Thursday, 3 December 2009


According to a recent report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries, 95% of music downloads in 2008 were illegal. The report claims that more than 40 billion songs were illegally downloaded and popular music website DrownedinSound calculate that this left the music industry with £48 billion shortfall.

The music industry is apparently only making 5% of its potential and with the already dramatic decrease in legitimate physical sales due to the “digital revolution,” the age of file sharing appears to be causing irreparable damage. Whilst these figures are dubious and many will question how they could ever calculate such a figure, it highlights the degree to which illegal downloads towers over legal downloads.

I am only 21 but I remember when I was at school spending all my money on CDs, as did all my friends. I remember eagerly waiting for new albums coming out and rushing into HMV to make sure I secured a copy. Now I don’t even own a stereo; my music system is a set of speakers that plug into my laptop.

The vast majority of my friends download music. The uneducated use p2p applications which are full of viruses and fake copies of songs and albums. Others use torrents, good download speeds, comments to verify the material and hundreds of sites that index what is available. The hardcore use newsgroups, you have to pay for access but the download speeds and available downloads are huge.

I download most of my music first. If I really like the album then I will buy the CD or more often, buy the vinyl. Because my laptop is my media system and the only other way I listen to music is on my ipod, having CDs becomes unnecessary. I don’t like paying for downloads because I don’t like not having something physical to show for it, hence the preference for vinyl. You also worry that if your computer dies, you could lose the music. If I really like the band or album however, it is nice to have the vinyl, the artwork looks cooler as its either in a 7” or 12” case and is more collectable. The vast majority of my friends download music; those that say they don’t are usually lying. Sharing music with friends used to mean swapping albums for a week but it now means sharing the torrent or rapidshare link.

It becomes very hard to pay for music when you are given the choice of using very similar software, say iTunes and BitTorrent, similar download speeds and similar quality but then also the option of paying or not paying. Radiohead released their critically acclaimed In Rainbows in 2007, they told fans they could pay what they wanted and as a result, about 62% walked away without paying anything. Only 12% paid in the region of what an album usually costs.

When you are at home on your computer and you have the choice of getting something you want for free or paying for exactly the same thing, most people will take the free option. This assumes that the person downloading the album cares nothing for the band. Paying for the album can ensure a smaller bands future. If I go and see a new band and I like them, I will buy the album. This is more relevant for smaller bands because you know the money means more to them. One album sale can be the difference between having petrol money to get to the next show or not. The bigger a band gets, the less of a direct relationship exists and so you can become less inclined to pay for the album because that real relationship with the band can fade.

File sharing is stealing. Every song downloaded for free is lost revenue. Many smaller bands however can benefit from file sharing. I read an article by an artist called Fakesensations who tried releasing an album via the major online stores. Very little happened and about $50 was earned. The artist then put the album up on a torrent tracker site. In 2 days, 500 people had downloaded the album. This is 500 people that probably never would have bought the album but now may go to a show, buy some merchandise or buy a physical copy of the album. The record labels would see this as 500 lost sales but to the artist, it is 500 potential new fans. This highlights the difficulty in regulating file sharing because sometimes artists do benefit.

As long as music can be easily downloaded, it will be downloaded. British internet service providers have started to send out letters informing customers that they are doing something illegal. France has introduced a 3 strikes policy where you can get banned from the internet for continuing to file share. I think this is an interesting policy and could have real effects. The choice of downloading for free now has serious consequences. Whilst not as severe as fines or prison sentences, consumers now must choose between legally downloading or losing internet access.

With the likes of Spotify, Myspace and, there is a wealth of free music out there. The internet has made file sharing so simple and common place that I think the rights of artists need to be championed a little bit more. Letting people know that file sharing is stealing and that it has a direct impact on the artists is needed. Perhaps the letters ISPs send out to users should not be a standard letter but actually contain a list of what has been illegally downloaded and how much should have been paid in the first place. This way you can actually see the value of what you have stolen.

This blog was originally written for Face Youth Lab

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