[news=http://www.netimperative.com/2005/06/23/worldpiracy2004/Image00067748]Music CD piracy peaked again worldwide in 2004. Is the answer tougher laws, or a different approach?
According to the IFPI, the record companies' global body, piracy of CDs once again reached record levels in 2004: 1.2 billion pirated discs sold, making it a $4.6bn market that "destroys jobs, kills investment and funds organised crime".
No argument here about the funding of organised crime, since it's obvious that the Tony Sopranos of this world will want to get in to something that has such low risks and fast turnover. Even if the discs are only selling for an average just under $4 each, it's still a healthy profit on something where the raw materials cost you less than one-tenth of that.
Yet the IFPI's answer to this problem, where one in three discs sold is pirated, and in Paraguay only 1 per cent of the market is legal, seems uninspired. Demand tougher copyright laws; try to start "education" programs about piracy; crack down on the pirates.
The problem is that copyright laws tread on many peoples' toes, and arguably criminalise a lot of people who don't deserve it, and create sledgehammer-cracking-nut scenarios.
Thus the UK's BPI (British Phonographic Industry) faces a tough PR problem in which a mother, Sylvia Price faces a £2,500 bill for the file-sharing habits of her 12-year-old daughter Emily. Problem is, the mother says she won't pay, can't pay. The BPI's spokesman retorts that "Whether it's a 12-year-old [uploading] or a 50-year-old man stealing a CD from a shop, you wouldn't expect them to be treated any differently."
Ah, but you do. The man who steals the CD from the shop commits a criminal act; and nobody can buy the CD he's bought. The 12-year-old uploading files commits a civil offence; and the problem becomes one of supply rather than absence of supply. (You can see from the comments to that story that the BPI's approach is far from popular; I give Mrs Price a good chance if she can get in front of a jury.)
The IFPI would like to move more towards electronic downloads; while it's quite easy for pirates to rip that format of music back to a physical CD, fewer people are going to trust a non-licit download site. (The Russian site allofmp3.com wants your credit card details. Seriously, would you hand them over? I know I wouldn't.)
John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the IFPI, said: "we expect that by the end of the decade online distribution will make up 25 per cent of the market." That's a big rise from the 1 or 2 per cent now. But though the IFPI would like it to be more, there's a problem: those damn customers.
Now, here's the real problem. The IFPI isn't recognising that change is being forced on it; or at least, it has better weapons at its disposal to struggle against it. Compare the experience of the print industry, which is seeing the online world swallow its revenues. Or the operators of radio and TV, which are similarly seeing their audience (especially in the crucial youth market) distracted away by the Net.
The difference is that there's nothing illegal, or even illicit, about the transfer away from print, radio and TV. People can choose to listen or watch alternatives on their computer. In Japan, magazine publishers found that some people were taking photos of their magazines' contents on the shelves with high-quality cameraphones, and them reading them later. No sale, of course. What's the solution? If the magazines were published by the record companies, of course they'd have sued the makers of cameraphones, and the owners of them.
No such recourse for the publishers. Instead of trying to beat them, they joined them - with content people could view on the phones. No visit to the shops necessary. A pain for the newsagents, of course, but they can always sell top-up cards.
The short, sharp point? The IFPI is using its entrenched laws to prop up a position that isn't tenable in the long term, because technology is changing things.
I was particularly struck by one comment during the press conference to launch the report. "In Africa, there's no legal business outside of South Africa, and so there's no investment in new artists," said one of the IFPI's directors.
This stunned me, since African music is woven into the culture around the continent. The music industry is alive and well in Africa. But it's beyond the reach of the IFPI, because it happens in clubs, and over the radio, and the people invest in the artists by seeing them perform.
It's said when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The IFPI really needs a new toolbox - and the online world has it. But I fear I might have to hear a few more years of worsening piracy before things really change for the better.