Students: Pirates of the internet?

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Photo by West McGowan

Ever since the dawn of the internet, media companies have been trying in vain to stem the tide of music piracy and other copyright infringements. Recently, the American government have been discussing the passing of SOPA, a bill that is intended to solve problems of piracy, but is written so vaguely it threatens the freedom of the whole internet. This has caused massive debate, most of it naturally against SOPA, and the international community of internet users have protested strongly against the bill. The fight is far from over, but for the mean time it seems the anti-SOPA campaigners are holding their own. But even with all the hype and media attention, not much has been discussed about alternative ways to deal with music piracy.

There’s no question that piracy is an issue, and while the official statistics are a little hazy we all know it’s going on. The student demographic is of course involved in this (perhaps even one of the worst group of perpetrators), so why is it that so many people illegally download music instead of buying it? The obvious answer is, it’s free. As students who are traditionally strapped for cash, we are notorious for trying to save money in any way possible. Why pay a few quid for some music when you can download it for nothing? And of course, there’s the fact that it just doesn’t feel like stealing. Not only is there no physical element to it, there is much less risk of getting caught or reprimanded for it.

The accessibility of illegal free music and the low-risk factor to downloading it is no excuse, however. Of course there are negative effects to music piracy, from depriving the artists of money (not such a problem for chart-toppers, but an issue for smaller acts). As well as this, it seems to be breeding a generation of people who expect things for free, which can cause bigger problems in the media industries in the long run. But despite these obvious negative aspects of music piracy, are there perhaps some positives as well?

Some studies suggest that those who pirate music (not all, but enough) tend to actually spend more overall on media products than those who pay for all their music. Downloading the music for free seems to be more of a ‘try before you buy’ mentality for many, and putting a stop to all illegal downloading could possibly cause a dip in legal sales. As well as this, and most importantly on the side of music piracy, it’s free marketing for musicians. People will share the music they like with their friends, creating an advertising source for the artists that costs them nothing. Many musicians who are now the biggest stars on the scene would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for people sharing their music on the internet and spreading the word, for example Justin Bieber or rising star Lana Del Rey.

So music piracy has a silver lining, at least. But whether you see it as abhorrent or a positive force, there’s no denying it’s something that will always happen. Whether or not they do manage to come up with a law that combats copyright infringement while leaving the rest of the internet untouched, there will always be people who will continue to use creative ways to get there hands on music for free. So perhaps, instead of creating laws to stop piracy (which endanger the internet as we know it in the process), the media industry should try and harness the positive power of music pirates.

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