Brian John is a Student Advisor at berkleemusic.com. He has a Bachelors in Piano Performance from Miami University of Ohio, and a Masters in Composition from Longy School of Music. Brian’s background is primarily in Classical music, but a 4 year stint in a home-grown jam band gives him a unique perspective on both genres. He continues to compose and perform for people across the US.
SOPA and PIPA – two acronyms that were made infamous on Jan. 18th 2012 as thousands of individuals and dozens of websites took part in what is now being called “Blackout Day”. The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act were originally drafted to allow US Government agencies to bring criminal charges against, and to subsequently shut down, overseas websites illegally hosting copyrighted content. The broader Internet community, including giants like Google, Wired, and Wikipedia, became involved because these bills contained wording that was dangerously vague and open to interpretation and abuse. With these two bills now essentially dead in the water, it will be months or even years before another piece of legislation is in place to combat the piracy of copyrighted content.
A major portion of pirated content is media, which includes television, movies, books, and music. While this attempt at legislation was intended to punish those websites which provide pirated content, very little attention has been given to why pirating websites are so problematic in the first place. The true issue here is one of access. When creators do not make media available, consumers will search for, and find, other ways of acquiring it.
While governments need to step forward and create laws to protect copyrighted content, and in turn the copyright holders, no amount of legislation will be able to stop piracy. World-wide, the expectation of consumers is shifting to one of immediate and complete access anywhere at any time. The biggest piracy deterrent will be media companies catching up to the ‘access race’, thus making pirating websites obsolete and unnecessary. It is incumbent upon these companies to make their product easy to find and affordable to acquire. The average consumer will only turn to piracy websites if/when the company refuses access. By making the content available, the creator not only discourages piracy, they also control the medium in which it is distributed, which in turn allows them to control any and all revenue streams.
Independent musicians have been following this trend, and capitalizing on it for the past few years. It is common now for musicians to give music away for free to build a fan base, and to build a social media following. This trend actually allows independent musicians to capitalize on music piracy – by encouraging the sharing of their music, they are able to reach more people and build a larger group of fans. Once consumers become fans, they are more likely to have a vested interest in an artist and to support them by purchasing what the artists is selling, whether it be music or merchandise.
Established artists have also found ways to catch up in the ‘access race’ by allowing the sale of their music via sites such as iTunes and CD Baby. There are now also streaming sites such as Pandora, Rdio, and Spotify that offer access without ownership. If Sweden is to be any indicator, this increase in access directly leads to a decline in music piracy. According to Media Vision, a Swedish polling firm, illegal downloading of music is down by 25% since 2009. Considering that Sweden was the origin of some of the world’s largest pirating services, such as Pirate Bay and Pirate Party, this is a clear indication that legal avenues of access directly result in a decline in piracy.
One would expect the large, established organizations to take advantage of this trend. They have a captive audience that is clamoring for access to their product. A study released by telecommunications giant Ericsson indicates that over 70% of consumers are streaming, downloading, or watching recorded content and 36% of consumers are watching streamed on-demand movies. With access to the Internet now widely available through televisions, this trend is only expected to increase.
If content creators, especially the creators of major motion pictures, were to invest in direct-to-consumer access portals, their potential for profit due to monthly fees and advertising revenue is immense. Copyright holders, and the organizations that represent them, know that the content is out there and available already, so there is nothing to be lost in such a venture. In fact, there is everything to gain. Netflix, the predominant television and movie streaming company, currently claims more than 20 million subscribers globally, and they don’t even have the rights to stream the latest blockbuster films. Major networks like NBC, PBS, and Fox stream full episodes online. Consumers are starting to expect that their media will be available to stream online, and if it is available legally or illegally, they will find it.
The discussion surrounding copyright-protected material and how to best protect the creators of such material in a digital age will continue long after this blog is written. While SOPA and PIPA have been tabled, comprehensive reform is needed that takes into account all of the concerns raised in the recent debate. Whatever regulations are finally passed, it is up to the people involved in media creation to recognize and capitalize on all forms of distribution. It is also up to the people consuming this media to respect the work that has been done, and to recognize that these artists deserve be paid for their efforts.
Berkleemusic’s next term begins on April 2nd, 2012.
Find out more at berkleemusic.com or contact a Student Advisor:
1-866-BERKLEE (USA) | +1 617 747 2146 (Intl) | firstname.lastname@example.org