that “If there is no monetary gain from the production of artistic content, people will stop producing”.  As an avid musician myself, I am certainly not put off by the fact that I might not make as much money now as I would have, say 20 years ago.  For me the recognition and appreciation alone would be the greatest reward.  If anything, knowing that people were employing any method they could to listen to my music would fill me with an immense pride and a sense of great satisfaction.  I am aware that man cannot live off praise alone, but that’s not to say that my success in the music industry would not open other avenues of income.  Artists are sponsored by companies to use their equipment, paid to perform live in venues with sell out crowds and have their works used in film, television and advertising, but let’s not forget that through all of this, there will always be album sales.  Granted, the money made from album sales may not be as high as if the album had been released 20 years ago, but albums will still sell nonetheless.

Soulja Boy Tellem is an American rapper who made his fame through online portals Youtube and Myspace.  In an interview with Billboard in late December 2008 the rapper gives us an insight into his income.  Since becoming famous off the back of tracks such as Crank That (62,341,305 views as of writing) released in 2007, he’s gone on to much larger things.  Currently signed with the Interscope Records (part of the Universal group), his debut album (launched July 13, 2007) had sold in excess of 943,000 copies as of December 2008.  Crank That was the most downloaded track in 2007 according to Nielsen SoundScan.  His music may be utterly abysmal, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not a complete success.  Stories such as Soulja Boy’s really go to show that even in this eara of rife downloading it is still possible to make vast sums of money from the music industry in the face of Piracy in such an incredibly short space of time.  He’s even quoted as saying;

“Really, I don’t depend on royalty checks to make money.  Those only come but every six months, how I make most money is from shows.  I get up to $75,000 for each, and I might do up to 20 shows a month.”

Not every artist will make the money that this miserable excuse for a rapper has made, but there will be people whose success will come from their use of social media and the technologies that are so readily available.  Rapidshare and Megaupload make it incredibly easy for artists to upload EPs or albums and places such as Twitter, Myspace Music and Facebook offer an incredible advertising potential.  Merging the two means that artists can send messages to their entire fanbase containing links to either of the aforementioned sites, which their fans can then navigate to and access the music they enjoy so much.  This then means they have copies to pass onto everyone they know.  Potentially an infinite number of copies can be made onto almost any kind of digital writable media and distributed in an ad-hoc fashion, essentially free advertising through the free distribution of music.  This method alone will not pay the rent, but if this music’s good enough it will almost certainly open other avenues for monetary gain.

A friend of mine calls it a double-edged sword and I agree.  I would hate to think of the artists I enjoy halting their music production purely because they’re not making as much money as they used to (frankly, i would hope that the musicians I’m into would be above that), but I don’t think that Piracy is as big an issue as the authorities would lead you to believe.  Clearly from the case study above, people still talk with their wallets even in this day and age.  Artists will continue to make money if the people want to access their work, be it recorded or live in a venue for all to see.  I do not see Piracy as the death of the music industry, merely a wake up call to those in charge.  It is truly a sign of the times when all the music industry’s efforts to stop Piracy just aren’t working, and if you want to argue that they are?  Then I urge you to go to The Pirate bay and read the letters they’ve received from the RIAA, the MPAA and other conglomerate businesses threatening legal action, then go to their top 100 list and see what’s there for the taking.

Until the model changes artists and companies will continue to suffer.  Don’t blame the Pirates.  Blame the people who regulate and control your content.

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