Music Piracy As Market Correction

AUTHOR’S NOTE: TechCrunch has reported that the Iron Maiden story that this article was centered around was misreported, if not an outright fabrication. We have corrected the factual inaccuracies and regret the error.

For years, advocates of strict enforcement of intellectual property law on the Internet and elsewhere have said that the single largest detriment to the music and film industry is piracy: Namely, the unauthorized downloading of music, movies and other pieces of entertainment, mostly for free. According to the RIAA and MPAA, millions of dollars in revenue per year is lost to piracy.

Of course, piracy is but one aspect of the growing decentralization of entertainment. Sites like Spotify and Bandcamp have further weakened the RIAA’s hold on music production and a multitude of video aggregators out there allow independent filmmakers to post their work and gain large audiences.

As much as it’s highly likely that the RIAA is exaggerating heavily in order to curry favor with the public on the issue of piracy, there are artists and bands whose ability to profit off their art has been harmed by the practice.

In a previous version of this story, I mentioned that Andy Patrizio, journalist at Citeworld, erroneously reported, “In the case of Iron Maiden, still a top-drawing band in the U.S. and Europe after thirty years, it noted a surge in traffic in South America. Also, it saw that Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Columbia, and Chile were among the top 10 countries with the most Iron Maiden Twitter followers. There was also a huge amount of BitTorrent traffic in South America, particularly in Brazil.

“Rather than send in the lawyers, Maiden sent itself in. […] The result was massive sellouts. The São Paolo show alone grossed £1.58 million (US$2.58 million) alone.”

While the Iron Maiden story turned out to be unsubstantiated, instances of this kind of activity still exist. Bloomberg Businessweek reported back in October that alternative artist Moby not only released his new album, Innocents, via BitTorrent — he released the masters to each individual instrument track, allowing fans to remix and recreate his music in unique ways. He joined music and culture magazine Vice, metal/hip-hop group Linkin Park and hip-hop band Death Grips on the roster for a new initiative by BitTorrent to bring artists closer to their fans (and reshape their image in the process), called “BitTorrent Bundles.” Writers Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow have embraced file sharing as means to obtain their work and broaden their reach.

So, what does this mean in the context of the long-ongoing Intellectual Property War?

In short, it signifies that piracy — far from an aberrant act practiced by a few brazen rulebreakers looking to shortchange honest artists (and the people who own them) — is in fact a much-needed market correction in an environment that has long favored oligopolies over independence and decentralization. What’s known as piracy is only a few steps removed from the DIY activities of punk bands and indie artists who eschew major record labels and professional distribution models in favor of touring, merch sales, vinyl, tape and CD sharing, and posting their work on the Internet for their friends to see.

Hopefully we’ll see more of this as the war rages on.

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