A Look At Piracy Culture

When looking back on all the copyright readingsI have read, it seems to me there is a continuously recurring theme ̶ the clash of sharing culture VS protectionist business practices. Two schools of thought continue to battle with no real sign of a (near) future resolution, which makes me wonder why the file-sharing phenomenon has, till this day, not slowed.

I found an interesting ethnographic research paper by Ian Condry, Cultures of Music Piracy, which compared business response and the attitudes of music fans toward file-sharing between Japan and the USA. He emphasised being in the current social climate, not only is sharing with family and friends an expectation, bit it is integral in creating and enforcing social bonds. He put it aptly with this quote:

If you live in a college dorm, for example, the question is not why you don’t respect copyright law. The question is, how could you not share music?”

Condry provided some useful insight that in many ways Japanese and US music fans shared similar attitudes about file sharing. Common to both groups was the opinion that businesses charged excessive amounts for CD’s which may only have one or two good songs on them. The US college students also added predominantly moral justifications for file sharing ̶ bringing balance to a system of greedy corporates, musicians who earned too much, feeling cheated by music marketing and the belief that the money they paid was not going to the right people, such as the artist.

Comparisons between Japan and the US showed that around 2001-2003 although Japan didn’t see an explosion in peer to peer (p2p) file sharing like the USA did, Japanese fans were still sharing music by lending each other CD’s which they were then recording to mini-disc or renting CD’s for $3. This lends itself to a fairly obvious question, even if record companies could stem file-sharing would it actually stop or would it simply proliferate in other ways?

Condry goes on to say Japan, who have similar copyright laws to the US showed much more leniency with respect to copyright infringement, this same leniency used in their anime and manga industry which allowed these industries to flourish. On the other hand the US business community had been aggressively defending their music, but even with numerous lawsuits US and Japanese music sales saw a similar decline.

What was most interesting was a comment that was made by Katsuya Taruishi, head of statistics of Oricon, the company which tracks album sales in Japan, he said that some of the blame for copying rests on the record industry for promoting music through TV commercial tie-ups and prime time dramas, focussing on hit songs instead of developing fan relationships between artists and fans. This inevitably positioned music as a commercial item instead of a piece of soul of an artist or group- meaning fans felt less guilty about downloading it.

Respondents in the US said they would buy CD’s from artists they knew needed money, who weren’t getting record label support, local bands, people they knew and for music that stood the test of time (jazz, classical).

In studying the attitudes of the customers, you get a clearer picture of what they want. There is a strong anti-capitalist sentiment held by file-sharers, but it seems that many music lovers are still willing to pay if they perceive value in the music that they purchase. Artist-Fan relationships appears to be essential in adding value to music. Whilst artists who go against the conventions of distributing through major record companies, using independent companies or their own resources, gain respect from their fans which can be realised in a monetary form. There are now numerous examples of bands embracing technology and using inventive ways, to promote their work, proving that a more open approach can work. One of the most famous successes is Radiohead’s 2007 Album, In Rainbows which was released in digital format, users could choose what they paid for the album, this resulted in 3 million copies sold in the first year, estimated sales revenue came to approximately US $9-10 million. Another example is Wilco with 2004 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They circulated the album for free, afterward, they were contacted by fans saying they wanted to give something back to express good faith and solidarity to Wilco’s  joining of the file sharing community. Wilco told the fans to pick a charity to donate to instead, in which they raised $15,000 for Doctors Without Borders.

REFERENCE: Condry, I, 2004, ‘Cultures of Music Piracy: An Ethnographic Comparison of the US and Japan’, International Journal Of Cultural Studies, Vol 7, No.343


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