A Word on Music Piracy
Shawn M. Gordon
ProgRock Records

First off, I’m going to distinguish between pirated copies that are full-on duplicates and almost look like the real ones (if you see a price that is too good to be true, it is likely one of these Russian or Chinese copies), and digital downloads that you get through various peer-to-peer (p2p) and torrent sites. Also, let’s focus on our prog market, as opposed to the music market in general, as that is what is directly affecting all of us. And finally, this is aimed at people that are doing illegal downloading. I’m not pointing a finger at the many people who play by the rules, but maybe you know people who illegally download and you can help convince them to stop.

In conversations I’ve had with those who illegally download music, here are the most common excuses they give:

* It’s only hurting the record labels and they screw the artists anyway, so it’s justified

* I’m just making copies to share with my friends, and they will surely buy it if they like it
* I can’t afford it right now, but I’ll pay for it when I have some money

* It really leads to more sales for the artist because I’m turning new people on to it

* Everybody breaks some law every day – so what?

* CDs should cost a lot less

Now the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is no hero in this. Their enforcement attempts are not effective and they’re making no effort to deal with the current technological situation. I’ve said for years that a pirated copy isn’t necessarily a lost sale, so you can’t make the one-to-one correlation, but in recent years empirical sales evidence indicates otherwise, which I’ll illustrate later. Let me ask you this: would you go to a store, steal a CD, listen to see if you like it, and return it if you didn’t; or go back and pay if you did? Of course not. Just because stealing something is easy, that doesn’t make it any less illegal.

Then there are those who claim they are part of a group of people that turn each other on to new music and that they buy what they sample. These people are just full of it. These groups are a way to pool their money so that they can each buy a different CD and make copies for all the other members of the group. That way, for each single CD they purchase, they get another 10, 20 or whatever, for free other than the cost of blank CDs to burn for the other members. The odds any of these people go and buy it afterwards are somewhere between slim and none.

These are all just lame excuses for doing something illegal. I can’t say it clearly enough – copying and distributing or receiving music you didn’t buy IS ILLEGAL. It doesn’t matter if you think it isn’t, or you think you’re doing the band a favor. If you really want to turn someone on to something you like, then lend them your copy, have a listening party, or turn them on to internet radio. Our station www.progrock.com has nearly 20,000 songs. Odds are good you can find what you want to hear and request it. As long as no extra copies are involved, then this is legal. You can, however, legally make copies for yourself. For example, say you don’t want to risk the CD getting damaged, then you can burn a copy to take around in your car, or you can copy to your iPod, as long as it is all for you. This is “fair use”. It is never your decision to give an artists music away. If they want to do it, then that is their decision, not yours. Someone who gets something for free is much more inclined to give it away to others, so that person you gave it to probably gave it to someone else and eventually it’s on a pirate service.

CDs cost virtually the same now as they did 20 years ago, adjusting for inflation. That means they are even cheaper than they were. On average, in the United States you can get a non-import CD for about $15. If you buy when a CD is first released, you can get it for as low as $12, which is what the new Rush album sold for on Amazon when it came out. If you think that’s too much, try not going to Starbucks or McDonalds for a couple days to save the money.

We’ve recently been researching various pirate services and torrent sites for our own releases and we’re finding tens of thousands of downloads for titles that we’ve sold maybe 1,000 or 2,000 copies. This should make it clear enough that those downloads are NOT, in fact, turning into sales. Here are some quotes from labels, artists and industry analysts that illustrate the impact.

This quote is from the May 28, 2007 issue of the New York Times:
”Despite costly efforts to build buzz around new talent and thwart piracy, CD sales have plunged more than 20 percent this year, far outweighing any gains made by digital sales at iTunes and similar services. Aram Sinnreich, a media industry consultant at Radar Research in Los Angeles, said the CD format, introduced in the United States 24 years ago, is in its death throes. “Everyone in the industry thinks of this Christmas as the last big holiday season for CD sales”, Mr. Sinnreich said, “and then everything goes kaput”.

According to Bernard Gueffier, founder of Musea Records in France, their sales in the past 10 years have dropped by 50%, despite growing recognition and sales channels. 

The owner of Record Heaven in Sweden tells me he’s seen a 15% drop in sales the first 4 months of this year and figures he’ll close shop within 2 years.

Dave Mulloy of Pendragon Music told me that he went from being able to make a living as a reseller, to only doing it as a hobby due to lost sales from illegal downloading.

At http://www.myspace.com/progagainstpirates there are quotes from members of Pendragon and IQ.
“Just as a small sample,” said Pendragon’s Nick Barrett, “on Komodo alone , over 200 people potentially [we cannot be sure because they don’t all “thank” the “releaser”…which is a joke in itself, like these guys wrote and recorded the frikkin album!] downloaded the soundtrack last weekend of our new DVD, Past And Presence, as opposed to the 10 people who bought it from our site. This weekend, from our site we sold two. 300 people have downloaded a sort of “10 album Pendragon package” from Pirate Bay, which is a loss for us of between £15,000 and £25,000! [depending on whether they would have been retail sales or from a wholesaler] And this is from this one site alone!”

“With regard to the downloading thing, personally I’m not impressed if we have 2 million fans that download for free”, said IQ keyboardist Martin Orford, founder of Giant Electric Pea Records. They’re no use to us whatsoever and I’d rather have just one that actually buys the CDs, because, if everyone expects to get music for free, all the middle ground of the music business (and that includes IQ) will disappear. And all that will be left are the amateur no-hopers and the superstars. The rest of us will all have given up due to lack of funding. This is not something that could happen, it’s happening already, and based on current trends I give bands like IQ and record companies like GEP a life-expectancy of five years at best.”
To summarize, there are plenty of legal ways to check out material, there is internet radio, download services like Mindawn that let you play the song three times for free, audio samples at virtually all online retailers, the band’s MySpace page, and your friends, who can have listening parties. These are all ways to get repeated exposure to new music. Remember some of those classic prog albums that you maybe didn’t like at first, but then grew on you, like Brain Salad Surgery, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Relayer, and others? If all you did was listen to them once and toss them, then you would have missed out on the years of enjoyment it eventually did provide.

Just today a news story ran that Apple is embedding customer account information in the meta-data of files they purchase from iTunes that are DRM free. This means that if you do decide to share the files, or received files from other people, it’s going to be really easy for iTunes to know and report it back. I’m a little torn on this, but maybe it will scare enough people in to doing the right thing. Other than that, there seems to be 2 possible solutions right now because none of the technological ones are working. Either you sue everyone in site like the RIAA is doing, or you engage in an awareness campaign, which is what I’m doing here. If this behavior continues, it WILL, without doubt and utter certainty, start killing off bands that you enjoy. Is that what you want?