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Piracy Will Never Go Away

Piracy will never go away.

The sooner we accept this, the better off we'll be.

File-sharing methods are developed by those on the bleeding edge of technology. Those who would legislate file-sharing are just discovering text messages. Until politicans stay up until 3am every night buried face-down in code, the pirates will continue to be in the lead. Lockpickers rejoyce at the release of a new "unpickable" lock. Woohoo, a new puzzle! It's the Red Queen from through the looking glass; everyone has to keep running just to stay in the same place.

First, let's get this straight: I do not condone piracy. Artists create beauty and should be compensated for their work. Period.

But piracy is an economic reality. Neil Young goes as far as to say "Piracy is the new radio." We can either learn to leverage this for our gain to build our fanbase or we can thrash helplessly against the relentless tide and hurt paying customers with DRM. The only way to stop piracy would be total draconian lockdowns on freedom of all information which would hurt both consumers and content creators.

Even now, the systems in place to protect content are only for the benefit labels big enough to afford lobbyists. Universal has been using YouTube's Content ID system to issue takedown notices for copyright infringment on crochet lesson videos without music and shutting down youtube channels for unaffiliated independent bands.  Independant artists, however, are unable to use the same system to protect their own works.

 Zoe Keating:
"I actually signed up for Content ID to track all the videos that ALREADY have my music in them. For a very brief window when my account became active (2 days) I was able to use the Content Management interface to search for and claim the audio of videos. I managed to claim the audio for about 20 videos before that feature was disabled on my account. I was told that claiming videos is not a feature that is supposed to be active for sound recording copyright holders and it was a "bug" that I was allowed to do it." 
The landscape of the music industry have irrevocably changed. The old school method of paying $1,000,000 to generate a hit single is being undercut by increased customer choices for music and dratmatically reduced fixed costs.

Remember how the Motion Picture Association of America reacted to the invention of the VCR?
"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home along." - Jack Valenti, MPAA Cheif.
As much as it hurt the typewriter industry, the development of word processors was a net posititve for society. (Can I get an amen for splecheck spellcheck?) Technology marches on, whether you like it or not.

Piracy will never go away.

The sooner we accept this, the better off we'll be.

The tech industry's solution is software-as-service, where users pay a monthly subscription fee to use this software through the web. Customers love it because you don't ever have to deal with technical crap and you can get to your data though any computer / tabelt / mobile. Businesses love it because it's reliable, costs nothing to distribute to more customers, and provides a stable monthly income stream. (Great blog post by Patrick at Kalzumeus software on why he's giving up desktop applications for web applications.)

The solution for the music industry is streaming, where users pay a monthly subscription fee to listen to anything, anytime. (Here's my strategy for streaming.)

Streaming is new and still getting the kinks worked out, but now that the services exists, they're not going away. Music streaming services may become the next equivalent to Cable TV.

David Lefsetz elaborates:
Do you think you’re paying when you watch sports on ESPN? YOU ARE! Approximately five bucks a month, whether you watch it or not. The key is to make music listening feel free, even if it’s not. We’re on that road, but too many musicians want to kill it, because it’s a nascent business. It’s like killing the iPod because it didn’t work on Windows and there was no iTunes Store. It’s like doubling down on Kodak because you don’t own a digital camera and who’d want to shoot pictures each and every day other than a professional?

We finally have the tool for success, the way out, streaming services, but you want to kill them. You’d probably eat a cookie today rather than forgo it and have twenty tomorrow.

Killing piracy kills the music business. It cuts down on listener experimentation and innovation. Who’s gonna make something that radio won’t play if there’s no free listening and sharing online?
The industry isn't based around getting signed anymore. As DIY musicians, there's no simple formula for success; everyone is figuring it out as they go.  It's not that the goal posts have moved, it's that the goal posts have been taken off the field. The freedom from labels is as liberating as it is scary.

But piracy is an economic reality. We can either learn to leverage this for our gain to build our fanbase or we can thrash helplessly against the relentless tide.

Update: There's a new BitTorrent service called Triblr that is designed to continue functioning even when a BitTorrent tracker is shut down.
"Like many other BitTorrent clients, Tribler has a search box at the top of the application. However, the search results that appear when users type in a keyword don’t come from a central index. Instead, they come directly from other peers." 
"Downloading a torrent is also totally decentralized. When a user clicks on one of the search results, the meta-data is pulled in from another peer and the download starts immediately. Tribler is based on the standard BitTorrent protocol and uses regular BitTorrent trackers to communicate with other peers. But, it can also continue downloading when a central tracker goes down."
So hackers/technologists become craftier in response to crackdowns. No surprise there. Piracy isn't going anywhere, so build your band's business models to accomidate this.

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