“Creative Minds are Being Sorely Mistreated”: How Piracy is Affecting the Music Industry

In Comment, Human Interest, Non-fiction on February 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Written by Alex Ashley

In a perfect world, where there is no thorn needed to protect the blossom of the rose, where doors remain unlocked and alarms are an invention that we can no longer find a use for; in a world where a dark alley is a welcome pathway, and children can frolic and play at ease with little concern; in a world where what is ours is ours, and no one else covets, schemes, or steals…

Well, in a world like that, a column like this need not be written.  But the fact of the matter is, dear reader, that the world in which we live is very different from the aforementioned ideal.  It is a world that poses challenges at every turn, obstacles with every step.

Those in the music industry know this.


     “If you love music, don’t steal it,” comments award-winning singer/songwriter, Vince Gill.  Gill is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and sets the record with 20 Grammy awards—more than any other male country artist to date.  In an interview with The Boot, he identified the problem in detail: “Income streams are dwindling. Record sales aren’t what they used to be. The devaluation of music and what it’s now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That’s what a [single] cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises — the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with…”

While it’s true that the music industry is suffering, the root cause is not faceless; it is becoming ever clearer: piracy.

“It’s an awkward time,” Gill concludes.  “Creative brains are being sorely mistreated.”

Indeed, piracy—predominantly of the internet variety—is taking its toll on the music industry, and the professionals whose livelihoods it cares for.


     “The problem,” argues Stewart P. Green, a Professor at Rutgers Law School, in an op-ed article for the New York Times, “is that most people simply don’t buy the claim that illegally downloading a song…from the Internet really is like stealing a car.” Green certainly acknowledges that illegal downloading is a valid problem, and that artists should have legal protection to profit from their creative work.  “But framing illegal downloading as a form of stealing doesn’t, and probably never will, work,” he asserted. “We would do better to consider a range of legal concepts that fit the problem more appropriately: concepts like unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation.”

Beyond Professor Green’s claims, too, there is a whole other class of opinion that cites a range of supposed “benefits,” to illegal downloading and pirating.

Could it be?

For example, music pirates may have access to older music that is no longer in print, and perhaps hasn’t been for years.  Piracy, in some cases, also creates a realm of devout fandom for bands that may otherwise have had far less of a following.  Because of their accessibility via the internet and illegal downloading, however, they benefit in the form of exposure and popularity.

In fact, if I’m honest, piracy and internet downloads have had their apparent benefits.  Brian Pecknold, a 23-year-old independent musician in a band called Fleet Foxes, from Seattle, Washington, credits the file-sharing phenomenon for his musical diversity; he admits he sees certain benefits as both a musician and a music listener.  “I’ve discovered so much music through that medium,” he says.  “That will be true of any artist my age, absolutely…As much music as musicians can hear, that will only make music richer as an art form.”

Set all of that aside, and you’re still left with the statistic published by The American Assembly, a public affairs forum and affiliate of Columbia University, who say that the highest consuming free music downloaders also purchase around 30 percent more music, “making pirates the biggest spenders in the record industry.”


Lest we overlook, however, that the idiomatic double-edged sword cuts both ways, and that this technologically-propelled wave of file-sharing and internet piracy is leaving stripes on the music industry not easily bathed.

For example: A recent study by the Institute for Policy Innovation reported that internet piracy costs the U.S. economy $12.5 billion in annual losses.  As a result, 70,000 jobs are flushed down the toilet, equaling $2 billion in lost wages for American workers.

The symptoms are seen at every layer of the industry.

Shortcut savings drive up the cost of legitimate product, leaving honest retailers unable to compete with the lower prices of their illegal competitors.

Creative artists never see the royalties they have earned.

85 percent of recordings released don’t even cover their own cost.  As a result, the remaining 15 percent is relied upon to subsidize less profitable types of music, develop new artists and keep businesses afloat.

“It’s not something I think about, because I don’t choose to become knowledgeable about it,” comments songwriter and guitar extraordinaire, Roger Fisher; Roger is one of the founding members of the band Heart, and is the mind and fingers behind the song “Barracuda.” He says his goal is to ‘remain true to the heart of music, as opposed to getting lost in the business aspect.’

He continues: “I need to focus on writing, recording and performing music as much as possible.  Distractions are rampant.  It’s a situation where I’ll let others figure it out and fix it.  Music is sacred to me; an uplifting element that has been key in helping bring humanity out of the Dark Ages.

“Thing is,” he admits, “we’re not out yet.”

But piracy can also be linked to negatives of the music industry that many didn’t know were connected.

In many cases, for example, the reputation of the artist may be harmed directly, since their name is still associated with the inferior quality of much of the pirated material available.  The quality of the recording may be lost, but the artist’s name is still branded on the record.

Also, since the most pirated music is usually the artistically superior, it gives the flawed impression that what is saleable is equal to what is purchased legitimately in stores.  Not only that, but when the music industry collectively is forced to make cuts across the board, it has little room to splurge on creativity and experiment with new artists.

“Less money is being spent on an artist now,” states Brent Mason, a veteran, award-winning Nashville session guitarist.  “There are much lower budgets to work with, so the music suffers because it is recorded quickly and expedited to the public, which creates a more methodical process and less time for creativity in the studio…”

In other words, piracy is leaving an unmistakable mark on the quality of music emanating from the music industry today.


With the way the music industry has evolved over the past decade, what with the advent of digital downloads and mass file sharing, it stands to reason that we can expect the music business to continue evolving and adapting.  We can expect it to rise above and beyond this awkward purgatory between the respectable and dignified jaunt to the record store to buy the new Michael Jackson record, and the clandestine midnight download of the Foo Fighters’ “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” on BitTorrent.

As painful as it may be for some to hear this, the world of music, the business of music, is swiftly evolving; our challenge is to evolve with it.

“I think the industry will one day evolve into something constructive, and the consumers will become more educated and informed as this whole infrastructure changes,” says Mason, quoted above.

Few are comfortable with the changes occurring in the music industry.  Some are indifferent, many are upset, but all are affected.

Give it time.

In 20 years, our children’s children may know of cassette tapes and vinyl records only what we share with them in our bedtime stories and tales around the campfire.  But, chances are, we will have learned how to embrace the digital age, and the benefits and liabilities that have come with it.

Chances are, the music industry will one day recover from the growing pains of our modern age.

Chances are, it will again be an age where music is no longer just a business model, but the fluent tongue of the human soul.

  1. Very informative write! I really enjoyed it.

  2. I had my lyrics stolen via the internet. They have to live with that and I learned a valuable lesson. But I know moral bankruptcy is something one does not easily recover from if they don’t want to do so. No lawyer exists for that dissolution. Also, I think the age of the internet as created a dumbing down of what a theif really is. It simply doesn’t occur to people that that is what they are doing. Say your, just a guy. If you burn a CD of an artist, and you sell it, you know what you are doing. But if you click your mouse, it doesn’t have the same conscience- based effect. People just don’t think that deeply. And if you try to educate a person who doesn’t have a morality -based conscience, they think nothing of it. “What’s the big deal” they ask? They don’t see it as taking bread off someone’s table, and if they do, they rationalize, “they can afford it”. Stealing is stealing. Stealing someone’s words, or melody is stealing a piece of their soul. I’d rather you steal my stereo, I can buy a new one. I can’t buy back a part of my heart, nor my mind.

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