Why going legal matters more than you might think. By TEARAWAY Maverick DEBBIE TAN.

Two Grammys for Lorde. Two Grammys for Kimbra. New Zealand has been firing up international charts in the last couple years. But a key issue persists in the music industry, and it concerns us teens: How do you listen to music? You may think your actions are a drop in the proverbial ocean, but the choices we each make as music listeners determine whether we harm or help the musicians and the industry.

Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and other providers of legal digital music are rising steadily in popularity. In 2011, there were 5.6 million active users on Spotify. Last year? 24 million. In contrast, there’s music piracy; illegal file sharing and downloading without the creator’s permission, which is experiencing a slow decline.

I investigated the music industry for perspectives and information on these legal services and on music piracy; from Recorded Music NZ, to a rising star, to music listeners.

Recorded Music NZ is a not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to representing recording artists and their labels within the music industry, and also licensing their music for communication use. Recorded Music NZ gives us the Vodafone Music Awards, the top 40 Charts, and offers music grants. An important role of the organisation is protecting copyright of music under the Pro Music NZ division. They also promote legal digital and physical music services.  

I talked to Kristin Bowman, head of Pro Music and Recorded Music NZ General Counsel and Greg Hay, PR professional of Pro Music. Both of them were awesome, informative and gave me loads of valuable information on protecting copyright, the importance of legal digital music services, and the often overlooked problems caused by music piracy.

A popular argument is that music piracy through illegal file sharing actually gives exposure to musicians. Do the benefits justify the crime?

G: Music piracy damages the music industry; it is essentially theft.

K: Why are there different rules [when comparing the purchase of tangible and intangible products]? Musicians need to make a liveable wage out of their career and music piracy stops them from getting their fair share of profit. You can’t feed yourself on exposure; exposure has to lead to profit for the musician. But illegal file sharing is interrupting the process.

G: Universal [record label] funded Lorde using the money they generate from existing talent. With profit, they can reinvest in upcoming, talented artists like her; they have the money to take a chance on new musicians. With illegal file sharing, that fund is shortened so record companies have limited opportunities to promote and support new artists.


G: It’s similar to the issue of the environment. You can’t keep polluting New Zealand and marketing our country as 'pure, clean and green', when it is obvious that it isn’t. You can’t illegally file-share music and call it supporting the musicians through exposure, when in reality it is taking from them without their permission.

There has been some criticism of legal digital services; how do they compare to music piracy?

K: Some money is much better than if the artist received none at all, which is what happens through illegal file sharing and downloading. Not only is it ethically wrong, but illegal file sharing decreases the value of the music that artists spend so much time and energy on creating. On the other hand, artists have agreed to release their music for free through legal digital services. They have a say as to whether they want to put their music up on Spotify, and through this, their music is still treated as having value.

G: We know what’s right and wrong. The state of the internet right now allows you to take music without real restriction. Illegal file sharing is ethically wrong. The state of the industry is one that listens to the music fans; the business models are in a state of change as we shift towards music online, and the industry is still adapting to the difference in how we listen to music now.

How serious is the issue of music piracy? What are our attitudes towards legal and illegal music services like at the moment?

G: As I mentioned, protecting the musicians and the industry is like protecting the environment. The principle is the same; you can’t keep taking music without paying a reasonable fee for it and wanting the industry to stay as is. Illegal file sharing is serious in the sense that it damages the industry, and its effects trickle onward – from the industry, to musicians, to songwriters, sound engineers, talent scouts and more.

K: Going legal and stopping illegal file sharing... it’s about confronting the “polish” you see. We have to confront the real issue behind the glamour. There are people who facilitate illegal file sharing music and earn money. To allow this would be to allow them to make millions off artists and labels, without doing any real work themselves. For example, Dotcom is purported to be “charming” but the bottom line is Megaupload facilitated illegal file sharing to the detriment of artists’ incomes. The “pirate” is facilitating wealth creation for the middle guys. You might think it’s free, but there’s a huge underlying cost and we don’t want you to have to discover that too late. Illegal file sharing is an issue, and young people, young listeners, are the ones who can change to legal services to stop this. It is misunderstood what impacts of illegal file sharing really are and the acts of multiple people all add up.

When do you believe music piracy will stop?

K: Illegal file sharing will stop when people stop taking without permission, because there isn’t an excuse to do so.

G: People used to rip CDs saying that they wouldn’t rip it off if they could buy it. But now with iTunes and other digital services, you can buy music very easily and cost effectively.

What do you see happening in the future to music piracy and pirates themselves?

G: [For those who pirate music] there’s also a risk of virus from the places the music files come from. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time pirating music, you have the same risk of getting a virus that could wreck your computer or laptop if you are unlucky.

K: Especially for teens and their younger siblings; you see unpleasant advertisements such as those advertising sex, illegal pharmaceutics and gambling. These are all high risk files. You gamble when you decide to download music illegally in this forum.

G: People who make viruses and malware can attach them to these pirated music files. It’s like taking milk from the corner store to sell in your own store. Legal services are becoming popular. You can make playlists, share them with friends, and the availability of music is always increasing for legal digital use. This gives incentive for those who illegal file share music to make the switch to legal music.

K: The internet is amazing; illegal file sharing isn’t about the pitfalls of the internet but the way we use it. P2P is experiencing decline. Other forms of illegal file sharing, like illegal streaming, decline slowly with the rise of legal and accessible music services. We hope it continues to decline to ensure good access of music for a fair return for the artist.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

K: We’d like to get through to those people who – if they understood the real negative impacts of illegal file sharing – would make a move to accessible, quality, affordable legal music services, either online or physical. Please go legal. Our artists would really appreciate it.

G: There is a website all about (often even free) legal music services you can use. Recorded Music NZ, as part of our role in supporting artists, also have a 'Direct to Artists' scheme in New Zealand. A musician who is a New Zealand resident receives royalties directly, not via a label, should they own the copyright. The money goes straight back to the artist 100%.

Chess Countess


Kiwi muso Chess Countess adds:

I can totally understand music piracy; it's so easy. And for younger people on the internet without credit/debit cards, things like iTunes are rather difficult. However, as someone who spends thousands of my own, hard-earned money on making music, it is incredibly disheartening when people tell me that $2 is too much to spend on a song (not to mention that by escaping payment, they are committing a crime).

I have made it my own policy to always buy music, because I want to support those artists just as much as I would like to be supported (even if they are world famous and earning a bucket-load already). It wouldn't feel right walking into a café and asking the owner (whom you didn't know) to make you a free coffee that costs them about 30c and takes five minutes to make. So why would you steal someone's music, which has cost them thousands and taken months or years to create?

Songs are cheaper than cups of coffee. Do the right thing and start buying music. You'll feel good about it.

Teen listeners add...

1: I suppose I’m for music piracy, because CDs are expensive and iTunes doesn't offer enough of a preview. But if you really like the music, I guess you should support the artists by buying. For me... it’s just easier to download. I think iTunes should just stream so everything’s in one place. The industry needs to develop and adapt to how we want to listen to music. Only then can we overcome music piracy.

2: I think music piracy has good and bad points. It expands an artist's listener base, it's easy for people who have never heard their music to get access to it (especially if they can't afford CDs or downloads), and could potentially create a lot more fans (think Ed Sheeran). If there weren't downloads or streaming sites, I would never have been able to experience such a wide range of Japanese music which has influenced my life in an unspeakably huge way.

The downside is that some listeners would find new music and new artists to 'support', but instead of buying their albums, they continue to download them. That's the problem, isn't it? Fans don't buy music anymore, they just pirate it and the artists don't get compensation.

There are other things to consider; whether the increased fan base can support the artist in other ways – buying concert tickets or merchandise. Or whether the number of new fans who buy music is enough to offset the number of fans that pirate. You have artists in both camps, right? Ed Sheeran is pro streaming, whereas Thom Yorke hates it. It's hard to know what's right.

In my opinion...

There you have it, folks. It’s good. It’s cheap – or even free, if you listen to a couple of ads every so often. It’s easy.

Legal digital music services are the way to go to actually support musicians. It should always be the musician’s right to release their music for free downloading; Lorde chose to release her music for free on Soundcloud.

But the thing is, it is also the musician’s right to charge money for their work. If that right is taken away from them by means of music piracy, then music piracy is wrong. Not only is it wrong, but I don’t want any weird viruses on my computer from those dodgy download sites.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make a playlist on Spotify.