[Music Monday] Forgetting About Digital Piracy
It all started with a chat. I came late, so I didn’t get to see this presentation by Robin, but the blog post covers it pretty much (it’s a good read, so if you haven’t read it, read it now!). Robin basically says that the digital era is a major shift in many things and should not be viewed just as a new ‘channel’, but also a new way of thinking. Taking a different approach, so to speak. I’ve written about this severaltimes, even here on Dailysocial, and I generally believe that the audience has changed. Not only because of things going digital, but a true paradigm shift in the industry itself. The changes happened in large part due to the digital, unlimited copying nature of the Internet, but it impacted non-Internet industries as well.
But let’s step back a bit and look what a business is. Many businesses basically take one thing, a product or a service, and try to sell it as many times as they can, with minimum effort in modifying the product. At some point the money they invested in making the product or service can be recouped and they can make a profit. The recorded music business, in essence, is not selling music, but selling the music product; i.e. CDs, cassettes, vinyls. Produce and record once, and essentially sell copies of that recording. Even music copyright is constructed around this. The payment of royalties is based on the amount of copies sold. Of course, any copy obtained without any payment of royalties, is viewed as a copyright infringement. The act itself, whether or not for commercial gain, is known as piracy.
So come the so-called digital era. After reading this article by Robin, we got into an admittedly interesting argument about piracy versus sales. Robin’s take, in essence, that piracy (or lack of it) has no relation to sales, and takes France’s three strikes law as an example. Let’s say you had a virtual hat that you sold on the internet. Anybody who wants to use the hat has to pay you. Let’s say you have an X amount of sales. Some people, regardless of motivation, find a way to use the virtual hat for free, not paying you a cent, and thus your X becomes smaller. You’d call that loss of sales, right? The loss of a potential sale since some people found a way to get it for free.
Now apply that to music in the digital context. Any song file obtained without payment is deemed a loss of sale and an act of digital piracy, since perhaps the medium has changed, but copyright law has not. That’s why Digital Rights Management was for the better part of the digital music age, in place and essentially an attempt to control unauthorized copies from being distributed. So piracy is a problem. How to handle it, and how important it is, is up to the music industries’ stakeholders to decide. And they think that piracy is a key issue to be resolved.
I would argue that the ‘piracy’ habit must be changed, but on the other hand I’ve once also said that piracy is just a behavior that needs further study, after which new business models could be created that are more suitable for this habit but also make money for the artist, or label, or whoever involved. The money part is important, as it could take $1 or $1,000,000 to make a good song, but it takes real money to make a good music recording that people would spend their money on. So simply making music free is not the ultimate answer. It’s probably part of a larger strategy, but that’s something for each musician or music label to figure out. But the less opportunities there are to make money through music – like losing potential sales due to piracy – the less likely the musician or music label is to invest in the next album or song recording.
But I’ve always vowed to try to see things from other people’s perspectives, and I’m taking this opportunity to try to see things from Robin’s perspective. If I read him correctly, we shouldn’t be worrying about loss of projected sales – which Robin thinks, by all accounts, an imaginary number – caused by piracy, but how to “speak” to the new generation of digital consumers. So in the digital world, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about piracy because there is no piracy. Would we care about how many song files are distributed if music income is not dependent on it? Would staying in the good graces of copyright law through obtaining legal copies of songs be something of merit? Would piracy exist if copyright law were to disappear, replaced by more suitable intellectual property laws? This is a question I’ve often had myself. Whether or not copyright law remains relevant in a world where a song can have virtually limitless copies and can go around the world at the click of a mouse.
I’d say this remains unresolved. Of course it’s easy to start from scratch with the ‘digital natives’ and recreate a new, digital-friendly, music industry, but where does the existing music industry go? The so-called ‘evil’ major labels are just businesses, in need of a fresh perspective. I say we help them, instead of kicking them out of the digital era. And perhaps we should start by forgetting about piracy, and moving on to creating many great, new things.
Ario worked in the digital music industry in Indonesia from 2003 to 2010, and recently worked in the movie and TV industry in Vietnam. Keep up with him on Twitter at @barijoe or his blog on http://barijoe.wordpress.com
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