Thumb Wars: Music Piracy

Ed Yevelev/Illustration

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Love It

We live in a world furnished with groundbreaking advances in technology. As long as macpar, winrar and torrents exist, the internet downloading phenomenon known as music piracy will remain easily accessible to the public. With the latest and greatest tunes just a click away, the trend has truly gone "viral."

For those who see music piracy ultimately as theft, this method of attaining music can actually be more helpful to artists than harmful. Piracy enables mass distribution for bands who lack promotional funds. It also helps raise artists to fame by rapidly spreading music that people wouldn't have noticed otherwise. Music blogs and download sites get hundreds of hits daily, all for providing free music. And although the artists whose music is being downloaded don't receive an immediate payout, piracy's speed and ease is a strong part of why it is such a powerful marketing tool.

If the music industry is busy raging against the evils of piracy, why are artists and labels - both mainstream and underground - offering free downloads with email signups? Lesser-known bands even offer full albums for free with optional donations.

Music piracy isn't the problem. It has shown the industry that "free" is good. Consumers are most responsive to "free." Piracy yields mass exposure, and free music will prompt consumers to attend concerts and buy merchandise from bands they discovered on the web. Now that piracy has staked its claim in music culture, the corporate world has to adapt and learn efficient marketing tactics from it. When people are introduced to new artists, and even genres, for free, it allows innovative musicians to reach a new demographic, and that is hardly a crime.

-Tracy Tieu

Hate It

I am not opposed to the end result of piracy - more music for more people to listen to (quantity), the crossing of international boundaries (expansion) and the development of global villages through the interest of sharing music online (community) are all positive outcomes. But the problem with this system is that it presents itself as a noble form of democracy when in reality it's a bald-faced act of stealing, an unethical underlay inherent in the word "piracy." Readily accepting file-sharing as the norm is comparable to acknowledging that Columbus "discovered" America; it's a justification that allows us to proceed without guilt. Two important consequences arise from overlooking these ethical realities.

First, it compromises the livelihood of musicians we love; without fan-funds, it is difficult to ensure future projects. Only a band of Radiohead's stature could afford to offer a pay-what-you-want scheme and still profit, whereas fringe bands lack the resources and popularity to benefit from such a model. Secondly, it adversely affects the listener on a personal level, transforming the fan from impassioned participant to trigger-happy collector of files. Sitting at the computer and listlessly clicking away negates the value of buying an LP at a record store. As a result, people accumulate thousands of songs without giving them a listen; suddenly these tracks become disposable, as fleeting as the way they were acquired.

Our understanding of music has now shifted into something based on the bloated volume of the iTunes library rather than the amount of tracks heard and enjoyed. Piracy has tricked us all along, giving us the impression of unfettered opportunity when, in actuality, it has stolen our intimate relationship with the thing we most treasure: music.

-Justin Bolois


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