On the Music Industry, Piracy and Copyright

Cleverpork Central is often a comedy site, but there are things that we believe strongly about and will bring to the forefront of conversation. Anything filed under “Serious” is not a joke, even if it seems counter to everything else on this site.

Recently I was reading an argument on Facebook between two people about music piracy. Interestingly the person advocating piracy was a musician and the one against it was not. Now, I’m not saying all musicians are for piracy, but I have noticed a trend that many musicians enjoy that their music being listened to more than having their music sold. In fact, I had read that musicians made more money while Napster was active because piracy actually encouraged activities that make artists money, like concert attendance.

If people are stealing music how can that benefit the artists? It’s really quite simple. Let us imagine a consumer. Bombarded with assorted entertainment, the variety of music alone overwhelms the consumer. With so much music they can’t possibly know what they enjoy yet; so they get recommendations, or listen to the radio. Now, this average consumer isn’t super rich, so he can’t buy the albums recommended to him. Instead, he listens to whatever is playing on the radio and occasionally finds a song he enjoys but never has enough interest to buy any music. Bummer.

Then our consumer logs on to old napster and downloads some music based on his friends, the radio andother media. He can access a wide variety of music and can find anything he’d want. All of a sudden he has 20 artists he really enjoys.

This is where his story gets interesting. Instead of downloading all his music for free, he will start to go and buy people’s albums. I’ve known people to pirate a full album, listen to it, then buy it on CD. When the artist comes to town he’ll spend $50 to go see them live and buy merchandise. Most of an artist’s income is generated by concerts, not album sales. By downloading some music the artist makes more money than by simply selling their music.

Publishers distribute, promote, package and protect content for an artist. Holding multiple artists under contract enables a publisher to reduce production costs which an artist alone could not front. An artist makes a song, or a book, and wants people to hear it, or read it. They can’t produce a CD and sell it to a huge audience, but a publisher can. As an artist needing distribution the increase in sales outweighs the publisher’s cut of the profits.

This was before a wonderful invention called The Internet. With the internet, people can put out tons of stuff and it can spread virally through word of mouth. How many people know about things like Dramatic Gopher now? Everyone. If something is good enough, it spreads FAST.

If you want people to know about your stuff but don’t want people to steal it there are a few options. South Park used Dramatic Gopher and made money using non-copyrighted material. Copyright was designed before the internet to prevent plagiarism. Today, copyright prevents you from spreading cool things. So, Creative Commons was invented. There are many levels of Creative Commons licenses. For example, xkcd is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. You can remix or share those comics so long as you attribute them to Randall Munroe. He’s even published his book under a similar license. Music is popping up all over the place with similar licenses. All you have to do to so this is go to the creative commons website and find the license that you want, and put it with your content. Like the link above, it is clearly spelled out what can and can’t be done with the work, but still allows further creativity and sharing.

Where is the money? If you are not discouraging piracy, and you put your music, book, comics, movies, or whatnot, out there for free, how do you make any money? Radiohead revolutionized the music industry with In Rainbows, offering it as a pay-what-you-want download. I downloaded it for free, but not everyone did.I heard that some paid $1000 for that album, others $4. People loved Radiohead and wanted to support them. Some downloaded it for free, then after listening paid for it. People want to support things. If they think it is worth money, and they have that money, they’ll pay it. Radiohead was able to do this because they had just ended their contract with their publisher. Their fan base and established name enabled them to experiment with this model, but I have begun to see more and more artists start to publish their work this way.

Moral of this story is simple. The world is changing. As a society we might need to rethink “ownership.” Support the artists that you enjoy, but consider finding a way to send money to them, not their publisher. Publish anything you make under a creative commons license. Encourage creativity. Above all else, don’t view “piracy” as a BAD thing, look at it as a way to support creativity and beauty. Ultimately there is a difference between piracy, which is making a profit off of theft, and sharing, which is what everyone is labeling as piracy.

Further Reading:

Study: P2P effect on legal music sales “not statistically distinguishable from zero”

Radiohead Says: Pay What You Want

Big name artists money breakdown

Music biz still in need of “radical overhaul” to thrive

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One Comment

  1. Andrew Chastain
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 19:55 | Permalink

    Trent Reznor (who is another huge copyleft supporter) has introduced another pay model. He offered Ghosts I-IV at various prices (including free) where one could pay more for a special deluxe set with various value-added goodies. That way the hardcore fans were able to buy something special and anyone else would also be able to enjoy the music. I also remember hearing that Radiohead ended up making more money per album “sold” with “In Rainbows” than normal since they didn’t have to pay for production overheads (pressing, printing and shipping) or publishing fees. That might have been an early figure, but it is interesting to think about how little of the $20 a CD the bands actually get.