If you download or stream from pirate sites, think twice. Piracy hurts emerging artists as much as established artists, but the relative damage could be worse. If you are insensitive to stealing from the rich and famous, I am hoping to touch your heart by demonstrating how piracy could hurt up and coming artists even more.
The impact of piracy on established artists is often cited because it’s easier to put a number to it. For example, Hollywood studios have the financial backing to track illegal downloads and streams, and with those numbers I have estimated losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the less documented damage extends far beyond the “red carpet”, to emerging artists, especially those who are on the verge of making it.
Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance, states: “Piracy arguably hurts independent creators who are struggling to make it – including photographers, film producers, musicians, and app developers – more than it harms established artists. Independent creators are striving to earn a livelihood and make a career. When they are pirated they lose essential income, they lose confidence, and the lost income prevents them from re-investing in their creative work.”
For example, in the music industry, albums can cost thousands of dollars to produce and, like any other form of entertainment, they should not come for free. Kimberly James, President of indie label CBM Records, says within two hours of releasing music she has found it illegally downloaded on hundreds of websites. “There actually isn’t any less incentive for an up and coming artist’s music to be pirated than a famous artist. Pirates scour the web in a ‘just in case they make it’ scenario to take artists’ music and profit illegally, often in countries where we have no legal grounding to sue them.”
She says it’s a massive battle to get the music down once it’s been uploaded, one emerging artists often can’t afford. With a very conservative estimate of 10% of music royalties lost to piracy (borrowing from this analysis for movies), the loss of royalties on one album sale for someone making $40,000 a year would be the equivalent to Katy Perry losing at least $13.5 million of the $135 million she made last year.
James adds: “What people don’t realize is that this is someone’s livelihood and illegally downloading music is essentially stealing their hard work. The artist isn’t compensated, so all the life savings that they spend to make the music they put out isn’t recuperated. What I say to the fans is that we need YOU to be our partners and buy the music. If you love the artist or band, buy it. If you don’t have the money to buy it, then you have other avenues of listening these days that AT LEAST pays them something, but don’t just take their hard work.”
To fight back against internet piracy, CBM Records joined forces with #ProtectOurFutures, which launched in July 2015 to raise awareness about internet safety and the damage of piracy on artists. A spokesperson says: “What many people don’t realize is that many up and coming artists are one missed paycheck away from homelessness. It’s already difficult for an artist to make a living through recording, performing, and selling their works, especially independently. So how unfair is it that they then have to turn around and worry that their music is being illegally downloaded?” Digital tech expert Eric Feinberg, who selflessly funds #ProtectOurFutures, adds: “If we do not address and fix piracy many artists will not be able to make a living. And without artists there is no audience.”
There is some hope in that this is not just an industry effort. Lawmakers understand that it is essential to address online infringement as the internet continues to grow. Like many others, Congress did not anticipate the online world as we now know it, where each day users upload hundreds of millions of photos, videos, and other content, and service providers receive over a million notices of alleged infringement. As such, Congress is currently evaluating the impact and effectiveness of the current law in addressing the costs and burdens of online copyright infringement, while at the same time helping to foster the growth of internet-based services.
A U.S. Department of Commerce task force published its recommendations last week: In a nutshell, leave copyright laws as is but calibrate statutory damages according to the gravity of the offense. I’m hopeful that efforts from both the public and private sectors will be effective in curbing piracy.
On January 30, emerging musicians came together online to stream a concert to benefit the Paris terror attack victims (watch the concert here). Special tribute was given to Nohemi Gonzalez, the student at California State University, Long Beach, who was spending a semester at the Strate School of Design in Paris last fall. These artists are donating some of their livelihood for an important charitable cause, recognizing the importance of giving back.
Ironically, when you download or stream from a pirate site, pirates profit from online ads or subscriptions. So while you are saving a few dollars, you are also effectively taking away an artist’s well deserved gains and re-directing them into the coffers of pirates and criminals. By using legal sites, you can stop being an accomplice to organized crime and instead give back to the artists who often live on the margin to chase their dream and entertain you.
Please comment, and please share with others who may not realize the unintended damage to artists from using pirate sites.