Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Final Paper: Online Piracy in the Music Industry

As evolving human beings in this world, we have not only been exposed to the Internet, but we have also enabled the Internet to become our environment. This technology has made both social interaction and the ability to obtain information extremely easy to participate in, in almost every way possible. The Internet, which can be referred to as "cyberspace" has drastically changed the way we humans function on a daily and minutely basis. Thanks to the Internet, new media has been created, and even new new media has evolved from that remediation.

What is new media, and how does it fit into our lives? “We may begin answering this question by listing the categories commonly discussed under this topic in the popular press: the Internet, websites, computer multimedia, computer games, CD-ROMs and DVD, virtual reality,” stated Lev Manovich in his book The Language of New Media. It seems as if anything that can be accessed with computerization can be considered new media, however it still may be too limiting. Manovich continues to state, “…the computer media revolution affects all stages of communication, including acquisition, manipulation, storage and distribution; it also affects all types of media—texts, still images, moving images, sound, and spatial constructions” (pg. 19).

New media is a revolution, and it is indeed affecting our culture. Take for example some of the earliest technologies such as the telephone, or television. Sure at first they were not necessities, but as more and more people caught wind of these technologies, they had to have them. I believe that many people strive to somewhat “fit in” with having the newest technologies, leading to making them seem like necessities in our lives. And in reality, people can surely live without a telephone, television, or a car, but they choose not to. As time evolves, so do the characteristics of “new media” and “new new media.”

According to Manovich, there are five principles that help characterize new media: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. These principles state: new media objects exist as data, the different elements of new media exist independently, new media objects can be created and modified automatically, new media objects exist in multiple versions, and the logic of the computer influences how we understand and represent ourselves. I definitely agree with Manovich that new media can be described as cultural forms that depend completely on computers for distribution and presentation; however, it can be hard to distinguish what new media actually are.

In my opinion, I think Manovich’s proposition of “What New Media is Not” helps clarify and almost categorize what is considered new media, and assists us in gaining a better understanding of the characteristics of new media. He teaches us that: New Media is not continuous or digitally encoded, New Media can be played on multimedia machine, New Media allows random access unlike a film or videotape, New Media can be lost because it contains a fixed amount of information, New Media can be copied endlessly, analog media cannot, and New Media is interactive and participatory. While reading The Language of New Media, this information helped me to determine how new media are formed, and how they change our culture throughout time.

New new media is however a bit different. According to Levinson, “New new media are always free to the consumer and sometimes to the producer. New new media give its users the same control of when and where to get text, sound and audio-visual content as provided by new media. Indeed, new new media package all the advantages that new media provide over old media” (pg. 3). However, most would argue that new new media goes above and beyond new media. Us new new media users are both the producer and the consumer—along with hundreds of millions of other users. Levinson does however point out to us readers that new new media can also be both personally and socially destructive, just like any other tool we use.

I would like to shift focus to an issue that new media has helped create and continue to enable over time—online piracy. After distinguishing the difference between new media and new new media, it made me ponder which category illegal music sharing and downloading would fit into. It is obvious that illegal music sharing and downloading is free to the consumer—at his or her own risk, but is it free to the person producing the music? It is absolutely free to the person sharing the file, however, to the artist who actually produced the music, he or she is not directly benefiting financially.

Neil Kleinman, contributing author of Communication and Cyberspace, stated, “Throughout the mid-20th century, the intent of the law was pretty clear—to create a copyright law that balanced two interests: the need to keep the marketplace unregulated and the need to stimulate enterprise…” (pg. 72). The intent of that law does seem pretty clear, however regulating intellectual property in a digital environment is extremely difficult, and somewhat controversial. I agree with Kleinman’s statement that property is indeed a question of control, access, and ownership, but property is hard to control and actually own while being extremely easy to access via the Internet.

“As free speech and privacy grow out of our commitments to property, so too does copyright law. The same elements are in play—ownership, property, and marketplace valuation.” (Kleinman, 77). The Internet makes duplicating all types of works seem almost legal, however we are cheating both the owner, artist, writer, musician, or entertainer, and our economy. On the other hand, Kleinman does argue that we believe that the idea of copyright is based on property that is actually physical and tangible, meanwhile, new media challenges our idea of copyright. He states, “…I have argued that new media makes a mess out of the delicate balance between the scope of copyright (what’s protected) and the duration of copyright (how long it’s protected). The digital Web-based technology triggers questions of copyright each time a work is displayed, distributed, stored or manipulated, and the technology protects materials long after their useful life is ended” (pg. 88).

So now I will ask, “Is piracy a good thing, or is all of it completely illegal?” This is a controversial issue in which many people, especially online users are affected by, and may not even know it.

If you have ever downloaded music from the popular site “Limewire” before, you can be labeled as a “pirate,” or someone who illegally copies materials that are copyrighted from the Internet.
If you decide to buy your music or movies from “ITunes,” then good for you, you are going about online downloading legally. Whether online users realize it or not, we are doing wrong by many artists when we decide to illegally stream music or movies online, resulting in the artist or industry losing money. However, what we also may not realize is that some artists enjoy their fans listening to their music or watching their movies online, because it is still promotional for them.

Piracy has been on the rise since before the Internet even existed. When radio was the only way to listen to music, the blank cassette made it possible for people to dub songs extremely easily. Since the rise of the Internet, online piracy has began to occur more frequently, and it is now easier than ever. People are able to burn CD’s and DVD’s off the Internet, and now, more popularly, people use illegal downloading sites for music and movie previews and actual views.

One can argue that it is completely obvious why online users would prefer to engage in online piracy; it saves users a fortune, there are many websites that enable illegal downloading to be extremely easy to access, it is not as time consuming when you are streaming from a site, and finally, it enables pirates to sample a song or movie before they buy it. The pro-piracy side of this ongoing, social and cultural debate argues that piracy provides many benefits economically and culturally in our world. The article “Pirates Are the Music Industry’s Most Valuable Customers,” helps bring light to this side of the argument stating that pirates who share music-files online, actually spend more money than non-pirates, therefore helping the industry. The author states, “If anything, the music industry should have more respect for file-sharers, as they are their most valuable consumers. They are ahead of the curve and actually leading the way for the future of digital music, buying more digital music than anyone else. It’s the music industry that has to change, not the other way around.” However, the artists who put a ton of time and dedication into their music are being robbed out of money, but also getting advertising for free. All of these reasons seem perfect to engage in this criminal behavior, but when it comes down to it, online piracy is illegal and people should not partake in it.

Many people will no engage in piracy, including myself, with good reasoning behind it. The Motion Picture Association of America Faq page answers many questions on how to find movies legally online, the penalties of illegal downloading, and if piracy really hurts the film industry. And according to the MPAA, piracy definitely has negative effects on the industry. The website states, “The global film industry lost $18.2 billion in 2005 as a result of piracy. For any industry, this is a devastating impact that means jobs, economic growth and new projects that don't see the light of day. There are fewer jobs to go around. There is less economic growth from this creative industry, and fewer movies and TV shows get made.” Just as Kleinman stated, copyright is not a legal argument, it is an economical argument.

As you can see, piracy has a huge negative effect on the economy, and pirates are not protected in their illegal activity. It is the question of whether or not this illegal activity is actually worth damaging jobs and our economy. Not only does downloading files illegally have high risks of viruses, they also are almost all bad quality, and you are partaking in scamming the music and movie industry out of an abundance of money. Every minute, musicians and actors are losing out, and not making the money they deserve. However, not all artists are against it.

Online piracy can be considered either a huge issue or an advantage to many artists. The laws against online piracy are made to protect the artist and the music and movie industries, but in reality, some see piracy as a huge help, enabling a greater fan base and definitely more advertising for the artist. But then, of course, there are the artists that are more than upset that they are not receiving a cut from their work being distributed and easily shared for free.

Musician and “Nine Inch Nails,” group member Trent Reznor has absolutely no problem with his fans accessing the band’s tracks and video footage on the Internet without paying for it. He also believes that giving away your music is the only way the artist will make money and explains in the article “Trent Reznor Explains What a Musician Needs To Do To Be Successful These Days,” on that new artists need to get noticed, build a following, and build a business model unlike the rest. The article states, “…the formula is basically: connect with fans and give them a reason to buy…and use free music to do both those things.” However he continues to state that signing with a label is the only way to become a superstar, but also a trap to give up everything to the industry. An extremely powerful statement the popular songwriter made in the article was, “The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact—it sucks as the musician but that’s the way it is (for now). So… have the public get what they want from you instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process…” If an artist gives his or her fans what they want, for example, free downloads from websites, the fans will come out and support the artist and attend concerts. This is still allowing the artist to make money but by winning over fans right off the bat.

Socially, Trent Reznor is giving his fans exactly what they want, and they love them for it. Is that what an artist needs to do to gain a greater fan base? Fans appreciate their favorite band doing things for them; it shows that they care about their following and want to give something back in return. According to, “Nine Inch Nails” released a digital download of their studio album The Slip on their website, for absolutely free. Obviously doing this for his fans, they responded with helping the video going viral after a short period of time. Online piracy is giving artists the opportunity to connect directly with their fans, which may or may not be giving fans the reason to get out there and buy albums or movies.

According to the article, “Radiohead’s Manager: File Sharing Should be Legal; It’s Great for Music,” it states that the popular band “Radiohead” also supported online piracy by conducting an experiment that allowed their fans to “pay what you want” for its last album. Their manager stated in the article that, “The sharing of music where it is not for profit is a great thing for culture and music.” It worked for Trent Reznor of “Nine Inch Nails,” and “Radiohead,” so can it work for just about any artist? Sadly, it is a risk that not every artist is willing to take, and I personally don’t blame them.

Not all artists want to take the charity route, or do not feel that they need to. As humans, money is naturally a number one concern in our lives, and the more you make, the more you want to make. Many artists do not want their albums or tracks to be easily accessed on the Internet for free. They work long and hard hours producing and recording these tracks and feel as if they should not be available for free, especially because it is illegal, it is going against copyright laws, and they are not making any profit.

Although I do not plan to work in this industry, I think working for free can be compared to any industry. The music and movie industries are based on expression and creativity, but making movies or albums is still a job. It does not matter how luxurious a career is, the individual still deserves compensation. A police officer would not enjoy fighting crimes for free, so why would an artist enjoy recording music that is just going to be shared on the Internet for free? It seems that the answer would be that musicians should be “all about the music,” and not about the profits. I can also see an argument that since “Nine Inch Nails” is extremely popular, well-known, and established, they can leak videos and tracks enabled to be downloaded for free because they have already earned more money than they probably have hoped for. Well, what about artists such as U2 or Madonna? They are also indeed established artists, but they both are against online piracy and believe it needs to come to an end.

According to, Madonna has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, is a huge pop icon, and is considered to be one of the most influential women in contemporary music. So why is she against online piracy? In the article, “Madonna Curses at Music Downloaders,” it states that Madonna wants all of her fans to think twice before illegally downloading music, and actually went as far to recording the saying, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” to play when someone thinks they downloaded one of her actual songs. The author states, “This follows what had appeared to be a “softening” of her stance, when she released unrestricted mp3s of her new songs to people who paid up early.”

After reading this article, I feel as if my stance on online piracy in the music industry may have become more liberal. Artists do have many reasons to be upset for not receiving profits for their work, but to go as far as recording a degrading statement to her fans was nothing short of ridiculous. I think it is respectable that Madonna is promoting the law of copyright, however I do not think the way in which she chose to promote the law was as respectable.

The well-known rock band from Dublin, Ireland, U2, also joins Madonna in taking a stance against file-sharing. They did not go as far as Madonna with insulting their fans, but they do believe that online music piracy is causing an extreme downfall in the music industry. In the article, “U2’s Manager Lashes Out Yet Again: Blames Absolutely Everyone for Not Making U2 Even Wealthier,” U2’s longtime manager, Paul McGuinness has no remorse in saying that the music business is being destroyed by online piracy. Bono agrees with his manager that, “Cable operators, ISPs, device manufacturers, P2P software companies—companies that have used music to drive vast revenues from broadband subscriptions and from advertising,” are to blame. Basically they believe that absolutely everyone besides the recording industries is responsible for this ongoing problem—which is all made possible by new media. So, how do we solve it?

In my opinion, we have two options. We can keep fighting this ongoing issue, making more laws, punishing pirates, and asking artists to stand by our side, or we find an alternative way to get our artists and industry paid. I will remind you of the statement Trent Reznor made that I believe to be true, “The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact—it sucks as the musician but that’s the way it is (for now). So… have the public get what they want from you instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process…”

I personally agree with Trent Reznor that no matter what, music is free, and it is going to be extremely hard to establish laws that pirates cannot get around. However, just because these songs are released on the Internet, it should not automatically mean that since they are not tangible they need not to be considered under copyright law.

Obviously there are pros and cons of online piracy that we all are definitely aware of. What we are not aware of is that there are many different stances from artists about illegal file-sharing. I definitely think that the continuation of artists either speaking out for or against this issue is benefiting us fans and giving us a little bit more knowledge than we already have. In closing, Neil Kleinman said, “The point is that a discussion of copyright is not merely a legal argument, nor for that matter, an economic one. It reflects a view of language, culture, and the relationships we mean to have with each other. It is this we have to work through” (pg. 95).


  1. You raise very interesting points here, and I absolutely agree with you that online piracy is as vast as the Internet itself is. I have several objections though. Why should I care if the x, y, z huge name in the music industry is losing money because I am downloading their songs for free? They have made enough money to feed at least 2 continents of people. I am not saying piracy should be encouraged in any way. All I am saying is that we should definitely promote underground artists by buying their CDs and help achieve diversity in music. That should be the focus of online piracy and any type of piracy. Do not target unknown artists. They need your support. Buy their tracks and do not download them for free. On the other hand, like you yourself said file sharing is free advertising. To an artist that sells millions of CDs it does not make such a huge difference. Fans will always buy the CDs, because they are interested in other aspects of them as well (artwork, lyrics etc.). Loss in money when it comes to the big players of the music industry also keeps them motivated and prevents them from becoming stagnant.

  2. It's very interesting to see the two different points of view, that of the music industry against piracy and the artists who are for the sharing of music. I really shows how technological change can affect an industry and alter the course of a major international industry.

  3. It's tough to take a stand on piracy since it is so prolific. I mean literally everyone i know pirates music. The attraction of something being "Free" is just so alluring I see no way of stopping piracy.

  4. Online piracy, in my opinion, will never go away. Working with music, I see how its so "frowned upon" here that i wouldnt dare talk about it...but i know friends at home that never buy music. It will be very interesting to see what happens. I will note that two of my friends got emails with a warning to stop downloading music or there will be a huge penalty fee.

  5. That's weird and I hear it a lot. I download huge amounts of tracks illegally every day and nobody has ever sent me any warnings.

  6. I can understand why online piracy is frowned upon but like Zoe said, true fans will always support their favorite artist by buying their merchandise. I do think that at this point of technological advancement it will be hard to even stop the piracy. They shut down Napster, then Limewire; two outlets that were used to download music for free. Other outlets have been created to do the same thing- even Youtube allows downloading of music. I would want to see the outcome of piracy in a few years and see if it still exists.

  7. I think Piracy is a terrible part of our culture. In the movie the Social Network Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker who was the founder of Napster. Napster I think almost started the whole crazy of illegally downloading music. I think this topic is fantastic and I like the way you presented it. Illegally downloading takes away the music industry and there might not be a music industry in a certain matter of time.

  8. I enjoyed how you really dug into this topic because I mention it briefly in my paper as one of the killers of radio. Piracy has always been around ever since currency was created. Once value was place on certain items, especially intellectual property, human beings were bound to figure out a way to get it for free. In more direct terms steal it. The internet has made it so much easier to steal. We spoke about this in class, but one of the biggest reasons I think Piracy is such a problem on the internet is because the internet gives a certain sense of anonymity to its users. It's not like shop lifting where it is easy to get caught. Yes you can get caught pirating on the web, but we must admit, what are the chances considering many more people are doing the same thing?

  9. I found the topic of this paper to be one that is a high interest for those who are against this issue. Piracy is something that we all have to deal with regardless of how many laws are made against it. If you think about it, laws don't stop people from doing such a thing because people always find new ways to download illegal music or movies. This issue is one that is frowned upon given the fact that it takes away from the music industry and the hard work that is put towards making music. I understand that people are going to support the music industry regardless, but so much is being taken away due to piracy.

  10. I enjoyed the topic, online piracy is big issue in every country all over world. Maybe downloading one song would not feel like a crime for a individual, but millions of people downloads one song without paying fees would be devastating for the producers and the artist. You give your effort and time to create a piece of art, and somebody is stealing from you without paying you is a crime, it is same as buying your gas for your car and drive away without paying them or shop lifting. It is stealing, there is no other way of explaination of this topic.Because of some empty spots in law does not give anybody right steal from anybody else. Don't be ridiculous STOP piracy.

  11. Yes privacy is problem, but its only going to get worst. Even though we fell that downloading music isn't right. We as listen are still going to find the cheapest route when getting something we want. Everybody loves to receive free stuff. Rap artist are rich, no point behind that. They become rich though many different channels, whether going on tour and doing concert, or making guest appearances at popular clubs. Artist all get paid for these things. User don't see downloading music as crime. They just want to continue to support there artist not by providing more profit, but by word of mouth, and voting them on music countdown channels. I honestly love this topic because it's so controversial. It's great

  12. There are many reasons why we should still purchase music. For one, you may argue that taking money from these corporate bigwigs at whatever label you choose, is not a big deal. That is an irrelevant argument. You are taking money from the engineer's behind the record, the artists themselves, factory workers who package and ship the merchandise, song-writers, managers, janitors at the buildings artists and their management work and record at. The point is, the music industry is a BUSINESS, not a charity. Every time you pirate a record you are directly taking money out of industry that is used to create and sustain jobs as well as seek out and produce new and emerging artists.