Aaaar, Jim Lad!

Monday 27th April: Over the last couple of weeks, piracy has been quite big in the news. Somalian pirates seemed to cast their nets wider and, in at least one case, came off the worst after aggravating the United States and the founders of ThePirateBay were found guilty (apparently to their surprise) of some charge or other in their native Sweden. This latter story prompted BBC news, Radio 5 and the BBC news website (among others, probably) to allow experts and the general public to voice their opinions of whether music (and video) piracy was necessarily a bad thing.

It was while scanning through some of the vast number of comments left on the BBC website that I first thought of putting my thoughts down on “paper”, but as a blog entry rather than a short comment. The BBC’s actual question was actually something along the lines of “where do you buy/get your music from?” than the more blatant “do you think piracy is OK?” but you can probably guess that the people who answered “I download it illegally” are pretty much OK with the idea of piracy.

First off, a bit of a caveat. I’m not trying to upset, judge or p*ss off anybody, whether I know them or not. There may well be a groan coming from a regular reader… These are simply my own opinions. I’m also not that good at formulating arguments and, for the purposes of this entry, I have done very little research. (So what I’m saying may actually be total rubbish.)

Piracy, to me, is an almost complete no-no. I wouldn’t walk into HMV, pick up a CD and walk out without paying for it (despite, in my opinion, HMV’s poor pricing structure) so why would I download music from illegal file-sharing sites? If there was another shop, located just down the road from said HMV, which was giving away the same CDs, I would probably treat it with a degree of suspicion. Surely taking something that you should have paid for can only defined as stealing. Take another point of view – if you were an artist, would you want people paying for your output or getting a copy for free?

Of course, there is the argument that X have already made a bag full of money and that they get little revenue from CD sales, most of the cost of the actual product going to the record companies and, therefore, to fat-cat executives. But surely, without those fat-cat executives, the music industry as a whole would fall into disarray. That’s not to say that I agree with the corporate set-up. There are almost certainly better ways of sharing the revenue than happens currently. However, I do believe that destroying major record labels would have an adverse effect on all aspects of the music industry.

But, at the other end of the scale, how can anybody reconcile sharing the music of artists who self-record, play small gigs and get little mainstream recognition? The problem (or one of the problems) with file-sharing is that it doesn’t distinguish between successful and struggling bands. Anybody can take any piece of music and allow millions of people access to it for free, which can end up taking vital revenue to new bands.

What amuses (and annoys me) are the various reasons that people use to justify the fact that they don’t purchase the music they listen to. I’ve already covered the corporate aspect, but what about:

I own too much music to have the physical disk – they take up too much room. That’s fine, but you could reduce the room taken up by your collection (I use CD wallets) or pay for legal downloads.

Downloading my music is better for the environment – no waste and no production “costs”. Again, pay for your downloads. However, it is currently unlikely that you not buying a copy of a CD is going to reduce the number that are created so you aren’t really doing that much for the environment.

I already bought the music on a previous format, why should I have to buy it again? Now this one I can kind of see the logic in, but where do you draw the line? What happens if your copy gets scratched? Or lost? Or stolen? Of, if you have downloaded it legally, what happens if your hard-disk crashes? Until a crack-proof way of recording ownership in perpetuity can be found, there doesn’t seem to be a sensible way of policing this. However, I do think that there is a valid case for setting something up. I bet the fat-cats don’t.

CDs are really expensive. Again, I can see that. In some cases. However, the average cost of a CD bought by UK consumers has fallen to well below £10 (and is probably still falling). Shop around. Most albums can be found cheaper than on the high street and if you are downloading, chances are that you are savvy enough to use on-line shops. Oh yeah, and legal downloads are probably still cheaper than the physical thing.

Let’s face it, the main reason people download illegally is that it doesn’t cost them anything. And, in my opinion, the only difference between downloading and stealing from HMV is that you are unlikely to get caught doing the former. (And before anybody points out to me that downloading music isn’t actually illegal and that it is the file-sharing that is, I know but I doubt the argument would be any different if it were.)

Of course, there are perfectly acceptable ways of getting free music that are supported by the artists involved. But, generally, these are ways that the artists choose to promote their own material. I accept that some of these free downloads are lesser quality but my ears aren’t good enough to tell the difference (particularly since I mostly play downloads on my i-Pod as I cycle to work).

Going back a few paragraphs, perhaps for the people who don’t want to support the corporate fat-cats, it would be an idea to think more about what music they buy and where from, rather than how much they pay for it. Bear with me on this, the point is coming…

I like having physical CDs. The tangibility means something to me, as does the little booklet containing the lyrics, pictures, credits and little messages from the artists. I like and buy a wide range of music from a wide range of artists – some will be well-off into their old age and probably don’t need the small amount of revenue coming from my purchase. Others, though, probably welcome every sale. It is from these artists that I try to buy directly, either while at gigs of from the artist’s own web-site. I would have thought that any artist would prefer the revenue to come directly to them, even if they have had to pay for the recording process and, possibly, copies of the CD in the first place. There are also some bargains to be had – 98Pages’ debut album was just £5 at the launch gig. You don’t get much cheaper than that.

Or, how about supporting artists who produce albums by asking for pre-payments? I have personally done this for Mostly Autumn and Panic Room (in both cases, getting limited edition copies of the output) but other bands use this method either independently or through Sellaband, arguably a much more structured way. I am supporting three artists through Sellaband and received the first of my “Believers” limited edition CDs today. I’ll try to remember to post a review when I’ve had a chance to listen to it properly.

Finally, a few words about copying CDs. (This is where that groan I mentioned may appear.) I won’t say how, but I often have the opportunity to “look after” (accept) “backups” (copies) of CDs. I turn them down for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons are:

  • With nearly 500 CDs of my own, and my collection continually growing, I probably wouldn’t have time to listen to them.
  • As you will have noticed from the above, I believe that taking something without paying is wrong.

The prime reason, however, is probably that I’m a true Yorkshireman. Why should other people benefit from me spending my own money? If that sounds selfish, I apologise, but I do believe that everybody is entitled to their own principals.

And, if that sounds as though I’m a bit naive, I apologise again. I know that I have lent CDs to people and that they have copied them. I just have my own rules. I’m not sure I could clarify them, even to myself. Suffice to say, I won’t copy any CD for anybody and I probably wouldn’t lend anybody a newly-released CD, especially one that I had pre-paid for. I would, however, consider lending out older CDs, especially ones that I picked up really cheaply. How old would they have to be? I don’t know.

I guess that last paragraph makes me both a bit two-faced and a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it?

Squawk! Pieces of eight!


About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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