Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around… Let’s make it available, let them hear it

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Robert Livaudais

Professor McIntyre

Writing 5

January 27, 2016

“Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around… Let’s make it available, let them hear it” (Karavoulias). According to Neil Young, a Canadian singer-songwriter and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a swift change in technology has caused an equally large movement in music culture. The rise of the internet has allowed for countless file-sharing sites, and consequently illegal sharing of music, to become rampant. Yet, surprisingly, there are many pro-piracy artists, like Neil Young, who are perfectly fine with this seemingly-harmful trend. Although piracy is defined as the distribution of music without the artist’s or recording industry’s consent, artists like Young cite evolving technology and abusive recording industries as reasons why it should be accepted as lawful. In their eyes, music piracy is a consequence of the evolving music culture and is a deserved repercussion for the recording industries which have been unjustly controlling the music scene since its inception. Yet, of course, recording industries and multiple anti-piracy musicians do not look at this development in the same light. They argue that since piracy is a form of theft and causes significant detrimental economic effects on the music industry, it should be put to a stop. These opposing views create an interesting scenario; should consumers listen to the pro-piracy artists, pirate music, and feel secure in the fact that the music culture has changed, or should people support the law and defend the recording industries and anti-piracy artists?

Countless times, artists have spoken out against recording contracts, contending that their recording industry has controlled revenues or unfairly limited expression. In their article, “Artists Blast Record Companies over Lawsuits Against Downloaders,” Joel Selvin and Neva Chonin quote multiple artists as they express angst towards the actions of the recording industry. One of the quoted musicians, Gregg Rollie, a founding member of Santana and Journey, speaks out against the what he believes is an unfair control of revenue: “They have all these abnormal practices that keep driving the price up. People think musicians make all that money, but it's not true. We make the smallest amount” (Selvin and Chonin). But artists do not only argue that recording industries withhold revenue from its artists; Trent Reznor, a member of Nine Inch Nails, speaks out against the industry for taking money from its consumers by unfairly releasing songs at high prices. Note Reznor’s annoyance as he states that the industry’s response to their own desperation is to raise prices against consumers: “As the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more” (Karavoulias). As seen with these two quotes, Reznor and Rollie are two examples of artists who are fed up with the industry over monetary concerns.

Aside from frustration surrounding compensation and pricing, another source of artists’ angst towards the industry is the industry’s strategy of using litigation against those who pirate music. From the musicians’ viewpoint, the industry is trying to maintain its prominence through the use of unwarranted lawsuits instead of adapting to the changing music culture. David Draiman of Disturbed is quoted on the matter saying, “Instead of spending all this money litigating against kids who are the people they're trying to sell things to in the first place, they have to learn how to effectively use the Internet” (Selvin and Chonin). In other words, Draiman believes that the industry should recognize the evolving nature of music culture and make use of the internet rather than getting involved in absurd legal battles such as suing children. Selvin and Chonin also quote Chuck D of public enemy and DJ Moby as they call a specific lawsuit against a twelve-year-old ridiculous and “pure Gestapo.” Because of this annoyance directed towards the recording industry surrounding lawsuits as well as monetary concerns, the numerous artists quoted by Selvin and Chonin view music piracy as something that the industry deserves.

Yet frustration towards record labels isn’t the only reason why musicians support piracy; like Neil Young, many musicians believe that due to an evolving digital culture, piracy is the modern way to share music and should therefore be allowed. In his article, “Artists Speak Out on Music Piracy,” Terry Karavoulias lists multiple well-known artists who hold this opinion. Just as Young calls piracy the new version of the radio, Dave Grohl, a member of the Foo Fighters, and Ed O’Brien, a member of Radiohead, agree that pirating and sharing music is the modern version of making tapes for each other. Note how O’Brien expresses his firm opinion that pirating and the 80s trend of sharing tapes are inherently related as he says, “There’s a very strong part of me that feels that peer-to-peer illegal downloading is just a more sophisticated version of what we did in the 80s” (Karavoulias). Because these artists look at piracy through this lens of modernization, they don’t see anything wrong; they believe that instead of theft, piracy is simply a more sophisticated version of sharing music as people have always legally done via burning and sharing CDs or recording songs from the radio. Joss Stone, another well-known artist, extends the argument by saying that without sharing, the music industry would never have existed: “I think [piracy] is great… Music should be shared. I believe that this is how music turned into, like, some crazy business” (Karavoulias). Therefore, because sharing is essential to music culture, Stone would argue that piracy should not be punished. Stone adds a finishing touch to her statement as she says, “Now, the only part about music that I dislike is the business that is attached to it” to further emphasize her pro-piracy stance. In addition to these artists, 50 Cent, Lady Gaga, Prince, and members of Metallica are quoted in Karavoulias’ article as they argue this concept that piracy, as a modern form of sharing music, is just.

Of course, there is another side to the argument – one that supports recording industries’ legal rights and the fact that piracy is defined as illegal. Just because many individuals are okay with consumers pirating their music, there are countless others who are anti-piracy and support record labels’ concerns. Two people who hold this belief are Danny Upshaw and Laurie Babin, professors at the University of Louisiana Monroe who co-wrote the article, “Music Downloading: Competing Against Online Piracy” for the International Journal of Business & Public Administration. Upshaw and Babin note that piracy cost the music industry $10 billion between 2000 and 2010 and that according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which is an organization that campaigns for the rights of the recording industry, 95% of all downloaded songs are copied illegally. These two authors make use of these statistics to argue that piracy, especially in its current widespread form, is inherently harmful, especially economically, and should remain illegal despite the evolving music culture referenced by pro-piracy musicians. Upshaw and Babin make this stance clear as they state that “effective incentives and deterrents that encourage legal commerce, especially legal online commerce, need to be discovered.” Another example of an anti-piracy writer is Amy Adkins, a writer for the Houston Chronicle who is experienced in technical writing. Along with Upshaw and Babin, Adkins agrees that the negative economic impact on the recording industry is enough to characterize piracy as detrimental. In her article, “How Does Illegally Downloading Music Impact the Music Industry?,” Adkins argues that this negative economic impact is felt by many working in the industry; as profits have decreased due to illegal downloads, record labels have been forced to lay off more than 71,000 employees. Furthermore, Adkins notes that the industry’s financial loss prevents record labels from being able to “recruit and develop new talent,” as they are forced to focus their remaining money on their existing contracts. Adkins is not alone in this belief; Paul McGuinness, the manager of U2, agrees with Adkins in that the “starmaking apparatus,” or, in other words, the process of developing a new musician into a star, has been damaged and thus it is harder for new musicians to become famous ("Singing a New Tune”). The more well-known member of U2, Bono, who is a popular example of an anti-piracy musician, agrees that the damage done to the “young, fledgling songwriters” is one of the major problems that arise with music piracy (Karavoulias). Along with Bono and the various anti-piracy artists, the authors of these articles disagree with pro-piracy musicians, citing that even in the face of an evolving music culture, piracy is detrimental due to its impact on the economy and those involved in the industry.

By dedicating a section of his book, The Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties, to examples of artists who released their music directly to file-sharing sites, Aram Sinnreach brings up a possible way to make those on both sides of the argument pleased. Sinnreach implies that if some individuals are anti-piracy and various artists are supportive of music sharing, then pro-piracy artists can release their songs and albums to file-sharing sites, such as SoundCloud, where they can be downloaded for free. In this scenario, recording industries would not be stolen from since they do not own the rights to any songs that the artist chooses to release for free. In a manner that seems to show that he is in favor of this strategy, Sinnreach gives examples of artists who have decided to release their music directly to file-sharing websites. He notes that Green Day, Prince, Steve Winwood, Nine Inch Nails, and Counting Crows have adopted this strategy and have subsequently received “significant commercial success.” Radiohead is also noted for releasing their music in a “pay-what-you-want” system. While they are not making as much money from people purchasing their music, these artists argue that releasing music for free or allowing consumers to pick a payment leads to good reputations in the eyes of the consumers, which leads to improved overall popularity, better turnouts at concerts, and more purchases of memorabilia. Lady Gaga reveals that she agrees with this statement as she states, “You know how much you can earn off touring, right?… Make music – then tour. It's just the way it is today” (Karavoulias). While many people might think that this scenario would only work with artists who have already become famous due to their partnerships with recording industries, Sinnreach notes that there are also “many recent examples of obscure or emerging musicians whose careers were propelled into the stratosphere” by releasing their music to file-sharing websites. Sinnreach notes that two well-known examples are Justin Bieber and The Gregory Brothers, both of which became famous by releasing songs to YouTube. Sinnreach endorses this strategy of releasing music for free and profiting off of touring and merchandise sales as a decent solution for each side of the argument; it allows for pro-piracy artists to open their music to sharing while also decreasing the amount of piracy for recording industries to deal with.

Another possible solution is “disintermediation,” as Robert Frost, author of the article, “Rearchitecting the Music Business: Mitigating Music Piracy by Cutting out the Record Companies,” calls it. Frost argues that the current piracy issue is a “consequence of the structure and business models of the music trade” which “has been rendered technologically obsolete by changes in information technology.” He calls for record companies to be taken out of the equation entirely – since they are the biggest “claimants to the revenue stream” yet are now “obsolete,” artists can sell their music directly to consumers at much lower prices. Because of this, Frost notes that the scenario would benefit artists and consumers far more than it would record companies. However, although it doesn’t completely please those on both sides of the argument, Frost believes that his proposal would cut down on piracy significantly because “the disproportionate size of the companies’ share of the revenue stream represents probably the strongest incentive to piracy.” Frost lays out a very detailed plan as to how this would be implemented, including ways that younger musicians could compete with established artists and steps for existing musicians to take in order to leave their recording labels behind. Because he is anti-industry but also anti-piracy, it is probable that Frost would agree with artists who want people to freely share their music, as long as they released their music to the public via file-sharing sites. Frost, like the previously listed artists and Sinnreach, recognizes that music culture is evolving and calls for a change in how the industry is run.

In the face of a quickly evolving digital culture, how should people respond to music piracy? Should consumers adhere to pro-piracy artists’ claims that recording industries are overbearing and that file-sharing is a modern-day radio, or should people support recording industries and their associated artists by legally purchasing music? A change in the way the industry is run could make this scenario easier; if artists feel that piracy is the modern version of music sharing, then they can release their music to file-sharing sites as Sinnreach describes, and if other artists want to stick with their recording companies and continue to sell music in the traditional way, they can continue to do so. This proposal ought to decrease piracy since the songs that consumers are instructed to pirate would be free, but in no way would it eradicate piracy, as this is not possible in the modern digital age. In order for recording industries to stay afloat, they will most likely need to leave behind their lawsuits and integrate new programs like Spotify into their repetoir, as the author of “Singing a New Tune” argues. If all of the above occurs, those on both sides of the argument could be relatively pleased and music culture can continue to evolve, as it surely will.

Works Cited

Adkins, Amy. “How Does Illegally Downloading Music Impact the Music Industry?.” Houston Chronicle. Web. 17, Jan. 2016.

Frost, Robert. “Rearchitecting the Music Business: Mitigating Music Piracy by Cutting out the Record Companies.” First Monday, 1, Aug. 2007. Web. 10, Jan. 2016.

Selvin, Joel, and Chonin, Neva. “Artists Blast Record Companies Over Lawsuits Against Downloaders.” Sfgate, 11, Sept. 2013. Web. 11, Jan. 2016.

“Singing a New Tune.” The Economist, 12, Nov. 2009. Web. 10, Jan. 2016.

Sinnreach, Aram. The Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013. Web.

Karavoulias, Terry. “Artists Speak Out on Musical Piracy.” UpVenue. Web. 11, Jan. 2016.

Upshaw, Danny, and Babin, Laurie. “Music Downloading: Competing Against Online Piracy.” International Journal of Business & Public Administration. 2010. Web. 25, Jan. 2016.
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