Music piracy and Durwood Pickle
Do you think music piracy doesn’t affect you? Tell that to Durwood Pickle. He didn’t even know what an MP3 is a few weeks ago, but he knows now.
Pickle, 71, of Richardson, Texas, was slapped with a lawsuit after his grandkids downloaded thousands of songs off the Internet, putting Pickle in a pickle ‘ the cross hairs of a lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
‘I’m not a computer-type person,’ Pickle said during an interview with The Associated Press. ‘(The grandkids) come in and get on the computer. Dadgum it, got to get a lawyer on this.’
(And in case you, like Pickle, didn’t know, an MP3 is an extremely popular digital-audio format. In other words, MP3 describes most music files downloaded by personal computers.)
The RIAA filed a wave of lawsuits on Sept. 8 against Pickle and others whom it described as ‘major offenders,’ beginning yet another strategy to combat piracy.
Though Internet users overwhelmingly acknowledge that sharing music files is illegal ‘ penalties can be as severe as tens of thousands of dollars per song ‘ an estimated 60 million Americans participate in file-sharing networks, according to the AP.
The most well-known file-sharing network, Napster, was a revolutionary in music piracy and a household name among Generation Xers despite being active from just 1998 to 2000.
Legal defeats ultimately led to Napster’s liquidation in 2002.
Despite Napster’s short life and sudden demise, Xamax Consultancy, a group which examines information technology management with relation to e-commerce, believes it may have been the fastest growing Internet service ever.
When logged on to Napster, users had mutual access to one another’s music files, cataloged neatly by the network. Millions of people swiped the free music.
Music piracy has been easy since 1978 when the cassette tape took off and, coincidence or not, record sales experienced a slump. But networks trade one-on-one piracy for one-on-thousands.
Napster didn’t so much raise the issue of rather piracy was right or legal as it made users ask, ‘Can I get away with it?’
Certainly stealing music is wrong. That’s why it’s called ‘stealing.’
Hugely successful songwriter Diane Warren (‘Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,’ ‘Unbreak My Heart’) is among many to make an analogy that, while accurate, is becoming clich’.
‘It’s illegal to walk out of a record store with a CD you didn’t pay for. Why should downloading the same music be any different?’ Warren asked, adding that piracy could hurt young talent by stunting the financial rewards of music.
And, unknowingly, Warren summed up the paradox of Internet file-stealing.
No one is arguing that a digital, five-finger discount is an unindictable offense, not stealing in principle, or that it puts money in the pockets of musicians and record companies.
However, lots of people ‘ millions, if the popularity of the practice is any indication ‘ have taken a Robin Hood (steal-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor) attitude toward music piracy.
In the movie ‘8 Mile,’ we experienced the artistically-licensed biography of a young, struggling Eminem named ‘Rabbit’ as he tried to escape the trailer park and break into the music industry. Obviously, he succeeded, and while his story is inspiring, it wouldn’t be less so if he didn’t have quite as many millions of dollars.
I’m not advocating a Marxist approach to the music industry, I’m pushing for some capitalism.
Far-from-starving artist Robbie Williams’ contract with EMI is so pricey, the company will have to sell 18 million of his albums before it recoups the outlay and makes a profit. Is it ironic that Williams said piracy is great and record companies are powerless to act against it?
The artists might as well take all the record labels offer. Williams’ experience certainly isn’t typical. In the United Kingdom, it’s common for artists to receive less than seven percent of the retail price of an album in royalties.
Ultimately, shelf prices are going to be determined by what the consumer is willing to pay. And with the rising prices of compact discs vastly outpacing inflation, consumers have been too willing for too long.
Maybe it’s piracy, or maybe it’s the prices, economy, artists without substance and albums without depth, cellular phones instead of head phones, and CD changers in the trunk, full of old favorites, reducing exposure to new music.
Whatever the reason (certainly all share some blame), album sales are back in a slump.
Calling it a measure to combat piracy, Universal Music Group plans to cut compact disc prices by as much as 30 percent today. The second largest music company, Warner Music Group, said it has no plans to follow suit.
The record companies may attempt to play the role of victims while being forced to drop prices on $18 compact discs, but capitalism is what’s truly at work here. While labels try to legislate away piracy, the law of supply and demand has been brought to bear on the other side of the cash register.