Carry On Suing


Here's the British version of a familiar story. The music industry in the U.K. claims that sales have fallen by some 25 percent since 1999, and has been blaming its losses on illegal Internet file trading. The British Phonographic Industry, a trade group, has been suing people caught trading files illegally.

But today's Guardian reports that "Computer-literate music fans who illegally share tracks over the internet also spend four and a half times as much on digital music as those who do not, according to research published today." That is, "downloading tracks illegally has also led [music fans] to become more enthusiastic buyers of singles and albums online."

The head of the outfit that did the survey concludes that "music fans who break piracy laws are highly valuable customers." However, a spokesperson for the music industry said that the findings confirm the wisdom of taking file traders to court, and said that they'll keep right on suing.

NEXT: Nutty Little Pundit Turf Wars

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  1. Perhaps they spend four times as much on music because the types of people who trade MP3s are the same types who are into music and therefore more likely to spend money on it.

  2. Number 6,

    Since I fall into that valued group of customers, I disagree. My interest in music became much stronger with the dawn of MP3 downloads. I spend way more than I used to on CDs in general now than I did before file sharing.

  3. Same as it ever was. Back in the 1980s the record industry blamed home taping for slow sales. Studies showed that people who made cassette copies of albums also spent more money on recordings than the average consumer, but that didn't stop industry lobbyists from demanding and getting a tax on blank tapes that we still have to pay today.

  4. Oh, wait, the study was referring to people who buy more digital music online. Forget what I said before -- I would never waste my money on digital music. What I meant to say is that I buy way more physical (material) albums from musical groups themselves than I did before -- thereby giving the profits directly to the band and eliminating the distributor middleman and payment of corporate busybodies. All of these lawsuits have really awoken me to the piggishness of Record Company Suits, and now I try to avoid buying from big record companies as much as possible, and instead focus on actually supporting the artists themselves.

  5. Golly, people are pirating their products, and they actually say it's HURTING SALES?!! What numbskulls! Come on, Reason readers, let's call out these corporate idjits for the dingbats they are!

    Everyone has the right to infringe copyright and make reproductions of music they haven't paid for. I mean, what are these "music industry" people thinking? As Charles Paul Freund IV, Esq., so eloquently implies, suing their own CUSTOMERS is crazy. Why don't they stop trying to SELL recordings and just GIVE the stuff away? I mean, they've got enough money anyway.

    Goofy, greedy business people. Bunch of sillies, that's what they are.

  6. The point is, Whiz, that the record industry is dying and they're too stupid to innovate. So they use the law and the government to keep them afloat. I'm not saying it's right to steal, but it's funny to hear them cry about file sharers hurting their sales when it's pretty apparent that file sharers are their best hope to stay alive.

    The other problem I have with the record industry is that they have no concept of fair use. They want you to believe that all file sharers are stealing their shit, never want you to make a copy of one their cd's that you bought, and on top of all that, make their artists into indentured servants much of the time.

    I have no real sympathy for them. But I will admit the whole 'intellectual property rights' issue is a very complex and thorny one. And I must also admit that I don't know enough about copyright law to really make a highly informed decision...

  7. Sorry for the threadjack, but some of us regular posters from the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey area are talking about meeting somewhere in Manhattan on some weekend, to drink, talk about how much better the world would be if we ran it, and see how TOTALLY wrong we were when we imagined what the others looked like. I've got a few regulars signed up already.

    So drop me an e-mail if you're interested, and after a couple of days, when I know who all's going, we can work out the when and where.

  8. I like Jennifer's Manhattan Get-Together Plan.

    Alas, I am 3000 miles away. Anybody want to meet for a Seattle based Clam Bake?

  9. Love the "Carry on ..." reference (whether it was intentional or not). One slice of Briton I really miss on this side of the pond.

  10. NoStar:

    I'm in Seattle too, I'll intend there is beer involved

  11. Oops, meant to say "attend" not "intend".
    Although I do enjoy intending . . .

  12. Nostar, Matthew, I am here in Seattle as well. Maybe we can get Peter Bagge to join us.

  13. These computer-literate music fans are obviously not getting their fair share of payola. Having a price floor and ceiling at free prevents music prices from reaching equilibrium. It's not just labels that are losing potential revenue from music sharing.

  14. Nostar, Matthew, JSM: Peter Bagge was at the get-together at the Elysian last night. Why didn't ya'll just go to that?

  15. I'm sorry, that sounded a bit rude. What I meant to say was "Ya'll should have gone to that." It was a good time. Peter Bagge AND Ronald Bailey.

  16. If I had an hour I could list over a thousand albums in my collection that are no longer in print, yet the rights are still held by the "big labels," who have no plans to re-release them anytime soon. File-sharing and used CD stores are the only way to get a lot of them.

  17. [Waves hands in air.]

    Another Seattlite here.

    Oh, and on-topic? (Imagine that.) Whiz; I've been paying attention to this stuff for a long time now. I've thought a lot about it and I've spoken to a lot of smart people about it. No-one agrees as to a plan for the future of intellectual property given the realities of digital transmission. Lots of ideas, and an equal number of others able to shoot holes in them.

    The only consensus is that suing your customers is crazy. That one is coming from everyone except the people doing it. Which makes me think they really are crazy, or they have an ulterior motive. If they aren't crazy their motive is probably political and their actions are almost certainly intended to force the government to support them with tax dollars now they can no longer artifically inflate prices at the retail level.

  18. There's another part of "illegal" downloading I haven't seen mentioned - maybe it's not that common, but I've done non-trivial amounts of it. I have a largish collection of music on tape, and ripping that to MP3 would be a bear. Some of the tapes are damaged at this point anyway. If I download music I already have, just in a different format, am I a criminal or not?

  19. If my property rights were being violated I would certainly want to get the cops involved.

    I might also try installing locks and fences and dogs. You know, innovate to find a business model that is more secure.

    The government is responsible for protecting your property rights, but you are as well.

  20. TDM,

    There is a price floor. Its now $0.00. Music companies feel however that they shouldn't compete with piracy, because that would be wrong (and the executives salaries might decrease). So let's sue every broke college student out there. That'll learn'em. Meanwhile, Microsoft lowers its prices on software supplied to Southeast Asia in order to combat piracy there. Whether its right or wrong, the music industry is fighting a rearguard action against hordes and is losing. To stay alive, they have to stop yelling and start negotiating because angry hordes do like being yelled at.

  21. Same as it ever was.

    Boy is it ever. Back in the early '80s an ASCAP collector came around to the restaurant I worked at the time to extort the yearly fee the Supreme Court had declared they were entitled to. I asked him if he would send a message back to the members or his organization to start writing better music.

    I guess he never got around to sending that memo.

  22. "If I had an hour I could list over a thousand albums in my collection that are no longer in print, yet the rights are still held by the 'big labels,' who have no plans to re-release them anytime soon. File-sharing and used CD stores are the only way to get a lot of them."

    I never understood the logic of this, either. I'm sure that digitizing an old recording is an inexpensive proposition in this age, labor and cost wise, so why don't they make more recordings available which would lead to more profits?

    I can think of dozens of albums I used to play as a DJ on college radio, ranging from classic jazz and worldbeat to industrial and punk, that I never see pop up on Itunes or Windows Media. Some of us still have a need to listen to Hugh Masakela, Max Roach or Public Image Limited, as opposed to idiot rappers and Britney Spears (I always thought her name sounded like a british culinary dish involving asparagus)

    They finally get evidence that people will PAY in the hundred of millions of dollars for digital format music, but have a payola-vinyl album mentality in trying to shove the "big" artists down your throats, when more esoteric artists, if exposed to the buying downloading market, could theoretically be just as profitable.

    Since there is not promotion and packaging cost other than digitizing the catalog and putting a javascript/jpg blurb of the artist on the web, why are they so anal about putting more of their back catlogs out for availability?

    However, I don't think marketing stupidity on the part of record companies justifies file swapping. But any "loss" on the part of record companies is due to the fact that monumentally untalented artists are being pushed on the public (at least to my Sinatra loving ears)

  23. While I commend the people who do mention this, I feel that it is important to re-iterate that downloading music that you don't pay for can be stealing. The downloader does not decide whether it is stealing.

    We are not talking about food or shelter. This is entertainment.

    Can't people pay the listed price or do without?

  24. The most obvious flaw in the argument against downloading is that every download is *not* equivalent to a lost sale. Just like radio itself, people who get to try out the music for free are going to be more likely to buy it if they like it. Or they will find an artist they like and buy the artist's albums to get more of their music. On the flip side, not every download means more sales, either.
    This is not to justify illegal downloading, but hey, if the system's broke, maybe it needs to be changed. They're spending all this time, money, and effort going after illegal downloaders in the hopes that this will chill further illegal downloading. If this strategy doesn't work, then they're just throwing money down the drain.

  25. I think people make a mistake assuming that just because people are downloading music illegally, that means they don't care that it's illegal. I think in many instances they do care and would rather not break the law, but they have no other way to get the desired product at a reasonable cost. They may care that it's illegal, they just don't care enough to do without.

    I think you'll find that in most piracy cases like this, lower prices will likely reduce illegal pirating. So under those circumstances you can compete with "free" because those people might be willing to pay a little more than "free" just so they could do so legally.

    As has been pointed out here, for reasons that escape me, the record industry has been woefully slow to do so despite the fact that the marginal cost on most of those transactions would be very close to zero (though not quite).

    My guess is that the big labels fear that the more widespread digital music becomes, the more danger there is that they may become superfluous middle men with the artists being able to provide music to their fans without the necessity of the record companies' distribution networks. In other words they've cornered the market on horse driven carriages at the same time the internal combustion engine is invented.

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