The rise of the internet and piracy.
It wasn’t long after the birth of the internet that online file sharing started to take place, which of course led to music piracy.
Napster was the first prominent peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing services to be created in 1999, which was used mostly for music files. Napster became the popular alternative to other file sharing methods because it was much easier to use. Because of this ease of use, online file sharing of music rose dramatically.
After a number of artists filed lawsuits against Napster, which they were able to deal with, A&M Records filed a lawsuit which forced Napster to shut down. In the case A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the ruling of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, holding that Napster, could be held liable for contributory infringement and vicarious infringement of the A&M Records’ copyrights.
Now online piracy is very common place and there is a wide array of ways to download or stream music illegally through software and websites such as BitTorrent, LimeWire, and Youtube.
Piracy, streaming, and live music.
Performing musicians and bands make most of their money either through recorded music sales/streaming or live performances. Today, most artists make the majority of their money through live performances rather than, as in the past, through recorded music sales. In earlier years, musicians toured to promote the sale of their albums, but that has also changed since now musicians’ recorded music promotes their live performances.
Due to increased piracy and ever dropping royalty payments, artists do not make nearly as much money from recorded music sales and royalty’s from streaming as before, therefore the ticket price to live venues has to increase to compensate for the loss of income.
Streaming is becoming the major medium of music consumption, which is great for the listener, but not so great for the artists in terms of income. As Paul Resnikoff explains in his article The Music Industry Has 99 Problems. And They Are…, the major streaming companies such as YouTube, Spotify and SoundCloud are paying extremely low royalties for each song that is played or even nothing at all. One instance of this is Kevin Kadish, who made only $5,679 from 178 million streams for writing the song ‘All About That Bass’ sang by Megan Trainor. Another example is this graph from Resnikoff’s article that shows how little Spotify pays out to the record labels.
There was a time when musicians could sell enough records to sustain themselves enough to stop touring and focus on writing new material, like when the Beatles stopped performing live in 1966, but that time is no more. Musicians have had to shift their focus from writing and recording albums to promoting their “brand” so as to sell tickets to live venues and items such as t-shirts.
How do musicians feel about piracy and streaming?
There are mixed views from musicians on this topic. One artist, Amanda Palmer, expresses her feelings about streaming companies:
One weird thing is that iTunes, Apple, Spotify, Google, whatever, all of the people who are profiting – [and] YouTube – who are profiting off the artists from the small level to the huge levels aren’t really feeding very much back into the creation of new content. And, that’s actually one of the largest problems.
Elton John expresses his thoughts on piracy:
“I am of the view that the unchecked proliferation of illegal downloading (even on a “non-commercial” basis) will have a seriously detrimental effect on musicians, and particularly young musicians and those composers who are not performing artists.”
Other artists have a different viewpoint on the matter, such as Dave Grohl, from the Foo Fighters who says,
“I think it’s a good idea because it’s people trading music. It has nothing to do with industry or finance, it’s just people that want music and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the same as someone turning on the fucking radio, it’s the same as someone putting a cassette in a cassette deck when the BBC plays a special radio session. I don’t think it’s a crime, it’s been going on for years. It’s the same as people making tapes for each other. The industry is more threatened by it because it’s the worldwide web and it’s a broader scope of trading, but I don’t think it’s such a fuckinghorrible thing. The first thing we should do is get all the fucking millionaires to shut their mouths, stop bitching about the 25 cents a time they’re losing.”
Piracy is a bittersweet thing.
As for my own views, I don’t think piracy is the same as stealing a physical object, since the original owner still has the product and is only loosing potential profit. However, it is still a form of stealing and therefore amoral to do so, yet not so much as stealing a flashlight for instance.
I don’t think music should be free unless the artist wants it to be, yet is hard to resist the availability of vast amounts of music that piracy and streaming make possible, especially to the less wealthy.
As a musician myself, I care about creating music for people to enjoy, and I want it to be available to everyone however they can enjoy it, whether they pay for it or not doesn’t matter to me as much as the fact that my music is being enjoyed. It is sad, however, that through technology and how it is being used, musicians do not really have the ability to make people pay for the music which they put so much effort into.