A Rant About Media Piracy and Streaming Services

The internet has revolutionized media content distribution. In seconds you can find whatever you’re looking for, even things you aren’t looking for. Google’s search engine even learns your behavior and puts search results on the top that it knows you are more likely to click. No longer do we need to spend hours in record stores listening to samples on half-busted headphones, these days it is the content provider’s job to find you. The problem is that these providers don’t always find you, nor do they make it as convenient as you’d like it to be.

Allow me to reminisce, to 7th grade. I made a discovery that would change my life, on the internet you can type in the name of a song you are looking for into a search engine, and most likely the results will yield a method to listen to the song in question – rarely without having to pay anything. Since I was 12, I didn’t understand that I was stealing, or that this content has any value at all. After all, it’s just bits of data floating in cyberspace, not a tangible product. I never saw any repercussions, most people didn’t. Most never will.

I’ve got news for you, piracy is bad.

It’s become abundantly clear to me that the fact that it is illegal doesn’t matter. Nobody ever gets busted. Sometimes people do get busted, and even then usually they come to some sort of settlement to not have to pay the full amount/not do all the time. Do you view a media pirate the same way you view someone who would rob a convenience store? The problem with the legality argument is the cost/benefit of the crime. If you rob a convenience store, you are very likely to get caught and serve time. A person has to either be dumb, or put in a situation where robbing the place is the best course of action they can take in their mind. Now put yourself on the pirate bay and search for that album that just came out this week, all you have to do is click a link and it is conveniently flown via internet to your computers storage. Nobody sees it, nobody loses anything, no harm done. Besides, I just wanted to listen to it before I bought it to make sure I would like it, I buy music if I like it.

Look, Mr. Convenience store clerk, I know that your establishment fairly earned this money, but I’m going to take it and if I like it I’ll pay you back, is that ok with you?

The difference is, the convenience store clerk has to lose the money for you to gain it, while in the piracy situation nobody loses anything, the data is shared between two connection points. In other words, there is only one copy of the money, but infinite copies of the media. If there are infinite copies of something, its value decreases to 0 based on supply and demand so therefore pirates are not in the wrong!

This logic hopefully seems silly to you, because no matter how you justify it, no matter how unlikely you are to get caught, it is still wrong.

I made a resolution last year, a resolution that I failed to keep – to stop pirating music. I subscribed to Spotify premium and thought that would be the long and short of it, I can now listen to everything I want on-demand for $9.99 a month guilt free. In my attempt to sort-of support the artists I listen to I discovered the absolute necessity of piracy. Spotify has lots of music, but there is even more music that it doesn’t have. Even iTunes, the king of media distribution, is missing lots of music. It is impossible in our globalized-digitized market to have everything. When I search for an artist’s name in google and the first result is either mediafire or uploaded, I know there is going to be a problem.

The very little guys, the >10,000 views on youtube guys, are helped drastically by piracy. If it wasn’t for people searching the internet for free music (probably some other band) they never would have been discovered in the first place, but they still make nothing off of their small increase in publicity, they have to rely on these people to go to their live shows, which may or may not be in a location nearby in the reasonable future. It still helps to be heard of, even if it’s just 1 person out of the 10,000 who end up going. So for these bands, in a way, you are providing them with some form of payment just by hearing it. The value of the inherent popularity/success from a listen can far exceed the value of the dollars in the long term, but what if you already have popularity?

On the opposite side we have the artists who are hurt the most, the pop stars. This demographic has too many fans to know what to do with. They sell out sports stadiums weekly and perform around the world. To them, the value of the dollars far exceeds the value of the popularity gained from a new fan discovering them. What is 1 person to 10 million views on youtube? These artists could care less about the worlds ease of access to their music, people search for them not the other way around. Honestly, I don’t get it, why would anyone pirate music by mainstream artists? I don’t mean because it all sucks (it does mostly suck for the record), I mean because it is so incredibly easy to find. You can turn on the radio and listen to it for free, you can go to their VEVO and watch all their music videos for free, most of the time it is on Spotify/Pandora/etc the day of release which can be listened to for free, so why download it? All of these methods are totally legal and support the artist monetarily without you having to spend anything. Plus, it doesn’t take up precious space on your devices. Maybe these pirates are annoyed with ads, maybe they just need to feel like they own it (even though its just bits of data), but the days are gone when you need to download something to listen to it whenever you want. Since the actual value of digital media is always debated, society found a way to remove the value from the media while still generating revenue.

But I don’t want to listen to ads ever OR pay anything ever!

If this is you, you are a thief. I’m sure if this is you, you don’t care that you are a thief because you knowingly commit the crime over and over again and nothing bad ever happens. Maybe it already has happened over a long period of time and you didn’t notice because you were too busy amassing your giant music library that you will never listen to again.

I’v made some twists and turns so far, but my final point is my main one. Piracy has had more impact on the industry than loss of revenue; it has caused loss of quality.

I could talk about how the quality of the music being written is worse than it used to be because the value of writing a song has been driven down by the ever-decreasing value of the content to its consumers, therefore causing the industry to repurpose their assets towards marketing and distribution in-lieu of content quality, but this could be perceived to be an opinion. I’m talking about the quality of the file that you are downloading.

Mp3 should be considered an awful, outdated format.
I’ll dig up the necessary details for you. Mp3’s are compressed from the original file to save space and require less processing power. Originally these two side effects were viewed as very beneficial, causing more songs to fit in smaller space and use less power in doing so, but now that computing power and storage volumes have increased FAR beyond the realm where this would make a difference, files can have almost triple the bitrate. A bitrate determines how fast the data is red from memory, more data = more sonic information. Listening to a 128 kb/s song then listening to the same song in 320 kb/s will yield sounds you may not have noticed before. Pirates who know this will search for 320kb/s files(because as freeloaders they are entitled to their audio quality) or a lossless format like .flac (.wav and .alac are the “true” formats used in recording software, but they are not really accessibly to the consumer market, nor are they necessary as any lossless format will yield the same sound). The demand for free music caused file formats to become more and more compressed, as people would upload/download more and more they needed the files to be smaller, to transfer faster, this has gone on since Napster originally became a thing in the 2000’s. The amount of crappy files on the internet is too damn high. If all of these files were regulated by the distributors they would have been in industry standard (which now is 320 kb/s) and all of the music you have accumulated wouldn’t be crappy file formats, but un-regulated piracy caused all the files to become whatever the uploader needs them to be to be under the maximum upload size. Don’t believe me? Don’t think it makes a difference? Check yourself. Listen to a song on youtube (192 kb/s on HD) and then listen to the 320 kb/s version.
Whats wrong, can’t find the 320 kb/s version for free anywhere? Thank your pirate ancestors from 10 years ago for making this acceptable.

The record companies can still suck it.


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