Talking Points: Music Piracy

Ashley Cooke and Maria Le Brun discuss the effects of illegal downloads on the music industry. 


Music piracy doesn’t hurt the industry anywhere near as much as the RIAA and the IFPI will have you believe. From time to time they publish some quite ludicrous figures about the amount of money lost through illegal downloads, but they stem from an implausible premise: that for every album someone downloads, had they been unable to do so they would have purchased it legally. If someone, particularly a student, were to download five albums in a week, should they have been forced to buy them they may have been able to afford one or two of those, and actually wanted to pay for even fewer.

The popular analogy between stealing a CD from a shop and downloading an album online is similarly incorrect. I’m sure you’ve seen the cinema advert claiming, ‘you wouldn’t steal a car.’ No, but you’d download one if you could. Stealing a CD involves a physical product that has an inherent cost, and was bought by the store to retail for a certain price, and so that is lost money. A download however, has no inherent financial value. It is digital and can be downloaded an infinite number of times. Rather than the band or record label losing money, they’re failing to gain it instead, and there is a difference.

Buying an album is a risk. When you’re spending near enough £10 on a new album, if you then discover you don’t like it you’re out of pocket. Especially if it’s a band you don’t know very well. Downloading music allows you to take risks and listen to a huge variety of music, safe in the knowledge that if you dislike it, you haven’t lost anything. In doing so, you can discover innumerable bands and musicians, whose music it is unlikely you would have come across should you have been forced to pay for the album.

Now here’s the important qualifier: music piracy is only a positive thing if you support the acts whose music you download by going to gigs and buying merchandise. If you discover a band that you really like by downloading their album, an album that you wouldn’t have been prepare to take the risk of purchasing, then you should ensure you get along to see them when they’re on tour and support the artists that way. If you can download an album for free, you will, but there is no free alternative to live music, and that’s why it will never die.

The music industry has to adapt to music piracy, and that is no bad thing. Where a band may once have made their money on music sales, and hoped to break even on the tour, now the opposite is true. Governments and big business make futile attempts to stop online piracy. ACTA, SOPA, The Digital Economy Act. All they serve to do is endanger freedom of information, and anyway, whose interest do they act in? Big labels like Sony, Warner, and Universal. They certainly don’t go to all that effort because they’re concerned for the bands themselves.

Ashley Cooke




To borrow a well-known cinema advert — if you love music, you should hate piracy. It might seem great to get all your favourite songs for free and without even having to get up from your computer but all this comes at a cost — a cost that is, frankly, unsustainable.

Some will say that the culture of giving music away for free (think Myspace bloggers circa 2007) is actually healthy for the music industry as is basically free advertising for emerging artists. However the practice of listening to a posted sample of an artist’s music on their blog is completely different to downloading a pirate copy of their album from a filesharing website. The ‘free-advertising’ argument falls down quite simply because anyone who has downloaded the music by means of piracy now already has it and is no longer a target for advertising: no need to preach to the choir. To say that most people who ‘try’ the album first by downloading it illegally then go on to buy it is a myth: they are exceptions to the rule rather than the majority, and the fact that some percentage of people might later buy it does not mitigate the piracy of the rest. Still, even those who later buy it do not undo their initial piratical actions which contribute to the normalisation of the piracy culture.

Even serial blogger Lily Allen is against stealing music saying ‘it eats away at opportunity for new artists because there is less money for record labels to spend on signing and developing new artists’. To argue that piracy only damages ‘greedy’ record labels is false as it only really hits the musicians because the record labels simply pass on a smaller percentage of profits to beat the squeeze. Without the prospect of proper pay, fewer potential musicians will become professionals and those who are struggling will turn to more regular incomes meaning that less quality music will be produced and a whole generation of talent lies wasted because of our addiction to bit-torrent. When faced with budget cuts labels are also forced to be more conservative and only produce CDs they know will sell e.g. anything of the Simon Cowell School of Music!  At the end of the day, if musicians wanted us to have their music for free they’d give it to us but as it stands, just like everyone else they have to make a living.

Maria Le Brun


What the Artists Say:

“…[Y]ou know how much you can earn off touring, right? Big artists can make anywhere from $50 millon for one cycle of two years’ touring. Giant artists make upwards of $100 million. Make music–then tour. It’s just the way it is today.” – Lady Gaga

“Downloading’s the same as what I used to do–I used to take the charts of the songs I liked [off the radio]. I don’t mind it. I hate all these big, silly rock stars who moan–at least they’re fucking downloading your music…and paying attention, know what I mean? You should fucking appreciate that–what are you moaning about?…” – Liam Gallagher

“Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around. That’s the real world for kids.” – Neil Young

PHOTO / fdecomite