Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stealing is Bad (and Illegal), But How Much Damage Does it Cause?

After reading the articles on piracy, the one that enlightened me the most was Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. In particular, his dissection of the different forms of piracy and description of the 4 kinds of p2p file sharing. The most harmful of the 4 is type "A" which essentially comes down to downloading music instead of purchasing it. This is the type that the music industry claims is creating the biggest dent in their pockets. While Lessig believes that all forms of piracy are illegal, he thinks that the industry is off base in its argument. He states that while an estimated 2.1 billion CDs were downloaded for free, revenues from CD sales had fallen only 6.7% in 2002. He also takes issue with the argument that stealing a CD and downloading a song is the same offense. This is not the case because stealing a CD means stealing a physical entity, leaving the store with one less to sell, therefore it is a lost sale. If every downloaded CD was the same as a stolen CD, there would've been a 100% sales drop. Since revenues only dropped 6.7%, Lessig argues there is a huge difference between stealing a CD and downloading a CD.

The remaining 3 types of p2p sharing are, according to Lessig, are the following:
B. Sharing music to give someone else a sample of something they haven't heard of,
C. Sharing music that is no longer commercially available, and
D. Getting access to content which is not copyrighted or the copyright owner is offering to the public.

These 3 types are essentially harmless in the grander scheme of things, but are nonetheless illegal (with the exception of D). So really, how much damage does piracy cause? Overall, according to the data Lessig provides, not that much.

In Rick Carnes article Has Piracy Killed the 'Recording Artist', he talks about an interview with OK Go's Damian Kulash in which he says the focus of the band is not on selling records, but performing, licensing, and sponsorship opportunities. I fully support his method of making money off of his music. The best part of being a fan of music is hearing live performances. Shelling out $50+ (at a minimum) to see an artist should justify their music being downloadable to the masses. Many artists just getting their start give out their music for free anyways to build hype and rely on performances to gain popularity. Once artists make it big, they sell out shows in every city they visit. A good number of the people in attendance buy T-shirts and other goodies that the artists offer, putting even more money in their pocket. I'm not saying they're greedy by charging for the concert and swag in addition to their CDs, that's just the nature of the business. But, if millions of people enjoy their music and attend their shows, wouldn't it be nice to enjoy it for free?

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