A different kind of piracy

Disclaimer: This article deals exclusively with the issue of music sharing, not other media.

You’ve heard a lot about pirates recently, but did you know that Somalians aren’t the only ones making headlines?

Indeed, the largest and best-known BitTorrent tracker, The Pirate Bay (http://thepiratebay.org), was recently brought to trial and charged with “promoting other peoples’ infringements of copyright laws” by a group of Stockholm prosecutors working in conjunction with the IFPI, or International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The trial, which had been closely followed by various international news organizations – though coverage was conspicuously absent from mainstream U.S. media – came to an end on April 17 when the judge deemed four individuals associated with the site guilty.

Using evidence seized in a 2006 raid of the Web site’s headquarters, prosecutors presented proof of the site making 33 specific files under copyright available via peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. However, after taking into account the enormity of the site (22 million registered users tracking 1.5 million torrents per cycle, with $1.2 million per year in advertising revenues), the defendants’ punishments seem rather light: each must serve one year of imprisonment within Swedish penitentiaries and they must pay $3.6 million to a collection of entertainment agencies such as Warner Bros., Columbia, Sony Music and EMI.

And the site continues to run! As someone who hasn’t paid for an album since freshman year of high school, I’m thankful.

For years, Internet file-sharing has been a hot topic in the music industry. Since the Metallica vs. Napster conflict in 2000, various labels have adopted a defense against file sharing based on the supposed loss of money at the expense of their clientele: the musicians. This argument is hollow. In fact, many major artists knowingly released their music for free during the course of the trial – among them were Radiohead, Trent Reznor, and Greg Gillis (Girl Talk). While I don’t have enough space in this article to deride the music label’s entire defense, suffice it to say that it works like this: artists have historically made most of their profits from live shows and merchandise; CD sales are a small piece (~7 percent) of the pie.

Which is why this case is so puzzling. Under present law, the site is not accountable for file sharing, and therefore it cannot be brought to trial. What just occurred in Stockholm was little more than a spectacle – a last-ditch flex of diminishing power by a dying industry. In essence, the case was proof that the labels continually miss the point: for every file-sharing site shut down, two more will emerge. Or, in this instance: you can’t even shut down one.

So as the Pirate Bay guys are submitting their appeals to the court, I encourage everyone reading to continue getting their music for free. Perhaps in time, the labels will abandon their antiquated business models and realize that when one window’s shut, another’s open. And for any industry eyes seeking examples, check out a label called Normative (http://normative.com/), with whom artists establish themselves as independent corporations, not indentured money-earners.

April 22, 2009


Nick Moran

Contributing Columnist

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “A different kind of piracy”

  1. Nick Moran says:

    I’m going to disagree with you, and furthermore take issue with your knock on my maturity. Are you saying that Trent Reznor, the guys of Radiohead, or any number of other artists who came out in support of The Pirate Bay are immature as well?

    What the argument boils down to is one of an evolving business model, and one agent within that model failing to adapt with the times. As I see it, ushering in an era of free listening (which, in essence, you get on commercial-free/internet radio regardless) necessarily brings with it greater exposure for the musicians. I don’t have (and I doubt you have) the data to state definitively about whether or not the cost (people obtaining MP3’s for free) outweighs the benefit (with more listeners, you get more people at your concerts, more money), but I’d wager that the artists come out on the positive side.

    Record labels’ mistreatment of their clients is a topic that is well-known, and quite frankly if the age of their parasitic benefit off other peoples’ talents is coming to an end, I’m fine with that.

    And on a more trivial note, if the industry is still capable of raising such talentless hacks as Asher Roth into the spotlight, then it can’t be doing THAT badly in this age of internet piracy…

  2. Pat Banyas says:

    The number of people who steal the same item does not change the fact that theft is theft. Because a large number of people percieve it is within their right to steal does not make it ok. Whether it is a product or a service does not matter. It doesn’t matter that in some other location the product or service can be obtained for free but on another note then why don’t you get it there. What matters is your theft, added to another persons theft, and another, etc etc etc…, ultimately means some Company loses money which means some artist gets less money and employees in the chain are ultimately affected. Stealing is stealing. Possibly if you were a mature, responsible adult you might suggest people try paying for something they want rather than attempting to explain why it is ok to steal because there are a lot of other people stealing the same thing. If it is worth listening to then it is worth paying to listen to.

    Pat Banyas

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