So, we received a question this morning, and it’s one that every member of the ‘loper team will probably want to address in different ways: who does piracy really hurt? You know the arguments, how some people believe that stealing music doesn’t hurt anything because, well, those corporations are so big, nobody will notice a few bucks here, a few bucks there.
Let’s be honest here. Piracy hurts every single person and business in the chain. It hurts the artist, it hurts the labels, it hurts the retailers. If you’re talking in terms of physical media, it hurts the people who drive trucks and work in warehouses. It hurts artists who haven’t yet been signed to labels. You might not think there’s an impact, but you’re wrong.
One thing that we have had a tough time doing is defining piracy. We’re not alone; if you ask the RIAA, point blank, to help you understand what is stealing and what is not, they won’t answer you. This is why they’re taking the rather unfortunate step of suing people left and right. What will end up happening is that the definitions of piracy will be decided through litigation rather than serious discourse.
So if we, in all of our infinite wisdom, cannot define piracy, what happens to the ordinary individual? How do you know if you’re hurting or helping an artist? There is a lot of evidence that artists who give their work away for free online derive subsequent benefits. Our laws and our culture have not had a meeting of the minds yet; heck, our lawmakers don’t necessarily understand the Internet they’re trying to control.
Making it even worse is the fact that the music industry keeps adding layers of difficulty to the simple act of purchasing and enjoying music. Through endless DRM schemes and buying into deals that ties software exclusively to hardware (see: our lengthy dissection of the DRM wars), the music industry is practically begging consumers to bypass legal purchases and head straight for illegal downloads. It could be argued (and has been) that the industry’s anti-piracy zealousness actually encourages piracy.
Here’s a rule of thumb. If it’s for sale legally, yet you’re not paying a cent for what you’re downloading, you’re probably stealing the music. Unless you see a clear indicator that the music you’re about to enjoy is free of charge. This is a harsh and overly broad definition of piracy. It also ignores those little gray areas that nobody wants to talk about — orphaned music, music that you own legally in about six other formats, the time-honored tradition of friends sharing music with friends.
Piracy is stealing — and it’s stealing from a lot of people, not just deep-pocketed corporations. The problem is, however, that piracy isn’t a black-and-white issue. It’s time to stop suing customers and start figuring out how to make legal purchases as easy as possible. It would make me believe that the music industry was serious about its mission.