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Is Music Piracy An Issue?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is Music Piracy An Issue?

An issue I feel is very current in the music industry, as well as very relevant, is music piracy.  The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote a paper on the subject.  This is indeed a controversial topic, so I’d love to see what comments you all have.


Hard rock/metal quintet Oh, Sleeper is a band very vocal about the broad dangers and problems with music piracy.  To illustrate their point, guitarist Shane Blay detailed out the expenses and payrolls for which the band is responsible [via a Facebook note].  Blay explains there are two main ways by which the band can earn profit: guaranties and merchandise sales.  For any given show, the band makes their money through $300 they have in each area.  To start with guaranties, which are the amounts every band in a show is promised by the venue as payment for performing, the band manager and booking agent each receive 15% and 10% respectively.  With the gas bill averaging $150 for each show as well as food costs averaging $10 for each member of the band and their merchandise manager, these are subtracted from the total.  To sum up guaranties, the band earns around $15 as the net total.  For merchandise, Oh, Sleeper sells their t-shirts for $15 per show, and it costs the band $7.50 to print each shirt.  With half profit made for each shirt, half of the average $300 in merchandise sales goes back to the t-shirt manufacturer.  Many venues, however, charge what are called “merch rates,” where around 25% of the profits of the sold merchandise are paid to the venue.  When both the guaranties and merchandise sales are added together, the band makes around $13.12 per band member, and this total does not include miscellaneous expenses such as hotels, auto repair bills, broken musical equipment and replacements, etc.  Blay concludes his article with the words, “STOP STEALING OUR CDs PLEASE [sic].”

It is a myth that all musicians today make the “big bucks.”  For a band such as Oh, Sleeper to make the amount of money they do as a signed band, it is surprising how little the band really receives for their wages.  In this age of digital music, where outlets such as iTunes and AmazonMP3 are quickly becoming the major sources of music for consumers, the sale of physical CDs is becoming more and more slim.  Digital sales are quite easy for the sellers, because they can make the money they would like very quickly, and consumers are satisfied because they receive the music they buy almost instantly.  But with this newfound convenience of MP3s, music piracy has become much more of a problem.  The infamous Napster closed down years ago because of copyright infringement issues, but this has not stopped some crafty consumers from continuing to steal music and/or give it away to friends, mostly because of the incredible ease.  One can easily burn songs to a CD and give the CD away, or even worse, sell the CD for a profit.  Some computer applications such as (the now defunct) LimeWire or Kazaa, while legitimate and legal peer-to-peer sharing networks for non-copywritten material, have also an easy avenue to find virtually any song they would like and freely download it to their computer’s hard drive.  Some also rationalize music piracy through borrowing albums from a local library, importing the CDs’ contents to their hard drive and returning the albums.  Others claim that since nobody they know has ever been arrested for the crime, they will not be subject to indictment either.  And what is possibly one of the worst aspects about music piracy is that many people partake in the activity without much thought of the consequences, including Christians.

Christians, like everyone else, are subject to the temptations to sin every day, and music piracy is no exception.  And because it is extremely easy to pirate music, many Christians participate, despite both its illegal and sinful nature; if they purposefully look for ways to obtain illegally-exchanged music, they will indeed find them.  I once was talking to a friend at my college about this issue, and he retorted with: “I’m okay with opening my mind to different types of music, but not with opening my wallet.”  But music consumers, Christians or not, cannot have it both ways.  Pirating music, any way it is performed, is a form of stealing, and with Scripture making a clear statement on the topic of theft and possessions, Christians have no place in the illegal activity.  Exodus 20:15 phrases it quite clearly with its four simple words, “You shall not steal.”  Like any other sin, piracy can be tempting, but resisting the urges is important to keep one’s heart blameless and keep our habits with money honest and pure.  For some, purchasing music from a retail store may be a better option to avoid the lure of the internet’s black market.  This should not stop consumers from using their stewardship skills, however; as long as the outlets chosen are legal, one should go and find the best deal they can on music in which they are interested.  Many digital music outlets periodically offer sales and bargains of which any consumer would be wise to take notice.

Knowing the facts about the reality of music piracy and its implications, consumers would do well to avoid the activity.  Besides its illegality, it hurts the artists and other music professionals and desensitizes the human heart towards stealing.  To keep artists such as The Lighthouse And The Whaler and Oh, Sleeper in the circle, making records and playing shows for their fans, music piracy has to end.  Truly valuing the art of music has two parts: listening to and appreciating the music, as well as giving these bands their due financial support as well.  The Lord calls Christians to be different, and the sooner Christians accept this call in this area of the arts, bands like Oh, Sleeper can survive and continue to bring innovative music to the table.

- Roger

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