Most people have had some experience with music piracy, whether they are willing to admit it or not. Piracy seems immoral because it hurts artists and it’s illegal, but a study shows downloading audio content without paying may not be so harmful for the industry.
“It doesn’t affect me because I look at the internet as the new radio. I look at the radio as gone … Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around,” musician Neil Young told UpVenue.
With some of the biggest names in music like Young justifying stealing music, it may not need to be condemned so harshly anymore. If the very people anti-piracy policies are attempting to protect don’t see their necessity, then perhaps the system is outdated and obsolete.
Opponents of legalizing music piracy typically argue that this practice is, in and of itself, an illegal act of theft, considering it entails people downloading music without paying for it. They aren’t wrong about this, but the effects of piracy aren’t as detrimental as these individuals believe.
“It seems that the majority of the music that is consumed illegally by the individuals in our sample would not have been purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available to them,” according to a 2013 report by researchers at the European Commission Joint Research Centre.
Without music piracy, not only would artists fail to make money off the same songs, but their music wouldn’t circulate at the same rate. Fewer people would be hearing and supporting their art, hurting artists more in the long run.
In fact, “the study found that legal purchases would be about 2 percent lower without illegal downloading available—meaning, yes, illegal downloads boost legal downloads,” according to Time Magazine.
Guitarist Edward O’Brien of Radiohead raiseså an intriguing point about how people pirated content in the past, according to UpVenue.
“There’s a very strong part of me that feels that peer-to-peer illegal downloading is just a more sophisticated version of what we did in the 80s, which was home taping,” O’ Brien said. “If they really like it, some of them might buy the records … if they don’t buy the albums they might buy a concert ticket, t-shirt or other merchandising.”
With so many other sources of income for artists, including live performance tickets and merchandise, perhaps missing out on the very small profit they’d receive from selling an album isn’t significant.
Plus, this isn’t some new phenomenon that came along with the rise of the internet. People have been pirating for decades, and the music industry has not collapsed yet.
In efforts to reduce piracy, various legal streaming services have been introduced over the last couple years, including Spotify and Apple Music. Nevertheless, this has not deterred pirating so far, as “illegal streaming and downloads of music increased in 2017,” according to Variety.
Keeping in line with the findings of the European Commission Joint Research Centre’s study, simply providing legal music streaming is not enough to stop music piracy. It appears to be an inevitable part of the industry and perhaps it is time to accept it as such.
Although music piracy may be an inherently illegal act of theft, perhaps people shouldn’t judge it quite as severely as they currently do. There are some benefits to it, like it or not, and it is part of the reality that accompanies such a massive music industry.