Pirates don't kill music, labels do

A musical pirate, yesterday

When you first view the official figures concerning the pirating of music, they make for grim reading and you wonder how the music industry will survive. Roughly 7.7 million people have illegally downloaded tracks in the past year according to research commissioned by the BPI, the industry body that represents record labels.

The same research points to more than 1.2 billion songs being pirated or shared - roughly three quarters of all music downloaded - at a cost to the industry of around £219 million.

The BPI is now calling for new legislation to tackle illegal downloading, stating:

"It is a parasite that threatens to deprive a generation of talented young people of their chance to make a career in music, and is holding back investment in the burgeoning digital entertainment sector."

Grim times for the music industry, then? No, actually. Sales of legal downloads grew by over 50% in a year, from £101.5 million in 2008, to £154 million in 2009. This year, the industry has had its first single with over one million sales. The music industry seemed capable of turning over significant revenue in a recession where plenty of businesses failed.

It's fair to say the BPI are spinning their figures and making some flawed assumptions to support their cause, not least in claiming £219 million fortune in 'lost' revenue. The BPI is making the point if illegal downloads weren't an option then consumers would have paid up for the music, which is absurd. Plenty of people pirate of music on a whim, purely because it's free; if it wasn't they'd simply do without. That doesn't excuse illegal downloading, but neither does it directly equate to lost sales.

The other issue that the BPI still can't get its head around, is that it can't win the battle. Technology is progressive - it'll only become easier to pirate music, not harder. Instead of acting as if music is still a physical product bought off a shelf, the industry needs to find new models for retailing it.

In fact it's had a model sat staring them in the face for over four decades - radio. Through the likes of PRS, PPL and MCPS, the artists, performers and records labels make tens of millions every year from airplay on hundreds of UK stations, with these collections agencies taking a percentage of each station's commercial revenue (or in the case of the BBC, a flat fee). Last.fm, Spotify and the like have moved this model on further, to allow the consumer to increase the level of customisation for a price. Yet music labels to still reluctant to fully commit to it, because they think they can beat piracy and make more money for themselves.

Mainstream (or lowest common denominator) music will always exist, but it's no longer dominant. Indie labels and individual artists have the same distribution methods available to them. Piracy isn't killing all music, just that controlled by the old school.


  • pedant
  • Mr G.
    Good post. As a musician myself I don't see piracy and the internet as killing music, but as a threat to the music business. I no sympathy for the music business as they are the irresponsible parasites who have destroyed many talented musicians over the years. Oh, and anyone who takes any notice of research published by the body who has most to benefit from twisting the results is a fuckwit (and therefore probably a politician). Good will to all - my arse
  • The B.
    The rise of pirates can only be a good thing, it's been proven that it's the cause of global warming: http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/
  • Cheesey
    The BPI always spout this claptrap - normally when the "artistes" and music execs run low on money for their hourly fix of crack cocaine. I'd argue there is 1001 other things that have priority for the Govt to legislate on than this bunch of vermin.
  • Phil
    I don't understand why people pirate music - with spotify free and radio I'm quite happy to never buy a record again.
  • poipoi
    arrr! piracy is a good thing! I have downloaded stuff and if i like it i buy it in physical format which has added sales. so where is the sats for poeple buying stuff after downloading it? i may make intresting reading!
  • Mark C.
    @Pedant - Nice Atari Teenage Riot reference. :)
  • ElBuc
    I agree - the record industry had its moment and raped music for 50 years. It set a trend that the recorded item was the ultimate goal in that everything you do is to promote the record sales. They shafted the buyers of music royally when they invented the CD - it was cheaper to make than vinyl and yet they charged more! There was no trade-in with your old vinyl so their argument that even though an mp3 isn't a physical object (like a CD) it is still stealing if you download it... What is happening now, organically because of the internet and finding out that the creation of CDs allows people to make an exact clone of the music (which wasn't possible with vinyl) the recorded article is no longer the end of the food chain. For the first time in decades bands are making money from playing live, rather than making a loss to promote the record sales. Call me old fashioned but isn't that what music should be about? You hear something then like it enough to go see the artist perform. Recordings should be to promote the act, the same way that traditionally record companies send out 'promo' records to radio stations etc for free. Recordings should be free (which pretty much are now with the help of p2p) and the artist makes the money from performing - then those who can entertain without all the fake shit are the ones who will triumph. The recording industry is fast becoming redundant and they are flapping about in the sea without a lifejacket threatening to sue someone. Pop Will Eat Itself... I used to think it was a bad name for a band but now look - it all came true! But, there is always going to be something that abuses and exploits music for its own gain - and if the recording industry sinks, the live promoters will fuck up that side of things, the same way football is fucked (not that I give a shit about football) and ticket prices will go sky high with more diabolically sterile venues like the O2 etc etc... C30 C60 C90 GO fuck yourselves BPI and don't come back!
  • Alex
    Frankly the timing has never been better for artists to wrestle control of the music industry back from the labels. Lets cut the labels out like groups such as Marillion have done, funding albums via preorders, funding the album themselves and keeping the money themselves, or like Prince, who made more money giving his album away with a weekend newspaper than he would have if it had been released via conventional means. IMHO artists should primarily be making their money from touring, with single and albums sales priced to support this rather than be the be all and end all.
  • FFS
    As always, they shout the bullshit figures- £219 million in this case- while conveniently mentioning that all those tracks that were downloaded were unlikely to have all been purchased if they weren't available for download.
  • FFS
    *conveniently NOT mentioning, even
  • ElBuc
    Where did my post go??
  • shinkyshonky
    Don`t they realise the revolution is upon us, all these spokepersons bullshitting figures, warnings, do not realise we stopped listening , taking notice ....ahhaaa me hearties
  • Ian P.
    If the music companies really were interestd developing in talented young people making careers in music then why don't they 'kill' shows like the X-factor ? Their inital statement is untrue; all they want to do is make money and if that's from poor music they really don't give a monkeys...
  • Alexis
    The PRS are no different from the TV licence goons. Powerless muppets who insist on bothering everyone and begging for money
  • -]
    Phil: Spotify and Radio are good if you have a pretty narrow taste in music, but they aren't for everyone. If you like mainstream (or not far off the mainstream path) then they will do you fine.

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