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On the Increasing Threat of Music Piracy
by Noctir (Mar. 2009; revised Sept. 2010)
Back in the early 1980s, the BPI (British Phonograph Industry) came up with the slogan, “Home Taping Is Killing Music”. Of course, making cassette copies was not a big deal, whatsoever. Aside from the labels themselves, few likely believed that is was a true danger to the music industry. In particular, tape trading was one of the key elements in the underground Metal scene. Whether it was bands trading their own demo tapes to other bands, or fans making copies for friends in order to expose them to new music, home taping was hardly an evil thing in the eyes of the musicians.
Today, the problem has grown. Technology has evolved, and the danger has grown at a significant rate. Music piracy is something that everyone should be concerned about, from the labels to the bands and, yes, even to the fans. Innocent home taping has now been replaced by downloading, which is the most common form of theft. And make no mistake about it, downloading is a form of stealing. Unfortunately, most people see it as their “right” to be able to access music for free. They will argue, vehemently, and defend this practice. Of course, they will also complain when a computer error causes them to “lose” their collection.
First off, downloading an album is not the same as owning it. Sadly, many know very little about this. For those that have grown up in this age, the concept of going out and buying a CD seems archaic. They'll scream from the rooftops, “Why pay for something when you can have it for free?”, yet they don't realize that everyone involved is being cheated.
Those who engage in this practice are robbing themselves of quite a bit. Imagine being told of a band that you would probably enjoy. You get a brief description, enough to pique your interest, and maybe the recommendation to seek out a particular album. It takes root in your mind, and your interest grows. Eventually, you find a way to hear a song from that very record, whether you called a radio DJ a dozen times, in the middle of the night, or happened to catch it while in the car with someone. Now, you've got a little taste, and you're dying to get your hands on this album. You go to all of the record shops, but no luck. Maybe you end up having to special order it, or you happen across it in a catalog. Whatever lengths you had to go to, it was all worth it when you finally had the album in your hands. That was all part of the experience. An album isn't merely the music, itself. Otherwise, no one would put forth the effort into designing the packaging, getting the right cover art and choosing the right band photos. The aesthetics play a role in the presentation of the music, as well. And then there are the lyrics and liner notes. In the old days, occasionally, one would discover even more bands through the “thanks list” of a band that you already like, assuming that they may associate with similar groups. There are many different aspects to the whole process. Spending money on something that matters to you and, in turn, supporting the music that you care about is another integral part of this. Because you invested time and money into acquiring the album, you're much more likely to truly explore it and to get the most out of it. People have a tendency to take things for granted, when they get them for free.
A good point that some would bring up is that, after going through so much trouble, they would often get stuck with something that didn't live up to their expectations. For them, downloading is a way to preview the album before making the decision of whether or not to purchase it. I could see some value in this kind of approach, yet far too many download the music and never think twice about buying the CD. The concept is quite simple: If you like it, seek it out. If you don't like it enough to buy it, then it should get deleted. I mean, if it's not worth paying for then it's not worth listening to. By the same token, if it's worth listening to then it's worth dropping some cash on. A lot of people whine that they wouldn't have as much music as they do if they had to actually pay for it. Tough shit. Part of having a respectable music collection is knowing how long it took you to amass such a collection of records, cassettes and CDs. I can look at my music collection and know that I've been building on this since childhood. I can pick up a certain album and remember where I bought it and when. I can recall whether I listened to it for the first time on my stereo at home, if I took it to a friend's house or if I couldn't wait and had to listen to it in the car as soon as I came out of the store. What do you get when you download something? Nothing. No memories. No sentimental value. Just a bunch of files on your computer. And, chances are, since it comes so easy and conveniently, it doesn't mean as much. Furthermore, you are less likely to really spend a lot of time getting familiar with each album, since you're rapidly downloading as much as your PC will allow. See, when you have to actually pay for your music, you get to take time to explore each album, since you won't be able to afford another for a week or maybe a month. The whole process is different.
Have I downloaded music? Yes, I have. By late 2006/early 2007, I began downloading rare and hard-to-find stuff that I'd never be able to get my hands on, without being robbed on eBay. In cases such as this, I fully support whatever form of piracy that you choose to utilize. When it comes to something that is out of print, such as a demo or something along those lines, do what you must. To be honest, I got to the point where I was previewing albums as well, but something crossed my mind. This method was lacking something. It just wasn't the same. I hated the idea of my first time experiencing an album being in some false manner, such as listening on the PC.
Still, some will say that downloading isn't so much different from home taping. I used to do a lot of that, when I was younger. In my view, it isn't the same. Having something on a tape was a step down in sound, not just the lack of packaging. Downloading offers the ability to have the same quality (though not always) and the music can then be burned to a CD that possess all the capabilities of the genuine article. It can be used to make even more copies, without losing anything in sound quality. Back when we traded tapes, if you then chose to share that with someone and recorded onto another tape, the sound quality got worse and worse. By the time you had a fifth or sixth generation copy, Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time could end up with the same production quality as Hellhammer's Satanic Rites. You got to check the music out, but it wasn't a very good substitute and it made you want to go get the album to get the full experience.
To continue along with this, one has to wonder how so many people try to impress others with their knowledge, or possession, of obscure bands. Years ago, this may have been something worthy of respect. Now, it's meaningless. When someone can hear of a band and then download their whole discography two minutes later, it kind of nullifies any sort of credibility that one might achieve by either knowing of an obscure band or "owning" a rare release. In the past, it was a big deal that someone was able to track down and obtain such an album, but everything is instantaneous now, so this is completely irrelevant.
There are tons more that have a 'collection' of hundreds or even thousands of albums that they never intend to buy. Some will complain that they could never afford so many albums, otherwise. I starved myself when I was a teenager to have money for albums, but I managed to get what I needed. Anyone that tells me that some 15 year old kid really needs to get into Metal and then download 500 albums in the span of the week is missing out on something, just like that kid will by not learning to appreciate the music by having to seek it out and pay for it. When it's all just a click away, it loses a lot of meaning. And this doesn't even touch on the fact that those who download with no intention of buying are robbing the bands, in a sense, and not doing their part to support the music that they supposedly care for.
Oddly, I've noticed that a lot of music thieves feel no guilt because they assume that they are only robbing the record labels. They claim that they still support the bands by going to gigs and buying t-shirts. Think about that for a moment. It is not only conceivable, but probable, that if the downloading of an album is of a large enough scale that the popularity of a band/album will be skewed and the label will see no need to heavily promote the band, based on the perceived poor fan response. If they choose to not properly promote a band that doesn't appear to be moving many records, this means less tours (if any). Why send them on tour to promote an album or to market merchandise when their research tells them that no one cares about the band? In that case, none of those that intended to support their favourite groups, by going out to see them play live and buy a few t-shirts and stickers, will get that chance. In time, if the problem is severe enough, you may just hinder some bands from even being able to make music anymore. If a label sees that they're losing money on a particular band, there's less of a chance that they'll care to finance another record when they can only expect it to be a "failure" as well.
In time, this can progress to the point where the underground labels lose their distribution and then vanish. Not only are bands unable to record more albums (unless they can afford to record and release them on their own), but even their back catalogs will be at risk, with no more underground labels to reissue them and no distributors willing to bother with it. That means less CDs, cassettes and vinyl for those of us that actually care to collect it all. As for you music thieves, if no one can get the albums and rip them into their pc so that you can download everything, where do you think it will come from?
Often, the cry will be heard that the band members won't starve to death if they sell a few less CDs. That's not the point. Ask yourself this: would it be alright if people stole from you, so long as you weren't in critical financial condition? It's the principle of the matter, though few people have principles these days. 

Copyright 2006-2017, Noctir