While the music industry has long flailed against online copyright infringement in sometimes harmful and often ineffective ways, a new study is out suggesting that shutting down the file sharing sites which are so often havens for this type of infringement would hurt new artists and the industry as a whole.
Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt
The evolution of the music industry's response to the fact that copyright infringement exists on the internet has been both plodding and frustrating. The industry, which has gone through stages including a focus on high-profile and punitive lawsuits against individual "pirates", its own flavors of copyright trolling, and misguided attempts to "educate" the masses as to why their natural inclinations are the worst behavior ever, have since settled into a mantra that site-blocking censorship of the internet is the only real way to keep the music industry profitable. All of this stems from a myopic view on piracy held by the industry that it is always bad for every artist any time a music file is downloaded for free as opposed to purchased off of iTunes or wherever. We have argued for years that this view is plainly wrong and far too simplistic, and that there is actually plenty of evidence that, for a large portion of the music industry, piracy may actually be a good thing.
Well, there has been an update to a study first publicized as a work in progress several years ago run by the Information Economics and Policy Journal out of Queen's University. Based on that study, it looks like attempts to shut down filesharing sites would not just be ineffectual, but disastrous for both the music industry as a whole and especially new and smaller-ticket artists. The most popular artists, on the other hand, tend to be more hurt by piracy than helped. That isn't to be ignored, but we must keep in mind that the purpose of copyright law is to get more art created for the benefit of the public and it seems obvious that the public most benefits from a larger successful music ecosystem as opposed to simply getting more albums from the largest audiences.
The methodology in the study isn't small peanuts, either. It considered 250,000 albums across five million downloads and looked to match up the pirating of those works and what effect that piracy had in the market for that music.
“I now find that top artists are harmed and mid-tier artists may be helped in both markets, but that these effects are larger for digital sales,” Lee tells TorrentFreak. “This is consistent with the idea that people are more willing to switch between digital piracy and digital sales than between digital piracy and physical CDs.”
The findings lead to the conclusion that there is no ideal ‘one-size-fits-all’ response to piracy. In fact, some unauthorized sharing may be a good thing.
This is in line with observations from musicians themselves over the past years. Several top artists have admitted the positive effects of piracy, including Ed Sheeran, who recently said that he owes his career to it.
None of this is to argue that piracy is always a net benefit, obviously. Such an argument would be the counterargument to the music industry's description of piracy as always bad, all the time, for everyone. And it would be equally fallacious. What this study chiefly points out is exactly what the conclusion above states: there is no one-size fits all truth on the effect of piracy for artists. It helps some, it hurts others.
While we shouldn't take the negative impact on artists it may hurt lightly, remember that this is all framed by a music industry regularly calling for the blocking of filesharing sites. That really is a one size fits all "solution" to piracy and, based on this study, it would hurt many, many musical acts.
According to the researcher, the music industry should realize that shutting down pirate sites may not always be the best option. On the contrary, file-sharing sites may be useful as promotional platforms in some cases.
“Following above, a policy of total shutdown of private file sharing networks seems excessively costly (compared with their relatively small impact on sales) and unwise (as a one-size-fits-all policy). It would be better to make legal consumption more convenient, reducing the demand for piracy as an alternative to purchasing,” Lee tells us. “It would also be smart to experiment with releasing music onto piracy networks themselves, especially for up-and-coming artists, similar to the free promotion afforded by commercial radio.”
The pain here is in how obvious it all is. We've been saying exactly this for years, except the proposed solutions from the music industry have only grown more drastic in that same time. Flat censorship is something of a nuclear option and it's being used against sites that actually helpsome percentage of artists.
How in the world is that the best plan for a thriving music ecosystem?