This post is my opinion about how copyright law is failing to keep piracy at bay in the music industry. Before I go any further, it must be stated that BitTorrents are not illegal as they have many useful business applications. The subject here is the use of BitTorrents for illegal distribution of copyrighted material, in particular illegal torrents that freely share music without the owners consent.
What is a BitTorrent?
I won’t go into too much technical detail here for two main reasons. Firstly, it is not entirely relevant and secondly, it is largely outside my area of knowledge.
In short, a BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer network to enable file sharing. Peer-to-peer is a means for people to share files across the Internet that involves both parties installing software and having shared folders on their machines. So, for example, if your computer had a file I wanted a copy of, the P2P software would allow me to access your computer to download it from your shared folder.
BitTorrent software can share files between many users simultaneously and can collect bits of a file from numerous sources. If one source loses connection others take over until the entire file is available. If you are interested in more information on the technical aspects, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent_(software)
Although this type of software is very clever and has many useful applications, the opportunity for abuse is rife!
Now, of course, I could go into the moral implications of sharing music, but that would be straying from the subject; I want to offer my insight to the copyright problem as I see it.
Basically, copyright is their to protect the intellectual property of the copyright owner. Aside from copyright law being out of date, and having to be patched with sometimes pointless and impractical amendments, the only way copyright can be completely protected is by the owner taking legal action against the perpetrator.
The reality is that this may have been possible in past years, but now with the ease of mass file sharing this seems totally impractical. Millions of people file share daily, so in theory, downloaders can be tracked and legal action taken against them; you have probably heard about downloaders being sued by record labels.
However, in my opinion, the bigger problem is the file sharing websites themselves. In essence, these sites act as giant search engines linking millions of users enabling them to illegally share files. With millions of visitors on a daily basis, these sites can generate thousands of dollars a month in advertising revenue.
The courts and legal departments do have the power to shut them down, although, it is very easy for them to get up and running again, often in a matter of hours. It is only a case of having the software, IT knowledge and server hardware.
Also, to make things more difficult, copyright laws and elements of it differ from country to country and region to region. What is interpreted one way in one jurisdiction can be seen differently in others. It can take a long time for illegal file sharing sites to have legal cases brought against them, and just as long for them to be closed down that some owners of BitTorrent sites have been known to publish legal threats and taunt copyright holders by publishing childish responses on their websites.
There is a big court case in the news at the moment with the Pirate Bay website. I will not be providing a link to it here!!
The route of the problem
Reality is….This is not a new problem. Copying copyrighted music has been going on for decades from copying sheet music, to copying vinyl, tapes and ripping CD’s to MP3 downloads. Whatever the method, most of us have probably done it at one time or another.
The difference is the level of exposure. For example, copying a CD for your Auntie or sending a mate an mp3 is vastly different to making unlimited copies available worldwide 24/7!
Although this problem is more of an issue for the mainstream music industry, the culture of illegal file sharing also causes financial loss to other industries including film companies, software and games developers. Many of these use music created by independent composers, which will inevitably result in independent composers loosing income too.
The full-time composer needs to make a living from creating music otherwise their talent may be lost to a non-music related day job.
We are already seeing mainstream artists diversifying and doing non-music related things… How long before their day job becomes TV advertising and game show appearances? While their music becomes a secondary activity!
I do not claim to have a definitive solution, however, should someone want to pay me for my time, I would certainly have a good crack at it!
Obviously, the way we consume music has changed, is changing and will continue to change. Maybe it is time for ‘Global Copyright Policy 2.0’! (just a fantasy solution of mine, but far too big to go into right now). I mean, the term ‘protected by copyright’ does not even make sense in the context of modern music distribution; it is not protected at all really. Software is protected more effectively than music as you need to purchase a license key to use it.
To end, let me throw this radical idea out there….
People want free downloads and there are sites out there that give widespread access to illegal downloads, making money from advertising at the same time. Why don’t the major record labels put all their artists’ music into one huge download site that they have control of? Allow people free access to the music and make their money from other means, on-site advertising for instance. The mainstream industry certainly has the critical mass required to pull a stampede of web traffic.
There could even be a paid option that gives the end user something of extra value, maybe discounts on other merchandise, whatever it is, it just needs to be something that gives the user extra value as a paid member.
By doing this, major record companies would have greater control as the fans would be using their on site advertising, using their additional services and most importantly leaving their email address and information about their music tastes (Fantastic marketing data!). The fans would be consuming music in a new way from its origin whilst providing revenue in other ways. Furthermore, their perception of the industry would slowly change and illegal music sharing would no longer need to be the outlet for free music!
I am sure there are many opinions on this, however, I reckon that Internet entrepreneurs and marketeers out there can see the huge income potential of millions of daily visitors to a single website! Unfortunately, I fear that the mainstream industry will never realise that there current problem could also be their latest opportunity.
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