Friday, April 13, 2007

Sadly, Not All Piracy Pundits Are as Wise as Charlie

Case in Point: Whatzisname.

(Who, I once again should point out for the benefits of the Powers That Be, I hold no personal grudge or vendetta against. Sleep soundly, O Punk, for I bring only words.)

No, my issue is (aside from the banality of "downloading is bad" and some odd punctuation) actually a pair of assertions. One is sensible. The other, not so much.

Assertion the first:

That, also, was true. The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that piracy and counterfeiting diverts up to US$250-billion a year that would otherwise land in American pockets. Just under a year ago, meanwhile, the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft suggested that software piracy alone was costing the national economy slightly less than $10-billion annually. However, the association warned, "losses from software piracy worldwide amounted to $41-billion in 2005."

A lot of these extraordinary numbers, obviously, are -- like many of the numbers that attempt to describe the magnitude few of your belongings, just because I f***ing felt like it? It's the same f***ing thing, mate."

And it certainly f***ing is. Unauthorized downloading, and its related crimes of piracy and counterfeiting, is inarguably criminal. When the U.S. trade deficit with China has ballooned to an extraordinary $232.5-billion, the Bush administration's of myriad crimes -- completely speculative. The actual losses could be more, or they could be less. No one knows for sure, not even the intellectual property pirates.
(Is anybody else wondering what happened here? It seems to be missing an emdash or a subject or has too many chapter breaks or something. Not my point, but geez. I'm no copy editor, but I thought somebody at the Post was.)

Sorry, diversion.

Anyway, that last bit about it being "completely speculative" is absolutely true, and ties in with that brilliant piece on piracy by Charlie Stross that I highlighted a little while back. The problem with trying to figure out the lost revenue of artists et al is that nobody can really pinpoint how many people would have bought it otherwise. That doesn't change anything but a strictly utilitarian analysis of piracy, of course, as the presumed right of monopoly over copying doesn't really take into account lost sales, but if you're being utilitarian about it, the issue is the lost revenues.

Assertion the second:

There is a reason why so many bands and musicians now tour endlessly, I informed a friend the other day. It is because no one under the age of 25 purchases music anymore -- they download it, burn it and rip it for free. They steal it. The musicians, therefore, are obliged to play concerts wherever they can find a stage, to survive.
Whoops! Houston, we have a problem. He just finished saying that we have no idea how many lost sales there are... and now we're getting a bold assertion that "no one under the age of 25 purchases music anymore". If nobody can tell how much downloading is going on, how on earth would somebody know that "nobody purchases music anymore?"


Another problem appears. If this is true, just where the hell is Apple getting all that iTunes money from? I mean, yes, those are downloads, but they're also purchased music. Last I checked Apple was crowing about selling around a billion songs online or something like that.

Does the iTunes record store count?

And for that matter, while I do have to bow to his superior knowledge of the life of a musician--albeit a non-touring one--I do wonder how he knows that most bands and musicians "tour endlessly". For that matter, how does he know how much more they tour than they used to? I always got the impression that the people who were truly hurt by downloading were the big recording artists, not the little guy who isn't going to see much royalties beyond what the record company recoups. Those other guys already toured endlessly. Is it that the big players are touring endlessly too? Surely there'd be some data on that to be shared.

Ok, I'm being a bit facetious here. Clearly someone's going a bit overboard to make a point. No worries: the life of a columnist is what it is. The point is that the youth are downloading rather a lot of stuff now. And yes, this is true. The problem is the same as it ever was, though: that we really don't know how many people are being turned on to new bands through free downloads that they subsequently buy the record for. (Case in point: I've been turned on to ultra-obscure musicians and bands through MySpace,, Pandora, and other free music sources.)

And, yes, people DO buy things they can download for free, for the same reason as always- because the act of financially supporting a band means that you get to feel partially responsible for their artistic success. That's why rap artists are forever crowing about their sales and success at concerns- because they want the audience to feel that connection with them. They do.

And so do I.

(Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to fire up Pandora.)

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