The recording industry has suffered in a new wave of music piracy as digital copies of new music continue to flood both legitimate and illegitimate sites.
Piracy, a crime that many seem willing to commit, affects the production, distribution and consumption of new products.
Music piracy can be defined as the intentional downloading or theft of music through a digital or CD copy that doesn’t provide compensation to the parties involved in creating the music.
One download of a song on a peer-to-peer sharing website may not seem like it could truly affect the recording industry, but as more people download one song, or many, the effect grows exponentially.
The Recording Industry Association of America estimates that approximately 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks between 2004 and 2009 and that only 37 percent of music acquired by U.S. consumers was paid for through a legitimate site.
Pierce College Puyallup professor Kenneth Owen believes that the people who suffer the most from piracy are non-administrative employees and consumers.
“I think it trickles down and affects everyone,” Owen said. “The big stars still make plenty of money, but I would guess that the hardest hit are the average person trying to make a living working in the industry of producing, manufacturing and selling the music, and it also affects honest consumers because it raises the prices for them.”
Pierce College student and musician Nick Holzer agreed.
“Companies can be forced to let go of low-level employees,” Holzer said. “The executives may not be affected, but the sound guys could get fired.”
Piracy offered few benefits to any parties involved in
music production or consumption, but Holzer could understand how people could justify piracy.
“It could conceivably help the spread of music,” Holzer said.
Holzer also noted that many people would be more likely to listen to a new artist if their music was available for free. Some legitimate sites, like Google Play and iTunes, offer free music to listeners.
“The benefits (of piracy) are in the hands of the listener, not the musician,” Holzer said.
Owen had a difficult time finding any benefits of piracy that couldn’t be achieved through legitimate methods.
“I guess it can lead to greater exposure of someone’s music, but there are enough ways for a musician to do that by giving permission – by using YouTube and other sites, that the same benefit can be achieved legally and under the musician’s control,” Owen said.
Copyright infringement caused by music piracy is a dangerous risk; through the United States No Electronic Theft Act, violators, if charged, can incur criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Owen and Holzer both agreed that it should be treated as a crime, yet they both shared the opinion that it’s difficult to regulate and enforce in comparison to physical crimes.
Owen cited people not being paid for their work as one of the most negative effects of music piracy.
A study by the Institute for Policy Innovation found the financial ramifications of global music piracy to be devastating; globally, it causes $12.5 billion in economic losses each year along with 71,060 U.S. jobs lost and $2.7 billion in workers’ earnings.
Pierce College Puyallup music professor Mark Jasinski believes that piracy could limit the number of new musicians choosing to record or produce music.
“(It) discourages musicians from sharing their work,” Jasinski said.
The RIAA also mentions a startlingly high statistic from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: digital theft of copyrighted content takes up 17.5 percent of U.S. bandwidth.
Holzer expressed disdain about the popularity of piracy, which Holzer equated to a less-violent version of burglary or robbery.
“That’s what stealing does,” Holzer said. “It has more detriments than benefits.”
Both Owen and Jasinski agreed that piracy should be treated as a crime.
“It is theft of someone’s property,” Jasinski said.
Consumers can expect increased prices and fewer new artists on the market if the trend of piracy continues to spread.
Though a single illegal download may be free of charge, illegal sharing of copyrighted intellectual property isn’t free of criminal charges.
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