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A case for music piracy

April 2009 marked the beginning of a new era in the world of music. During that month, iTunes, the top music seller in the United States according to Billboard, changed prices of some songs to $1.29. As a result, many started to feel that paying even 99 cents for a song was unreasonable, much less 30 cents more. In the same month, Microsoft Zune, Bill Gates’ equivalent of iTunes, launched an ad claiming that it costs $30,000 to fill an iPod to capacity buying only songs off of iTunes. It is statistics like these that lead many to search for alternatives to satisfy their music desires.

Music piracy ought not to be looked as taboo anymore for the simple reason that while it may be illegal, it has not left a marginal impact on the music industry, both on musicians and listeners alike.

According to a team of Beijing web designers, 21 percent of all content downloaded from the Internet in North America is obtained illegally. While this may seem shocking, our continent ranks last compared to all other continents in piracy.

Music piracy occupies such a small stake in the piracy “industry” (and substantially less than the top two: pornography and movies) and is really only a means of obtaining basic entertainment for the many students that do not intend on spending their college savings on music.

Even the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) acknowledges that music piracy is not going anywhere. “There will always be a degree of piracy on the Internet,” their website reads.

If the music industry was not flourishing, would there still be extravagant award shows, new artists appearing on a daily basis or the ever-popular music concerts and festivals? Consequence of Sound, an online music publication, reported that the top 10 highest-earning concert tours of 2011 alone created a total revenue of just under $1.3 billion. Even though music is being downloaded illegally on a daily basis, the allure of seeing an artist live in concert will never disappear and will always be one of the largest components of the music industry’s profits.

In addition, the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the RIAA’s global equivalent, estimates that only 10 percent of illegal music downloads account for a loss in sales, therefore indirectly saying that 90 percent of music piracy  does not affect the industry as much as people claim it is.

A point should also be made that many amateur music artists have been sharing their songs free of charge online ever since Napster revolutionized peer-to-peer file sharing in 1999.

Menlo School junior Ben Taft, who co-founded Filthy Slaps, a local online music blog that promotes mainly amateur artists and has links to free, legal downloads, agrees that stealing music from global superstars has a clear moral distinction as opposed to amateur artists.

“There are people… like Lil Wayne, that if [he] had one less dollar, nothing would happen to him. When it comes to smaller artists that are struggling to make a living [and] dedicating their time and their life to music… it’s all that person has,” Taft said.

According to Taft, legally free music is something that should be appreciated more, as it allows artists to establish themselves in the ever-growing market.

“Anyone who’s striving to be an artist can’t drop their first song or mixtape and expect people to pay one dollar or 10 dollars for it and no one knows who they are,” Taft said. “[Free music] is great for building a reputation and building… and essentially once you do build up a strong enough of a reputation then you can start charging.”

Some argue that those who steal music hurt not only singers, but also music producers, technicians and talent agents (and not just the millionaire singers), but the fact remains that the music industry is still thriving and as successful as ever, as sales records show. According to IFPI, digital music revenue increased by eight percent in 2011 to $5.2 billion.

Downloading music illegally may be an example of “just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right,” but in today’s world, digging deep into one’s pockets just to find some enjoyable music to listen to in the gym or on a road trip is simply unrealistic.

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