Music Piracy And The End Of Culture

This guest post is by Charlotta Hedman (@fjoms), a journalist who blogs for the Music 4.5 project, a series of events that bring together people from the technology and the music industry.

musicThe music industry seems to be bracing itself for peak-revenue in the same way the rest of the world is waiting for the oil to run out. Is it really true that piracy will turn some countries into a cultural wasteland? According to some reports it's already happening. In Spain where downloading isn't illegal album sales by local artists have dropped 65 percent in recent years. It's gloomy news for an industry who's become so dependent on what now seems like an archaic business model. IFPI isn't happy and believes that global legislation is needed for the industry's survival.

But will more legislation work? Prohibition is rarely successful and there are geeks out there who will fight tooth and nail to keep the downloads going. Recent reports at Torrentfreak also show that even though the RIAA sent out over two million copyright infringement notices during the last two years, but the effects on file-sharing levels have been unnoticeable.

Legal downloads are stalling

What the industry needs is a new direction. Something that will work for those who've grown used to getting their music and movies for free. Streaming services have had an impact on illegal downloading in countries like the UK, but according to Business Week the percentage of legal downloads have now stalled.

Research by Nielsen SoundScan shows that downloads of songs to iPods, computers and other devices grew with just 0.3 percent during this year. And even worse, the downloading of ring-tones (which brought the industry $714 million in 2007) have fallen 24 percent.

It might be time for the industry to adopt a new digital strategy, but what? Maybe they can follow in the footsteps of the ailing newspapers and start selling clothes hangers (like The Telegraph in the UK).

New consumer habits

But there might be another way. Apparently audiences are more inclined to tune into intelligent streaming-services like Pandora. Too much choice leads to people wanting new ways of discovering good music. When every single song ever made seems to be available online, we might need some help finding what we like.

The question is if people even want to own music anymore. Do we really need all those CDs or mp3s taking up space on our shelves or on our hard-drives? Especially when we can just tune into a digital service and get access to any of the songs we like instantly.

Too late to fight piracy?

The downloads of pirated music are still growing. In countries like Spain and Sweden where piracy is rife a lot of people think it's silly to pay for music, when it's so easy to get it for free.

Even the music industry are realizing it might be too late to fight piracy. Francis Keeling, the vice president for Universal Music, has said it isn't possible to stop piracy, but that the industry needs to make it socially unacceptable. Is it a problem that will be tackled in the same way as smoking then? It's been possible to ban smoking from public places and therefore reduce the incentive to pick up a cigarette. It's not going to be as easy to control the internet. Smoking also costs people money, downloading songs doesn't.

The music industry is trying to compete with a market that can provide their products for free. If audiences have had a taste of not paying, that's what they're going to keep looking for. The Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, told Torrentfreak that music companies need to wake up and embrace the price competition.

Piracy will hardly lead to a cultural apocalypse. There are already indie artists producing their own movies and music and sharing it for free. We're not running out of culture, just the money to pay for it. But record labels and artists need to remember that there still are people consuming their products out there. And where there's an audience there's also a target market. Now we just need to figure out how to entice them to spend money again.

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