Music Piracy! Good or Bad? Does It Even Matter?

Summary:

It’s a new day, and a new half of the semester!  That means I have new articles, and more Ethical Issues to write about!  And today is an especially good day, because I can actually engage with the information!  Today’s article is about music piracy.  More specifically it’s about how recent information casts doubt on the long held notion that piracy negatively affects music sales.  This raises the question:  If downloading music off the Internet really doesn’t hurt music sales (and might in fact help improve them), then should it really be illegal to do so?  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Analysis:

So, there’s this company in Britain called Ofcom.  It’s basically a survey company which keeps track of what people in Britain are downloading.  Over the last year it has found that overall music downloads have gone down by about a third, while the number of people pirating has gone down by about 10%.  This is all well and good, except that there has NOT been a corresponding increase in actual music sales during this same period, or any real change at all in the music industry’s slow but steady decline. this should be puzzling since for as long as piracy has been a thing the music industry has been claiming that it hurts their sales.  But now we have a case where piracy has gone down, but there’s been no change in the industry, which calls into question that position.  Note, this does not in any way disprove that piracy hurts music sales, but it at least gives cause for taking a second look at the data.  But what is that data exactly?  Well, there’s the aforementioned lack of apparent correlation between decrease in piracy and market sales.  Then there’s also some other information which is interesting, which is that as far as buying digital music, people who pirate are more likely to pay for things that people who do not.  This is to say that pirates, at least in Britain, make more money for the music industry per capita than non-pirates, at least ostensibly so.  The Recording Industry Agency of America (RIAA) firmly believes that arguments built on these statistics are flawed, as described in this article.  Granted, even they agree that people who pirate are more engaged with music, and therefore might buy more of it along with pirating, but they see the pirating as being a result of their involvement in music, not the other way around.  So, pirates may or may not be bad for the music industry.  But how does this relate to Ethical Issues?

Well, whether or not piracy affects the music industry really does not the issue. Romans 13:1 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  From this I would say that even if piracy were to be found to be completely beneficial, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it would still be wrong based on the fact that the government says that it is wrong.  We need to obey the government as far as we can for want of conscience.  But, on another note, for discussion’s sake, should it be illegal?  Should the laws perhaps change, or the industry change, or should everything remain as it is?  Going back to the first thing which started the discussion, the lack of noticeable difference if music sales, despite decrease in piracy.  The fact, which cannot be denied, is that sales are down, and the primary reason appears to be decreases in the sale of physical CDs.  I think personally that the big issue here is not the pirates, whatever they may be buying or not buying, but rather the changes happening in the music industry as a whole.  The Internet is filled with articles talking about how the music industry is moving from physical to digital, and from industry-funded to crowd-funded.  It is no longer popular for music to hard-copy (unless we’re talking about vinyl).  People increasingly seem to prefer their music to be digital, and artists no longer need record companies in order to become famous.  With this in mind you can say that in reality the entirety of the music world is changing, though perhaps not very quickly.  Record companies have a choice.  They can either change with the musical landscape, and learn new was of promoting and selling music, or they can slowly lose their relevance.  I don’t know what exactly that would look like, but I know it will involve a drastic change in the way the music industry does its business.

Conclusion:

Piracy may or may not actually affect the sales of the music industry.  Pirates might actually buy more stuff that non-pirates, and like their music more.  But the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter.  Piracy is illegal, and therefore should not be committed.  However, the decrease in music sales does need to be addressed.  If the music industry really wants to turn around it needs to take a good look at the ways that it does business.  Music is going digital, and the industry has to as well, if it really wants to survive in a meaningful way.

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