The other side of the coin

On re-reading my last blog entry on the RIAA, I thought it was about time I discussed the other side of the equation: i.e. the economic and societal impacts of music piracy.

To do so, the boundaries of debate have to be defined. So, do I consider unlicensed downloading, sharing and burning of music to be piracy and a criminal offence? Absolutely: both legally and morally. Do I think that action needs to be taken to curb music piracy? Absolutely. But (and you knew there was a proverbial Ďbutí waiting to jump in here somewhere) do I think the problem is best solved by throwing away the carrot and just beating with a stick? Absolutely not.

The RIAA, IFPI and other such organisations unquestionably need to protect the rights of their members and it is their duty to do so. Music piracy (both physical and online) have experienced astronomical growth exactly at a time when the music industry canít afford for it to happen: the CD replacement cycle has drawn to a stuttering halt and itís probable that music sales will continue to decline for the near term future and may never recover in real terms to their late 90ís peak.

But home-piracy (and I make a very important distinction from mass piracy) is as much a symptom as it is a cause. Consumers are spending more time and money on leisure than ever before, but they are also given far more choice than they ever had. Entertainment has also become a much richer and interactive experience. Music in isolation is much less relevant to todayís music fans than for previous generations. Now music is much more defined by context: as a move soundtrack, as Ďmoodí or genre compilation, as a computer game soundtrack, as the thumping beat in a club. The continuing success of live music and of countless sell out stadium tours shows that consumers are also willing to spend money on music (often in large quantities) when it is the context of a live event. They are becoming less inclined, however, to just pay for a CD and some artwork. Recorded music is still important but isnít perceived by many to be worth the money charged, hence file-sharing networks prosper. As they do, they begin to permanently shape the way people thing about music as a commodity, causing irreparable damage to musicís role in the consumer world.

As I have said before, the RIAA et al absolutely need to carry on going after the P-to-P networks and even after individual heavy file sharers. But they need to focus their PR efforts not on prosecuting individuals but instead on the virtues on the legitimate sector. MusicNet and press play have both been moving in the right direction in the US, as has OD2 in Europe, and Appleís i-Tunes has given the sector a much needed boost. These are things the music industry should be trying to sell to the public, rather than simply trying to scare them away from the illegal alternatives.

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