Prior to the advent of the Internet, the only way to hear your favourite music was to purchase a physical copy or listen to the radio hoping the song would eventually be played. Today, music is infinitely easier to access from a multitude of sources, with Apple’s iTunes, YouTube and CDs among the most popular. However, rivalling all of these sources is a controversial option – piracy.
Online music piracy has been a widely contested issue ever since free information sharing provider Napster emerged in 1999, allowing users to upload and download files for free, including films and music. However, the issue of music piracy goes back much further than this – Beethoven, for example, had several of his compositions’ copyrights breached, meaning he struggled to make money from them. What separates today’s music piracy from those days is that it is now almost universal.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, music piracy costs music retailers, artists and producers between $7 billion and $20 billion annually – a significant portion of the music industry’s global worth which is estimated to be $42.93 billion. But how does something which is illegal in most countries end up continuing on such a large scale? Perhaps it is due to the nature of copyright law and the sources of these pirated songs being based in countries with lenient copyright laws.
The Pirate Bay, the Internet’s number one source of all pirated media, has its servers based in Sweden, where downloading copyrighted material is legal. This allows the hosts of the site’s servers to escape punishment as other countries cannot interfere in Sweden’s legal processes. This issue creates a grey area – is it right to allow people to actively give music away for free across the world if the country they are living in allows them to do so?
Some would argue that music piracy is not theft as, by definition, theft is to permanently deprive someone of something. Instead, piracy makes a free copy of something and then distributes that copy. However, many artists and record companies argue that every pirated version of a song costs the artist and the company money, limiting their ability to produce further content.
As the Internet continues to deliver higher speeds and more download capacity, it is difficult, or even impossible, to ever foresee online music piracy slowing or ending. Whenever there is the option to get something for free, rather than pay for it, the vast majority of people are likely to take the free option, especially if they are not aware of copyright laws.
Ultimately, if the music industry is going to survive, limiting the platforms upon which music is available might be the only solution to the controversial issue.
This blog was written by Proactive Pathway student Sam Webster, from the University of Lincoln