Musicadium Guest Blog: Why Piracy can be a Good Thing

July 15, 2009

For the past month or so I’ve been interning with Musicadium, a digital distribution company based in the Valley. They were kind enough to feature me as a guest writer on their blog, so naturally I thanked them by writing a post about why music piracy can be a good thing. Oops. But, contrary to my expectations they liked it, and it’s now gone live. Head on over to for the read, or check out a full copy after the jump.

From the Carribean to the Computer: Is Internet Piracy really such a bad thing?

PiracyIt’s a pretty common assumption in the entertainment industries that piracy is BAD- we’ve all sat through that ad before your DVD starts (Downloading. Pirated. Movies. Is. STEALING!). The introduction of the Internet has meant that anyone now can be a pirate; all it takes is a computer and a click of a button. In the music business in particular, it’s detrimental for artists, distributors, record labels and pretty much everyone involved. And of course, Big Music (namely the big 4 record companies) has taken a decidedly negative stance towards piracy.

Well, there’s going to be none of that negativity today. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that piracy can actually have some positive outcomes for the music business. Gasp!

Now I’m not saying everyone should drop what they’re doing, stop buying CD’s (or downloading iTunes albums, whatever floats your boat) and head to The Pirate Bay to grab the latest music, movies or season of Desperate Housewives. After all, we are a digital distribution company…we want to ensure artists are actually rewarded for their art.

What I am saying though, is when you look beyond the crazed record company executive waving about figures of declining sales, there is actually some benefit to piracy in a culture like ours. Many may scoff at this, but bear with me, because to prove my point first we need to take a look at some piracy throughout history…

[You Want History?]

It’s fairly acceptable to think that music piracy came about with the introduction of the Internet. Suddenly technology made music available for everyone to download from the comfort of their own home. Then came the lawsuits. High profile cases like Napster and Metallica made headlines around the world. But music piracy is not such a recent crime: everyday people were pirates long before.

Sealand: The world's smallest country.

Sealand: The world’s smallest country.

Let’s rewind back to 1960’s Britain. Long before any form of personal computer existed, the main way of broadcasting music was via radio. However, one particular organization had control of what reached the airwaves and eventually the public. Sound familiar? But the public wasn’t satisfied. In retaliation, pirate radio stations began popping up. We’ve all seen The Boat That Rocked. It’s actually based on fact. Radio Essex, a UK based pirate station, went as far as to inhabit an old navy sea-fort re-named ‘The Principality of Sealand’ in order to bypass UK laws on pirate broadcasting. It even had its own postage stamps.

Fast-forward a couple of decades: does anyone remember high-speed dubbing? While certainly not glamorous, it too was a form of piracy. I remember as a child sitting around all day listening to the radio poised by the cassette recorder, so I could record my favourite songs for keepsakes. Scary to think I could have had the lawsuits stacking up against me.

[Shot in the Back of the Head]

I could go on and on about examples of piracy in history (there’s plenty more). Despite the differences in medium, these so-called ‘pirates’ have all had something in common: they were filling a need that mainstream society could not (or would not) provide. The same thing goes for piracy today. People are illegally downloading music because Big Music hasn’t adapted to consumer’s needs and wants. The public is no longer accepting of the current business models forced upon them by the Big 4 record companies. Piracy in this instance is exactly the same as those in the past: a sign that things need to start changing around here. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t want to give my cash to companies that make their revenue from suing everyday people. It’s really no wonder so many people are turning to piracy; surely this cannot be a successful business model.

In this panic about piracy, the dominant voices always seem to be those of ‘Big Music’ companies. But what about the musicians themselves? Surely they too are affected. I’ve known of some entrepreneurial artists actually ‘leak’ their music onto the torrents themselves, in order to gain buzz. Can piracy be used as free publicity? Of course we’ve all heard of what Radiohead did in 2007 for their In Rainbows LP. It made headlines all around the world. More recently, I read an article that interviewed Moby about his up and coming album. He was greatly amused that the lead single ‘Shot in the Back of the Head’, which he released as a free download, was also his highest selling on iTunes. Maybe when artists take matters into their own hands, people are more willing to take the legal high road. I for one would definitely be more willing to pay for a record that I knew would go back to the artist instead of a money-hungry CEO.

Of course leaking albums to the net has negative aspects as well. As soon as an album hits cyberspace, the artist completely loses control. Earlier this year Grizzly Bear’s latest album Veckatimest leaked before its official release, but in sound quality that can only be described as terrible. Obviously in this instance it wasn’t leaked on purpose, but the band had to ramp up marketing measures for higher-quality alternatives to ensure years of hard work making an excellent album weren’t in vain.

[Changing Times, Changing Tunes]

Remember this campaign?

Remember this campaign?

With the announcement recently that in Australia JB Hi-Fi will no longer be selling CD singles, no one can deny that the digital revolution is well and truly in full swing. More people than ever (particularly for single tracks) are downloading- whether it be illegally or through legal means like iTunes. Despite Big Music’s best efforts, piracy is still a major contention between industry big wigs, musicians themselves and the greater listening public. I’m not so naive to say that there is one simple solution to the problem of music piracy. But it will continue to be an issue until people start changing their tune. It is up to Big Music to begin acting, instead of simply reacting, to these changes in the industry.

I must stress again that I’m not actually encouraging piracy. I still believe it can be detrimental to artists. But when most of the money from bought music goes to big record companies anyway, my sympathy levels start dropping dramatically. It would be impossible to get every side of this argument in a blog of this size, but there’s a whole lot of literature out there that inspired this post and is great further reading. I encourage everyone to go and download ‘The Pirate’s Dilemma’ by Matt Mason, it’s a great read. And like Radiohead, you can choose how much to pay for it. Fitting, really.

What do you think? For the musicians out there, do you think piracy is the devil-spawn? Or is there some credit to this argument?

For the 3 or so readers of this site, feel free to add your comments and thoughts here or at the musicadium blog site. And keep your eyes peeled for more musicadium happenings in the near future.


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