Dead Music Icon Cross Skull Cartoon CrossbonesCredit: - Nemo

In my last article I talked about the fact that the music industry wasn't ready for the Digital Age. In effect, there weren't companies that were prepared to launch an online music store that would rival the ease and convenience of file-sharing.

The launch of Apple iTunes was in January of 2001[1], but it was two years after the initial release of Napster[2]. Moreover, there are still people who complain about the cluttered iTunes interface. We've also seen the launch of internet radio platforms like Pandora or streaming sites like Spotify. Though it is less visible to the general consumer, the compensation program offered to artists through these mediums is a subject of great contention.

Artists need money to pursue a music career. That much is clear to most observers. However, if artists can't profit from their recorded music, then they are left with significantly fewer options to create a sustainable career. Many jaded consumers feel that music should be free, and their hope is that the age of 15 - $20 CDs never returns. There are even those who believe artists should have to work a second job to support their career[3]!

Notwithstanding, the illegal copying and sharing of music continues. How is this affecting the music industry and artists at large?

The Book Industry

I made mention of this in my last article, but Rhapsody founder Rob Reid was one to point out the fact that the book industry was better prepared to handle the emerging Digital Age than the music industry[4]. Comparatively speaking, there are far fewer cases of piracy, illegal copying and downloading of copyrighted works in the book sector.

Why? Reid explains that companies like Amazon were just better prepared to handle the shift. E-readers, tablets, effectual online stores and apps made the transition a smooth one, and a satisfying one for the consumers. So long as the consumers are happy, it appears that piracy is a non-issue.

The Controversy

There are many stances on the subject of piracy, and if it could be boiled down to a few facts and statistics, there would be no need for controversy. The topic has been debated, discussed and dissected countless times.

However, the question is beginning to change. People used to wonder how piracy was affecting artists, and to what degree. Today, people are asking if piracy affects artists at all.

It's not terribly realistic, but if the issue could be split into two sides, most people would take one of these stances:

Piracy Doesn't Affect Artists

There are studies showing that piracy doesn't affect artists at all[5]. In fact, some believe that file-sharers generally purchase more music than people who don't use peer-to-peer networks. In theory, these file-sharers sample the music, and if they like it, they then buy it.

In the same breath, the same entities suggest that music streaming is also having a positive impact on music sales, essentially for the same reasons.

In studying this matter, one has to consider whether or not there are companies or individuals that serve to benefit from the legalizing of file-sharing. Perhaps some are simply trying to delay decisive action on the part of authorities. Studies and data can be manipulated to show whatever one wishes, and if there is a compelling enough reason to do so, some do.

Piracy Hurts the Industry

Some people firmly believe that piracy does hurt the industry[6]. Many artists view cases of illegal downloading as lost sales. Others state that stealing is wrong, and that file-sharing is nothing short of crime.

As you delve deeper into this matter, what you'll discover is that there is a difference between unauthorized copying and piracy (not that one is better or worse). Unauthorized copying is the act of ripping a CD to your computer for the purpose of listening to it at home or burning a CD for your car. Piracy is the act of taking an unauthorized copy and then capitalizing on it. In other words, it's not piracy unless you're making money off of it.

The Law

One has to consider whether or not the current copyright law servers the greater good or if it is too outdated to handle the present realities of the music industry. Currently, singing a popular song on the street corner or covering a song at a venue that doesn't have a blanket license is illegal. Is that the type of protection artists really need, or would they much prefer firmer laws or better handling of recorded works?

Can the law really play a meaningful role in regulating piracy, or is it too late? Could legal entities help artists and labels gain a footing in this matter, or would that only serve to aggravate the fans and the consumers?


As you are surely beginning to see, this issue of file-sharing and piracy is a complex one. There are convincing arguments on both sides, and the lines become blurred when you take into account the varying thoughts in between.

As technology continues to evolve and visionaries continue to innovate, there is definitely hope for artists to get fairly compensated for their recorded works in the future. Moreover, while digital sales haven't made up for plummeting CD sales, CDs are still bought, vinyl records are still bought, and placements and licensing opportunities continue to increase. Music streaming is also more profitable than most artists realize, that is, if you were to look at the metrics (a single spin on the radio reaches thousands if not tens of thousands of people; a single play on a streaming site reaches one person).

Music is a competitive field; there's no doubt about that. Artists do have to work to earn a place on people's playlists. Some of the apparent problems of the industry are brought into sharper perspective when you realize that there is always an equal or greater advantage for every disadvantage. One's greatest weakness always has the chance to become their greatest asset.