Music Piracy During Covid-19

Music Piracy has resurfaced as a conversation during the covid-19 pandemic due to the financial struggles of Musicians and their audience. 

“Unfortunately, this is a conversation that will never go away. Pandemic or not, people will still pirate music and we will have to keep working on ways around it,” explains Angeles Joselito. 

Joselito owns and operates Apollo Entertainment Company, playing for live events such as corporate parties, weddings and much more.

In 2019, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) published a report that showed how people engage with musical content online, which typically includes streaming music platforms.

However, there is another way to get music that is illegal which is called Stream ripping. 

 

Music Piracy Statistics
Music Piracy Statistics

 

“Stream ripping is the illegal practice of creating a downloadable file from content that is available to stream online. It is now the most prevalent form of online music copyright infringement,” explains the IFPI report, “Of those 62% of those accessing content by unlicensed means would choose on-demand streaming to find and listen to music if copyright infringement was no longer an option”.

 

Music Piracy Statistics
Music Piracy Statistics

What is Music Pirating?

Music piracy is when someone copies, downloads, or distributes a piece of music without the consent of the owner. This is a form of copyright infringement because the owner didn’t give consent for how the piece is being used. 

27% used copyright infringement to listen to or obtain music in the past month. 
38% of them were aged 16 to 24
23% used stream ripping and 34% of those are 16- to 24-year-olds. 

What is copyright infringement? 

Copyright infringement is when you use any of the rights held by the owner of their intellectual property without permission. Intellectual Property Law is to protect the products of the mind, such as art, music, inventions, narratives. The laws are put in place to provide incentives to creators, and to limit unfair or exploitative work. Unlike other forms of property, ideas aren’t tangible. One cannot lock it away to avoid another getting to it or ensuring that nobody else ever thinks that same thought. 

The rights held by the copyright owner include to produce, reproduce, perform, or publish a work; to translate a work; to convert a dramatic work into a novel, non-dramatic work, or sound recording; to convert a non-dramatic or artistic work into a dramatic work through public performance; to communicate a work by telecommunication; to reproduce, adapt, or present work by film or photograph; to present an artistic work at a public exhibition (works created after June 7, 1988); to create a sound recording of a musical work; to license computer software; to reproduce any performance that has been fixed; to fix any performance that has not yet been fixed; to reproduce, license, or publish sound recordings; to fix or reproduce broadcast signals; to authorize another broadcaster to simultaneously retransmit the signal (McInnes, et al, 2018). Several of these rights, if not all of them, are easily manipulated by the internet and its users because of the sheer ease of accessibility. 

 

Why is Copyright infringement an issue? 

Music piracy has been a hot controversy since the late 20th and has continued onwards to the present time. The implementation of the internet for average use by consumers brought music piracy to what it is today. Platforms for music downloading such as Napster, LimeWire, And Pirate Bay have gotten heat due to lawsuits, copyright laws and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The main issue of music piracy is that it is a copyright infringement and is in essence takes the artist’s work, creativity, and intellectual property for granted.

Cody Blakely is a local musician and recording engineer in Edmonton, Alberta. He has experience in working with musicians from local to international acts throughout his past 3 professional years as a musician.

“I personally don’t think people understand exactly how much money musicians invest into their own music, or how much money is invested. I say money, but also at the same time; becoming a musician that people care about is not an easy thing. It’s a 10,000-hour job it’s just like any other trade, anything like that. The music industry itself creates a lot of problems. Yeah, just even the way record labels and whatnot sort of conduct their contracts and why not it borderline in a lot of ways makes it impossible for musicians to make money. for every Platinum-selling artist that you have, there are 10 million bands that are rubbing pennies together trying to afford to make a record. I think a lot of the problems with pirating A lot of it just kind of comes from people not necessarily thinking about essentially what goes into making a record or being a musician and, and whatnot. But I also think that the record labels themselves they’re not helping the cause. Even if pirating wasn’t the thing, I still don’t think that there’d be a tremendous amount of well shared with the artists”, explains Blakely. 

 

But is it really an issue?

The argument for pirating music is that it’s not bad to download music because artists make more of their money through concerts and merchandise. 

When asked how to support artists during hard times such as Covid – 19, Blakely comments, “If you have any spare money, please contact a band directly to ask to buy their merchandise. Don’t go from a streaming service or Bandcamp unless they are extremely far. If you message a band and ask to buy their merch they would be over the moon! Every little bit helps”.

That argument is difficult to assess a direct correlation between a loss of sales and music piracy. There are people that would prefer to purchase tangible CDs regardless of the accessibility to pirated copies. On the other hand, pirating music typically has zero cost to the consumer which is preferable because they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to purchase the legitimate copy. This means that every download doesn’t necessarily equal a loss in sales. 

“In 2002, the RIAA reported that CD sales had fallen by 8.9 percent, from 882 million to 803 million units; revenues fell 6.7 percent. This confirms a trend over the past few years. The RIAA blames Internet piracy for the trend, though there are many other causes that could account for this drop. SoundScan, for example, reports a more than 20 percent drop in the number of CDs released since 1999. That no doubt accounts for some of the decreases in sales… But let’s assume the RIAA is right, and all of the declines in CD sales is because of Internet sharing. Here’s the rub: In the same period that the RIAA estimates that 803 million CDs were sold, the RIAA estimates that 2.1 billion CDs were downloaded for free. Thus, although 2.6 times the total number of CDs sold were downloaded for free, sales revenue fell by just 6.7 percent… [So] there is a huge difference between downloading a song and stealing a CD”, explains Lawrence Lessig, author of Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (2004).

 

What are the legalities of music piracy?

Canadian Legality of Music Downloading and Uploading can be confusing at first glance. In overly simple terms, it’s illegal if you make money from it such as uploading music content for money or selling/renting out copyrighted material without permission. However, that being said, it’s legal to download for personal use, downloading music onto public sites (Without getting money), and Peer to Peer Online sharing (For personal use only). 

For example, it’s not illegal for someone to use “Kids” by Childish Gambino in their Tik Tok but they can’t sell that content as completely their own.             

According to Copyright Laws in Canada, music is more complex than other copying or uploading elements. Due to music specifically has the “Private Copying Exception” while things like books, Movies, and Software are illegal to copy or upload without purchasing or getting express permission from the copyright holder.

 

What are the penalties for copyright infringement?

For smaller cases of copyright infringement, the penalty is a fine of up to $5,000 for non-commercial use and up to $20,000 for commercial use. 

For Larger cases of copyright infringement otherwise known as selling or rental or copyrighted materials, the penalty is up to 1 mill or 2-year prison sentence and is an Indictable offence. A summary offence carries a maximum fine of $25,000 or a maximum sentence of 6 months.

 

What do musicians think?

Even amongst musicians, there’s a debate on whether music pirating is positive or negative. 

Phillip Rodda, the drummer for Medical Pilot explains, “Unfortunately, with streaming becoming as mainstream as it is, the actual sales of albums have dropped a huge amount with piracy or without. I know for me personally, I’ve never really cared if people have ripped my band’s songs off of YouTube to keep on their phone. I’ve just been happy that they’re taking the time to listen! There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about this big shift where your music is now serving as an advertisement for your brand and image rather than the other way around. With the big piracy craze in the early 2000s and now Spotify’s extremely small margins on streams, a lot of artists I know have accepted that as life and have just adopted new ways to have their music be heard as much as possible while still making money.”

This may be true but that’s not the case for all musicians that get their money from the sales of their music directly. 

“According to Woolley’s introduction each year It is estimated that 12.5 billion dollars are lost due to file sharing and music piracy, and 5 billion of that is profits lost from the music industry directly. Due to this dramatic loss in profits the music industry has been forced to cut down its staffing. Music piracy has become such an issue that the industry is encouraged to adapt to this new era and change,” explains Woolley, D. J, author of “The cynical pirate: how cynicism affects music piracy” (2010). 

How does the covid pandemic impact music piracy?

Blakely explains – I get right now it would be foolish to assume everyone has extra money they can spend buying records. I haven’t purchased a record myself in a bit and I subscribe to a streaming service, so I am not exactly helping the situation, but I also feel like I buy a lot of music right from the bands. Plus, with record shops being closed down or having limited access it’s tough to acquire music. It’s a tough situation. There are some people who haven’t felt a loss in income and if they can help support a local band by buying some of their merchandise it would mean the world to them.

 

Citations 

Anon, 2021. Music piracy. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_piracy [Accessed August 20, 2021].

Anon, 2021. Representing the recording industry worldwide. IFPI. Available at: https://www.ifpi.org/ [Accessed August 20, 2021].

Atkinson, Benedict. & Fitzgerald, Brian. (eds.) (2017). Copyright Law: Volume II: Application to Creative Industries in the 20th Century. Routledge. p181.

Office, C.I.P., 2019. Copyright statistics: 2018 to 2019. Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Available at: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr04724.html [Accessed August 20, 2021].

Lawrence Lessig (2004). Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: The Penguin Press. ISBN 1-59420-006-8OCLC 53324884.

^ Sanjek, Russell. (1988). American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195043105

Woolley, D. J. (2010). The cynical pirate: how cynicism effects music piracy. Academy of Information and Management Sciences Journal, 13(1), 31+. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.prxy4.ursus.maine.edu/essentials/article/GALE%7CA241861851/b8772514a705be025bdcd7edee6d5cdc?u=maine_orono

One thought on “Music Piracy During Covid-19

  1. Really well thought-out and researched article; I enjoyed reading it.

    I agree with Blakely that the music industry itself isn’t good for musicians. I’m hoping Taylor Swift’s push to own her music will encourage other artists to do the same, and hopefully change the industry.

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