Music Business

Time Square Piracy Billboard Effectively Leverages A Polarized Debate

Ghost-beach-logoPiracy is an understandably difficult topic for musicians to address. There do seem to be some beneficial returns in terms of marketing but the fact remains that some people just get a kick out of sharing bootlegs and others will always check first to see if they can download music for free. However the recent uproar over Ghost Beach's Times Square piracy billboard revealed that one can profit from the discord if approached intelligently.

I was starting to gather material for a post on using music piracy to one's advantage when the uproar broke out over a video billboard in Times Square debating piracy. As Ben Sisario describes it:

"For the last week a mysterious ad has flashed on the LED billboard above the American Eagle Outfitters store at Broadway and 46th Street…Variably positing piracy as 'criminal,' 'progress' and 'the future,' it asks the observer to 'pick a side' on Twitter, as #artistsforpiracy or #artistsagainstpiracy."

"The display runs for just 30 seconds, four times an hour, alternating with images of tourists and scantily clad models…The party behind the billboard…Ghost Beach was approached by American Eagle, which wanted to license the band’s song 'Miracle' for an online ad. As it has done with a few other bands the retailer offered a fee as well as access to the billboard."

"TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, took the account as a pro bono project and devised a stark, text-heavy design in black, red and white."

Ghost Beach took an interesting approach to inserting themselves into a polarizing dialogue that they'd already resolved for themselves. As they state on their Facebook page:

"We are #artistsagainstpiracy. We believe in using new music sharing platforms to combat illegal downloading by offering the modern music consumer convenient choices when it comes to discovering and downloading new music."

"By giving music listeners the choice to buy, stream or download free from the artist, everybody wins and music is shared in a way that is convenient for listeners and respects the artists intellectual property."

The musicians told Ben Sisario:

“When we were offered the space on the billboard, we were perplexed about what to do with it…Since we started we’ve given away all our music for free, so just telling people to purchase our music somewhere didn’t seem natural for us. So we said, ‘What if we take advantage of this and open up a discussion about the new music industry?'”

The campaign website, Artists vs Artists, presents opposing message regarding piracy, name checks Ghost Beach and makes the dialogue a matter of black and white. However, they then offer the option of buying or downloading their music for free, illustrating that they aren't truly choosing between the sides presented in this campaign.

Given the polarized nature of this topic, there is actually no dialogue that I can see on the site or on the larger web. Ghost Beach may be sincere in their aims but they are basically using polarization to market themselves while taking a stance regarding their own work that is an intelligent compromise.

They've gotten lots of media from the NY Times article linked above to which benefits from the typical press stance of "there's this side and there's this other side." They've also provoked some amusingly hubris-filled claims from David Lowery with the expected tag team coverage at MusicTechPolicy.

But the clearest evidence that there is no dialogue comes from the Artists vs Artists website itself in which hashtag streams remind us that most supposed discussion on the web is simply one person after another stating their opinion.

Anyone who follows web discourse regarding illegal file sharing and music piracy knows that this topic is highly polarized and that even academic and pseudo-academic researchers disagree. While I believe there are ways to turn piracy to one's advantage, they are always going to be somewhat of a mixed bag, a choice of cutting one's losses that is never fully satisfying. Like so much else in life, one ultimately has to accept the bitter while gathering as much of the sweet as one can manage.

Inasmuch as Ghost Beach benefits from a higher profile, that is the sweet spot that they've leveraged by inserting themselves in a polarizing debate, one which they've bypassed for themselves by taking what I believe is the rare third path of compromise.

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at All World Dance: Videos and maintains Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. It’s disingenuous to equate piracy with the choice to give one’s music away for free. Piracy is stealing, not a distribution method. Let’s be clear on that much.

  2. “However, they then offer the option of buying or downloading their music for free, illustrating that they aren’t truly choosing between the sides presented in this campaign.”

  3. I hope they enjoy the fleeting publicity they will get for framing this as an “artists vs artists” debate.
    Because you know that most of those in the conversation who are pro piracy aren’t really artists. Just the “entitlement generation” posing as artists

  4. Going by their tweets, they probably don’t even understand that this is Artists vs Artists. For them, it seems to be more like “How do YOU justify pirating”

  5. The campaign is also a good example of what happens when a young band is confronted with corporate interests picking the single, giving them money to tour…oops, that could be a record company. Then incorporating the band into an ad campaign that the big companies involve wanted to do anyway, they just needed a band for cover who needed the money and wasn’t going to be too picky.

  6. I’m a writer and I’ve just recently been pirated. While I’m not for piracy, I’m not for our current copyright laws, either.
    – Copyright lasts WAY TOO LONG. Five years’ protection is enough. I release my stuff into the public domain at this point.
    – DRM needs to go. I don’t use it, I don’t need it.
    – There should be no automatic copyright protection. If you want it copyrighted, then you should have to register it and mark it as such with a symbol.
    – Transformative derivative works like fanfics should be legalized. Copyright law is way too restrictive in this regard and stifles art.
    – Relying on fair use is like defending yourself from a flamethrower with a fig leaf. Authors need sure protection under the law. Art isn’t made in a vacuum.
    – The $150,000 penalty for willful infringement is cruel and unusual. Infringers should pay a fee representing the actual market value of the work rather than a trumped up imaginary number.

  7. Just because YOU think that 5 years is enough time doesn’t mean that the rest of us do. If you want to release your content to the public domain be our guest, but don’t enforce that idea on the rest of us….That being said: I used to think that a content owner should be allowed to keep renewing their copyright forever if they wanted to, but I look now at how the Disney company built most of it’s foturne on adapting public domain works and I realize that 75 years after the death of the creator is long enough.
    ….As for that 150,000 penalty: There is a reason why speeding tickets are steep and why getting them off your record is a pain in the but….To make you think twice about doing it again….and from even doing it in the first place. Wanna avoid that penalty? Don’t do it. It’s not rocket science.

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