What can be done to protect musicians and music labels from piracy

In this new age world, pirates are no longer identified by their black flags, skulls and crossbones. Instead, they could turn out to be the most ordinary of people, maybe even you or I, unknowingly. Surprisingly, the motives of these pirates, both new and old, are more or less the same: to get their hands on easy gold, in this case even platinum and diamonds. In case you have not guessed, I am referring to the issue of music piracy, and the rapid growth of this illegal trait.

Music piracy comes in three different forms, mainly ‘counterfeit recordings’ (in which unauthorized duplication of recordings and packaging is carried out), ‘bootleg recordings’ (where music from live concerts and musical broadcasts are recorded) and ‘online piracy’, the most rampant of the three. In online piracy, copyrighted recordings are uploaded or downloaded via a computer and made open to the public. This is usually done through huge internet platforms whereby all the users there can share their music files. Examples of these platforms would be Kazaa, Audiogalaxy, Gnutella, and the all-notorious Napster.

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Well, you may not imagine how quick and rampant music piracy is occurring over the internet. For one, Napster alone had 51 million users when it was still in operation a year ago. Pool together the users of all the other file-swapping programs, and you could easily obtain a stunning figure of a billion people all over the world involved in online piracy. So, if downloading your favorite music were just a click away, at almost no cost at all, who would still buy original music at such astronomical prices?

The rapid growth in the number of internet users does not help the situation either. From an increase of 3 million to 116.7 million internet users over the past 10 years, music files are like viruses in an epidemic, spreading so silently and quickly. In fact, a survey conducted shows that over 3 million infringing music files are downloaded in just a day! Just imagine!

As the cost of living goes higher and higher, there are more pirates who go to the extent of burning downloaded music files into compact discs and selling themt for a mere two to five dollars each. Though the selling of pirated music discs is highly illegal, it is a source of quick and easy money with tremendous profits for the pirates. In fact, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) report shows that global sales of pirated music compact discs rose almost 50% to an all-time high of 950 million units in 2001 and the total world music pirate market was estimated to be worth US$4.3 billion.

This proliferation of pirated music compact discs has certainly led to a drastic drop in the sales of legitimate music discs, and has in turn caused the downfall of many industries. Rick Dobbis, president of Sony Music International said that “owners of local record stores, CD plant workers, marketing, promotion and distribution people, and workers from every aspect of the complex business of making and distributing music are all affected.”

Looking at the big picture, we see the sales of legitimate music dipping to an all-time low, record companies going bankrupt and musicians, singers and bands struggling for survival. Well, this is just the start of a slippery slope effect, which would lead to many detrimental consequences. Since the respective industries do not having enough revenue, no money goes into Research and Development, leading to a drop in music quality and variety. Also, the industries would have to retrench people in order to survive, and many would thus suffer from unemployment. The impact on the artists are no less insignificant. In fact, on 18 May 2000, music piracy took its toll on another member of the music scene. Well-known artist, Kid Rock was driven to the mean streets from where he once came from, dying bankrupt and penniless in the gutter.

However, all these tragic happenings are not unpreventable. To curb these problems, we have to look at the root of the problem, music piracy, and find ways to prevent it from taking place. Below are three ways in which music can be protected from piracy.

Firstly, with the advancement of technology, we can research into various microchips which would make the music compact disc copy-proof. In this way, it would not be possible to create copies of the discs, as they would be deemed unreadable by any cd-burner. (A cd-burner is a drive that allows users to compile songs onto a disc, so that it can be played in any cd player) In fact, there have been past attempts in using technology to curb online piracy. Watermark technology has been developed to prevent modification or copying of any file; Just last year, Music City Records released A Tribute to Jim Reeves, a CD from country music legend Charley Pride.

The CD was not much different from other CDs, except that it was the first music CD released worldwide that wouldn’t play on a PC. “We can state with absolute certainty that no computer in the world can access the data on this disc,” said spokesman Brett Campbell. “We are also confident that no-one is going to be able to produce pirate copies in this format without going through a lot of trouble. This is without doubt the best anti-piracy invention the music industry has ever seen.”

Sadly, Brett Campbell was proved wrong, as tracks from that cd were being downloaded and uploaded over the internet within a week. This just proves that while measures to protect online piracy may keep improving, it will be a matter of time hackers would start breaking the barrier. Perhaps companies could pool together the best hackers and give them incentives to produce an ultimate security measure?

Another way to hinder the growth of music piracy is to target the public, and educate them about the principles and consequences behind their actions. For example, we could warn them about the prevailing viruses which can be easily transmitted using file-sharing programs. Pirates also run the risks of massive fines and jail sentences if they are caught. In addition, popular singers and stars could help spread the message by being spokespeople for anti-piracy campaigns, reaching to the public, especially their fans, teaching them that copying a CD is as bad as stealing from a shop.

On top of all these protective measures, the authorities could do their part by imposing stricter laws and harsher punishment for offenders, and having more rigorous enforcement. This means that there would be more surprise raids and even more proposals to shut down file-sharing programs as they are too, against the copyright laws. Last year alone, approximately 1,060 unauthorized peer-to-peer music servers, 28,000 Web and FTP (file transfer protocol) sites offering pirated music have been removed from the internet, Napster being one of them.

One thing we are sure of, is that this battle between the music industry and the pirates may go on forever. Let us just hope that music piracy would not be as rampant, and even slowly decline as time goes by. With all these protection measures as mentioned above, it is likely that we would reach that level soon. Now, let us all face the music, and save the music!

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