Posted May 25, 2016 by Mike Mineo in Features

Pirating Music: How Technology is Changing the Industry

Piracy, in spite of what many think, is not a new phenomenon. It wasn’t invented alongside Napster and Bit Torrents’ rise to popularity. It’s easy to believe that’s the truth because that is the first time that music piracy started making headlines, thanks in part to bands like Metallica pushing for legislation against it. Piracy has been happening ever since music could be replicated on a consumer’s budget. It’s simply easier to track in the digital age than it when music was primarily analog.

It is the catch-22 of the digital age: making and releasing music to fans is easier than it has ever been before. All you need is a laptop with a built-in microphone and you can do just about anything (though, obviously you’ll want something more elaborate if you want your sound to actually be good). At the same time, even with all of the strides that have been made against malware and hacking and the advances that have been made in network security programming, files are still shared en masse.

To be clear, this file sharing isn’t necessarily because a musician’s system was hacked and the files were literally stolen (though this is something filmmakers often have to deal with). Often what happens is that someone buys an album or song and then allows people to make copies of the song/album’s files from their hard drives via torrent streams.
So what can you do to protect yourself against thieving pirates?

Release your music under the proper licensing structure. Your instinct might be to choose a license that is as restrictive as possible. It’s understandable but it will ultimately be self-defeating. This is the internet. People view licenses and rights coding as a challenge and the more restrictive your licensing, the more incentivized pirates will be to try and break that license.

If you truly want to cut down on piracy, you might want to consider releasing your work under a Creative Commons license. There are several Creative Commons licenses you can choose. Some allow sharing, some don’t. If you do allow sharing, believe it or not, you will be more likely to incentivize people to actually pay for your work.

Sadly, unless you are already a household name, you probably can’t afford to pull your music off of streaming services like Google Play, Amazon Play, Spotify, etc. And, worse, you cannot set a limit of how many times someone can listen to your song via these services. You will earn some money from those listens but not much. On the upside, when your music is released on streaming services, the rates of piracy should go down.

Unique Releases
Yes, it is possible to rip sound from vinyl into a digital system. Even so, most people are not properly set up for that. This is why some bands will create special releases or re-releases that are in hard-to-pirate formats like vinyl. CDs are trending this way as well since newer computers are built sans disk drives.

Expiration Dates
One of the common ways that people pirate music these days is by downloading the same recording multiple times under their own download code and then sending those files to their friends. This is why many artists have set up their download systems to include limitations on how many times something can be downloaded by the same machine as well as for how long that download code will be accessible.

All of these steps can help you reduce the rate at which your work is pirated but, unfortunately, there is no way to stop it entirely. And, what most bands have found, is that instead of creating limits on their work, what keeps piracy rates down is the encouragement of sharing and using “pay what you can” payment models for the work they do release.
Artists have found repeatedly that while there are plenty of “free stuff” grabbers out there, most fans want to support the artists they love and are happy to do so. Building that rapport is, hands down, the best way to fight back against piracy.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].