The Impact Of Piracy On The Music Industry

Piracy meaning “the unauthorized use or reproduction of another’s work” (definition), has been an ever-growing issue in the music industry with it ranging from copying CD’s to MP3 audio files. There have been many attempts to try and stop piracy of artist’s work but the continuous stream of sites that appear is non-stop; with website such as Grooveshark, BitTorrent and Pirate Bay playing a big part in this.

The beginning of recorded music started in 1878 when the phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison, closely followed by the invention of the Gramophone by Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter in the mid 1880’s. Both machines were primarily for recording sound onto a delicate cylinder, with them being aimed towards office supplier marketplaces; these aims failed due to separate machines being required for making each individual copy. This led to the foundation of Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 who used disks instead of cylinders. A few years later in 1909 the Copyright Act specified that compulsory licensing provision are of immense importance for the music industry, with ASCAP forming in 1914 to enforce this law. From the 1940’s saw the start of illegal copying of phonograph records with the act of ‘bootlegging’; this term defined the unauthorised distribution of existing songs, as well as the illegal distribution of otherwise newly made or unobtainable tapes taken from a recorded concert/broadcast, or from unreleased studio sessions etc. Bootleg was different to that of copying, as bootlegging involved the distribution not the copying of existing material. A major bootlegger in the early 1950’s was Dante Bollentino (Jolly Roger Label) who released historic recordings that major record companies declined to put out, that meant Dante was providing customers with songs that would have been unavailable if it wasn’t for him. At this time, copyright only applied to music that had been publish, so for a song to be protected it had to be published by being written or printed; this meant that sheet music could easily be copied but recordings could not. The reason behind this was the main requirements of the Copyright Act did not apply to unauthorised copying and distribution of recorded pop songs, resulting in recordings being protected in a secondary way of licensing provisions. Even though bootlegging was very present in this decade, it was only a minor annoyance for the industry with the recording industry selling 350 million disks in 1946 and these sales increasing throughout the 50’s with it hitting over 100% more from 1954-1959. The copying of phonograph recordings resulted in each generation losing audio fidelity.

Tapes (Compact Audio Cassette) were the next recording format to be released in 1962 by Philips, they could come either as a blank cassette ready to be recorded onto or pre-recorded. The late 60’s saw tape piracy overshadowing that of unauthorised distribution of phonograph recording, this resulted in a new genre of album bootlegging. In 1970, FBI seized 20,000 counterfeit records, 100,000 labels and 15,000 covers, with them also seizing machinery used to shrink wrap copies of the ‘Let It Be’ album by The Beatles and the ‘McCartney’ album by Paul McCartney. This major tape bootlegging resulted in a Copyright Act change in 1972 where songs no longer had to be published in order to be protected, they merely had to be ‘fixed’, i. e. onto a disk or a tape, to be protected. As technology was changing the face of the music industry, this change was closely followed by another change; in 1976, infringement in the industry needed to be clearly defined, this was to be made by the extensions of Copyright life being made to the life of the author plus 50 years.

Tape copying was so big because it was simpler and cheaper than copying phonograph recordings; it was easy for bootleggers to set up a plant that was devoted to unauthorised manufacture. This mass production punched a huge hole into the recording industry’s control of the distribution system. Tape package was also a leading factor as they were less detailed than disks, meaning that making counterfeit copies was easier; the smaller detail in the packaging resulted in authorities finding it harder to distinguish the real recording to the copy which meant it wasn’t difficult for bootleggers to ship their goods into well-known systems. As you could get blank tapes, it aided tape makers in compiling or re-ordering songs that had already been recorded into any program that was within the available duration, ranging from 30 minutes to several hours; this allowed not only just strict copying, but it could make tapes look like greatest hits or party tracks. But, tape copying was all good, unauthorised tapes were copied from existing records resulting in each stage of duplication degrading the sound and added a higher level of hiss on the tapes, not only this but they were carelessly made.

In New York, 1980, the police raided two sites, with one leading to a seizure of 3, $40,000, automated record presses (with each one, in 8 hours, producing 6,000 LP’s), thousands of polishes and metal parts, shrink tunnels for wrapping, finished LP’s totalling over 10,000, and hundreds of labels The Compact Disk, co-developed by Philips and Sony was released to the public in 1982 to store and play sound recordings, with CD’s accounting for 87% of the volume of units sold in 2000, increasing up to 91%in 2001. Soon as the Cd was released it saw the beginning of bootlegging in East Asia which was soon followed in 1990 by the recordable compact disc being entered into the market; this disc allowed anyone to copy recordings onto it. Seven years later in 1997, Dutch customs halted an attempt to import 100,000 pirate Cd’s from Bulgaria, which resulted in a Copyright Act change in 1998 increasing Copyright life from the life of the author plus 50 years, to the life of the author plus 70 years. Copying CD’s was such an easy thing to do that you could do it at home which made it extremely easy for recordings to be duplicated. CD’s didn’t have the same issues as tapes that the sound degardes with each generation of copying, as it was a digital file it could be copied without degradation of sound quality. MP3 files were the most radically transformed example of unauthorised songs as they were no longer physical, but virtual. The initial release of the MP3 in 1993 made it easier to copying recordings, with you only needing to select the desired recording, copy its digital form and then post it on the internet. The release also saw the beginning of Napster in 1998, with the creator Shawn Fanning creating a computer interface that brought together MP3 format with existing software for peer-to-peer networking. Fanning’s software grew from a few hundred users to over a million in less than a year, with Napster being a hub for examining, logging and swapping digital song files that were stored on any person’s computer.

A year later, in 1998, RIAA filed a law suit of copyright infringement against Napster with Metallica closely following a year later; that year, in 2000, Napster closed 313,377 accounts with them having over 58 million users registered and more than 450 million songs available to be downloaded in the summer of 2000. Napster finally deceased in July 2001, with it not entirely shutting down but being forced to close due to bankruptcy of complex court running’s. This was a victory for song owners, meaning that their songs would not be illegally downloaded anymore with this bankruptcy forcing Napster to block access to thousands of songs that the RIAA had gathered a list of. With the termination of Napster, rival networks attempted to take its place; these sites included BearShare, LimeWire, KaZaA and Morpheus. These sites didn’t exist until Febuary 2001, 3 years after the release of Napster, with them not encountering a lot of traffic until the July when Napster ‘died’ and they soared into prominence. Fast tracking was used by KaZaA and Morpheus which made KaZaA the most widely used of these new services, with BearShare and LimeWire using the Gnutella network.

This same year the iPod was launched by Steve Jobs with no one wanting it because they could get the same songs for free; two years later introducing a pay-per-song network called iTunes which had copyright protections built into the device. iTunes sales in 2006 tallied over a billion downloads resulting in EMI, a year later in 2007, allowing iTunes to sell its catalogue without copyright limitations that previous major labels insisted on; this led to the general policy of unrestricted copying of downloaded songs in 2009. RIAA started a campaign in 2003 that intimidated the general public by filing law suits against individuals that made large numbers of MP3 files available for the public to download. The unauthorised distribution of recordings has caused great anguish to song owners, with illegal downloading even damaging the recording corporations; this is why laws have been put into place to protect recording by penalties being raised.

Although Napster provided immediate access to many genres of songs that may not have been found otherwise without a lot of digging, the files could be altered or uncomplete, somewhere even unadorable. On the other hand, iTunes provided high quality recording that were extremely reliable resulting in many people wanting to pay for this service.


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  3. Nelson Granados. 2016. How Online Piracy Hurts Emerging Artists. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www. forbes. com/sites/nelsongranados/2016/02/01/how-online-piracy-hurts-emerging-artists/#67570cec7774. [Accessed 6 January 2018].
  4. Kernfeld, B. 2011. Pop song piracy: disobedient music distribution since 1929. University of Chicago press American Songwriter. 2018. A Brief History of Copyright Law « American Songwriter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://americansongwriter. com/2013/09/songwriter-u-a-brief-history-of-copyright-law/. [Accessed 06 January 2018].
  5. Compact Cassette - Wikipedia. 2018. Compact Cassette - Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Compact_Cassette. [Accessed 06 January 2018]. Compact disc - Wikipedia. 2018. Compact disc - Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Compact_disc. [Accessed 06 January 2018].
  6. Spotify - Wikipedia. 2018. Spotify - Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Spotify. [Accessed 06 January 2018].
  7. Fred Goodman, “The Future Is Now: Hot The Internet Is Reshaping the Record Industry”, Rolling Stone, no. 844-845 (July 6-20, 2000): 41-42, 45
10 December 2020
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