I’m posting this here and on this thread: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=681895
As someone who both uses the internet heavily and who is also an aspiring musician, I have a huge stake in this discussion and I feel that the issue isn’t being fully or adequately addressed.
I will start this by saying that piracy is indeed bad and immoral. I will not dispute that point. But at the same time I admit that it cannot be stopped.
Why? Two reasons: First, anything digital is now abundant. Digital media can be copied and shared so easily and widely that it’s no longer, to use the economic term, a “scarcity”, but instead has become abundant. All barriers to distribution—scarcity—have been removed and it’s been stripped of most, if not all, of it’s real economic value (although it still retains great social, artistic, political, religious, etc. value).
Secondly, the internet and digital technology have made piracy impossible to stop. The internet is so vast and interconnected that there are a million ways around a block of any kind. Look at Megaupload: Lots of people applauded when the site was taken down and when it’s owner and his companions were arrested. “Online piracy took a huge hit!” they cried. “We’re helping stop online piracy!” they said. Guess what? Within hours all the traffic that used to go to Megaupload went to other sites, and online piracy went back to the same levels they were at prior to the takedown. No effect.
Now that takedown doesn’t sound so impressive anymore. And piracy continues, only that it’s now even more widely distributed than before, making enforcement that much more impossible (much like Mickey Mouse and the brooms in Fantasia).
Now people will complain that this means that content creators such as musicians, authors, and filmmakers will go bankrupt because they won’t be able to make money. This is far from the truth for several reasons. To quote Chris Anderson, author of the book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”, you have to move away from what’s abundant to what’s scarce.
As an aspiring musician, my music will be so easily copied that it makes no sense for me to monetize it (in fact, I plan to either offer it for free or on a “pay-what-you-want” basis). I will instead monetize what’s truly scarce: myself and my merchandise, namely by touring for pay and selling merchandise to willing fans. In fact, most musicians under both the old and new systems made/make their money this way, since this is where the money’s at.
What about authors you ask? Book tours, seminars, and giving talks for pay are an option. If you have something good to say and you’re an expert in a field, people will pay a premium to get to see you talk about your subject in person. Into fiction? Do readings, book signings, and the like.
And filmmakers? Theaters are still viable, especially the smaller venues.
In the end this all boils down to one thing: The once-scarce-but-now-abundant item you used to monetize (your media) has instead become the marketing for the thing you can monetize (whatever the scarcity is). I don’t know what all those scarcities are, but if you truly want to make it work, find that scarcity and exploit it. Don’t believe me? The TED seminars, for example, cost $6,000 to attend, but videos of the different speeches are put on YouTube for free. A suicidal recipe? To traditionalists, perhaps, until you consider that actually attending the talks gives you unfettered access to the best minds in technology, business, the arts, politics, etc. while the videos only give you the talks themselves, not the chit chat in the lobby after the seminar. TED seminars regularly sell-out and the prices to attend keep rising.
Oh and one other thing: USE PIRACY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE!!! Since it can’t be stopped, EMBRACE IT. Every time somebody pirates something of yours, you are getting free exposure and marketing, the very lifeblood of any artist’s career. This doesn’t make it moral, but since it can’t be stopped, you might as well move with the flow. I know some will say that you’re earning less money as an artist, that you’re condoning evil, etc. But these things fail to recognize the sheer “unstoppability” of piracy, and the fact that fighting it is a losing battle (and constantly proven to be). Don’t believe me? Look at all the rappers and hip hop artists that pirate their own music to raise their profile, get new fans, create buzz about a new album, etc. I’m just trying to be realistic about the situation.
Digressing, I want to address how some here have said that the music, film, and video game markets are collapsing. Wrong. The old guard are dying because they failed to adapt, but not ordinary musicians, filmmakers, and other creative types. I point to a recent study titled “The Sky is Rising” that looked into the effects that abundant digital media had on artists. I quote:
For years now, the legacy entertainment industry has been predicting its own demise, claiming that the rise of technology, by enabling easy duplication and sharing – and thus copyright infringement – is destroying their bottom line. If left unchecked, they say, it is not only they that will suffer, but also the content creators, who will be deprived of a means to make a living. And, with artists lacking an incentive to create, no more art will be produced, starving our culture. While it seems obvious to many that this could not possibly be true, since creators and performers of artistic content existed long before the gatekeepers ever did, we’ve looked into the numbers to get an honest picture of the state of things. What we found is that not only is the sky not falling, as some would have us believe, but it appears that we’re living through an incredible period of abundance and opportunity, with more people producing more content and more money being made than ever before. As it turns out… The Sky Is Rising!
For the visual types, here’s an infographic: cdn.techdirt.com/images/theskyisrising.png
Contrary to some points raised here, the removal of barriers isn’t a bad thing and in fact leads to even greater levels of cultural production. We have more art today than ever before, especially from artists that otherwise would have never been able to get published because the old gatekeepers would have decried their work as “unsellable”, “not popular enough”, “garbage”, etc. And how is that a bad thing? What this means is that us creative types must produce better quality work to get noticed. As it’s always been (even more so now) cream rises. Everything else doesn’t.
Yet others said they had a right to distribute their work their way, by their means. While I support this, you also have to remember that there are more options for consumers today than ever before. Because of this, consumers will readily abandon any service that doesn’t meet their needs. So while you may only want to distribute one way, this is basically shooting yourself in the foot as you are limiting your reach and sales potential. Embrace all options and be open to trying things that may violate your sense of what is the best way to distribute.
Some final points: Some stated that the internet is going to become subject to greater levels of control. I respond thusly: Did you see what happened to SOPA and PIPA? What’s happening to ACTA and TPP? SOPA and PIPA were killed when massive numbers of internet users rose up and flooded Congress with calls and emails demanding the bills be stopped. What happened? Both bills are dead. ACTA and TPP sparked massive protests in the countries that considered signing them (or did) and now many of those countries either changed their minds and refuse to sign them, or are now questioning their necessity. The internet is open, and has been moving in that general direction. More control doesn’t seem to be happening, nor is it realistically possible.
This was definitely a long post, but I hope I hit all the points equally. If you wanna know more, I again recommend the book “Free” by Chris Anderson. As the editor of Wired magazine, he understands this stuff in great detail and really thoroughly describes these issues in his book.