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Why I'm Not Worried About Piracy

January 8th, 2014
money, music, copyright

Some comments from a facebook discussion on piracy in traditional music:

I am sure that most people who "pirate" CDs are not nefarious at heart or intention, but pirating a musician's (or anyone else) creativity is tantamount to stealing your guitar or piano or whatever.
And:
It's an unconscionable and shameful act. People need to realize that they are not bucking the music industry. They are stealing from the very musicians they love to hear and breaking their spirit

When some musicians discover people are copying their music around they feel hurt. Don't people realize how much time and money went into that CD? Why are they willing to be so disrespectful to artists they claim to enjoy? How will people afford to make CDs if no one will buy them? Are they malicious or just careless? But I don't see it that way.

This situation is almost all social and not economic. If I record a traditional dance tune and my local radio station plays it, I don't get paid anything: in the US performers aren't paid for radio broadcasts of their work. Similarly if a library buys my CD and hundreds of people listen to it over the years I still only get paid once, and the listeners don't pay anything. Yet we don't condem radio listeners and library patrons as 'pirates' who should be ashamed of themselves. It's not as simple as "people who listen for free are stealing from the musicians."

That there are accepted free ways to listen to music, however, doesn't make music free to create. There's a lot of time, energy, and money that goes into making a good recording. So if we want to continue to have bands putting out music we want to listen to then it needs to get paid for somehow. If it becomes fully socially acceptable to copy music, won't sales disappear entirely? The radio and library are inconvenient, but a digital copy is just as good as one ripped from a CD you bought yourself.

Right now that's not what I see happening. We bring our CD to dances and sell a few from the stage each night. I'm sure there's some amount of copying going on, but it's not to the point where we're considering it in deciding whether to make a second CD. People like our playing, we make it easy to buy the CD, they get to go home with some dance music.

But let's say people become more willing to share music and this changes, with everyone passing music around and no one buying. Then putting in $2k to $20k up front to make a CD looks like a way for bands to lose a lot of money. The kickstarter crowdfunding model is well suited for a world like this. We'd get people who liked our music to pledge $10 each, and if enough people were willing to pool their money we'd go make a CD. Can't get enough people to pledge? Play more dances, give more people a great time on the dance floor, and try again later. Lots of people would rather get music for free than pay for it, but try placing them in a position where their money makes the difference between the CD being made and not.

People sharing our music doesn't worry me. I'd rather they buy our music than copy it, but I'd rather they copy it than not listen to it.

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