By JoCo January 21, 2012

Uh oh, he’s blogging. What happened?

I wrote this thing on Twitter this morning about the MegaUpload shutdown, and it’s gotten some crazy traction on the old internet. In addition, I’ve just done a couple of interviews for NPR on the subject, and I think I may have said some crazy, provocative things. There are many comments and questions out there already with more to come, and rather than have a bunch of separate discussions on a bunch of different social media platforms, I thought I would put some of my thoughts here.

First of all, I was being sarcastic. I did not see an uptick in sales because one piracy site got shut down, nor do I expect to.

Second, this was a tweet, so it was <=140 characters of ha ha, and not designed to be a thorough discussion of all the issues. I recognize these things are complicated. Obviously none of us knows the complete truth, but I'm guessing that the people who ran MegaUpload were knowingly profiting from the unauthorized download of other people's intellectual property (including mine). Probably they were making a lot of money that way. That's certainly illegal, and it doesn't exactly give them the moral high ground either. In fact, it's kind of a dick move. Essentially, they did bad things and they got in trouble for it. Here are the issues that, for me, make this complicated. Along with all the illegal stuff happening on MegaUpload was some amount of completely legal stuff. People used MegaUpload to send large files around. Some number of those files were personal files owned by the people sending them. I have no idea what the ratio was, and probably it would be impossible to figure that out with any certainty, but let's stipulate that it was a very large percentage of illegal activity, and only a very tiny percentage of the users were there for anything other than downloading content that they didn't buy. Still, today that tiny percentage had something taken away from them, without warning, maybe just a service they liked using, but maybe a piece of digital media that belonged to them - if they uploaded something and didn't keep a copy, that thing is now gone. Them's the breaks I guess, but in evaluating whether this shutdown was a net positive for us humans, you have to take that into account. Even some of the illegal usage was likely the kind of activity that approaches what I consider to be victimless piracy: people downloading stuff they already bought but lost, people downloading stuff they missed on TV and couldn't find on Netflix or iTunes, people downloading stuff they didn't like and regretted watching or hearing and never would have bought anyway, people downloading a Jonathan Coulton album (oh let's say, Artificial Heart, the new Jonathan Coulton album, which is an awesome Jonathan Coulton album called Artificial Heart) and loving it so much that in a year they decide to buy a ticket to a Jonathan Coulton show and walk up to the merch table and hand me $20. I know not everyone will think all of those things are victimless crimes, and even I can admit that some of them maybe kinda sorta have victims, but my point is that you can’t easily say that every illegal download is a lost sale, because it’s a lot more complicated than that. So when you evaluate the “damage” that a site like MegaUpload is causing, you have to think about these things too. The grand jury indictment against them says they’ve caused $500 million in damages to copyright owners. Given the complexity of actual usage on a site like MegaUpload, how can they possibly know that?

The real question in my mind these days, and what I was trying to get at with my little tweet, is: how much does piracy really hurt content creators (specifically, me)? Professional smart person Tim O’Reilly posted something that made me think about this question again in regards to SOPA/PIPA. He points out that any proponent of SOPA/PIPA starts with the assumption that all this piracy is causing great harm to lots of people and companies. Here’s his pull quote, taken from a recent statement about SOPA issued by the White House:

Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders.

Is it really as dire as all that? It’s an emergency is it? Tim points out that he and a lot of other content creators have been happily coexisting with piracy all this time, and I’m certainly one of them. Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things, so it’s no wonder they’re not doing so well in the current environment. And right now everyone’s fighting to control distribution channels, which is why I can’t watch Star Wars on Netflix or iTunes. It’s fine if you want to have that fight, but don’t yell and scream about how you’re losing business to piracy when your stuff isn’t even available in the box I have on top of my TV. A lot of us have figured out how to do this.

So if you can stand me sounding a little crazy, listen: where is the proof that piracy causes economic harm to anyone? Looking at the music business, yes profits have gone down ever since Napster, but has anyone effectively demonstrated the causal link between that and piracy? There are many alternate theories (people buying songs and not whole albums, music sucking more, niches and indie acts becoming more viable, etc.). The Swiss government did a study and determined that unauthorized downloading (which 1/3 of their citizens do) does not create any loss in revenue for the entertainment industry. I remember but am now too lazy to find links to other studies that say the same thing. I can’t think of any study I’ve seen that demonstrates the opposite. If there is one, please point me to it. So I have a lot of trouble with the idea that the federal government is directing resources toward an ultimately ineffective game of piracy whack-a-mole (with some unknown amount of collateral damage to law-abiding citizens), when we are not even sure that piracy is a problem.

And if you can stand me sounding even crazier, here is this: making money from art is not a human right. It so happens that technological and societal blahbity bloos have conspired to create a situation where selling songs about monkeys and robots is a viable business, but for most of human history people have NOT paid for art. I don’t want this to happen again, and I would be very sad if this came to pass, but it’s not up to me to decide. We are constantly demonstrating through our actions what we believe to be the norms for acquiring and consuming content. Right now a lot of us think that it’s OK to download stuff through illegal sites under certain circumstances, and a lot of us think it’s totally fine to use those things to make videos and put them on YouTube even though YouTube profits from it. That’s not ME saying that, that’s US saying that – we’re a nation of pirates and infringers. Based on our behavior, you would not be wrong to deduce that some of us think funny videos on YouTube are more important than honoring intellectual property rights. This kind of thing has happened before. Entire industries rise and fall as the world changes and our priorities shift. Sorry.

I believe in copyright. I benefit from it. I don’t want it to go away. I love that we have laws and people to enforce them. But if I had to give up one thing, if I had to choose between copyright and the wild west, semi-lawless, innovation-fest that is the internet? I’ll take the internet every time.

Now you may comment. I’m going to watch this thread and respond when I can, and we’re going to have a nice discussion. We’re not going to have fights and call each other names, and if you’re a jerk, I’m going to delete the jerky things you say. (And if you infringe on my copyright I’m going to send federal agents to your home and throw your computers IN THE GARBAGE.)


Martin says

I can't add much to what you've said, other than "the internet will find a way"

Joel P says

"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things, so it’s no wonder they’re not doing so well in the current environment." Perfectly put.

Wyatt says

Thank you, again, Mr. Coulton, for a reasonable and rational response.

L'Hopital says

When are you doing a NY-area solo show? This post has made me want to buy a ticket and buy something that costs $20 at the merch table.

mtgordon says

FWIW, bootlegs of your 2008-06-05 Cincinnati show had evidently on MegaUpload and are now no longer available. Time will tell whether they're available elsewhere; it's not like you're selling those recordings. For completist fans, who do things like buy thumb drives and Level Four packages, this is a tragedy. As someone who has bought everything you've sold several times over, plus attended a bunch of shows and bought a ton of merch, I can assure you that you're not losing money from my collecting bootlegs.

Deb Johnson says

Yeah, pirates are the cockroaches of the internet. They'll withstand a nuclear blast on the Internet. So, learn to live with them, co-exist and make money off the honest people. There are a lot of them out there. Way way way more than pirates. And the only ones getting hurt by SOPA/PIPA are the honest folks. The pirates will just find another way to get around what ever law is thrown. I still loved your tweet this morning. Made me chuckle.

Jon says

If you put that rant in song form, I'd pay to hear it.

Alexsander says

Well said, the government is going at this completely wrong. And who's to say that they can censor the internet when the U.S. doesn't own the WORLD WIDE web.

Kschenke says

As a content provider (written more than anything) and someone who has just started a webseries that can only survive through Fair Use... thank you for saying all this. I love the internet and I'm willing to keep fighting for it.

Mike says

Well said. As someone who relies on the Public Domain and independent filmmakers for a large part of my "art", I'm not sure how shoring up institutions who hide their heads and fight every technological and cultural shift is helping anyone but large corporations. The Internet community has proven, time and time again, that it WILL support the audience. We are simply tired of supporting the middle man...

Greg says

The other thing that this Mega Upload thing also proves, is that there are mechanisms in place to deal with piracy. It involves building a legal case against someone, and giving said person due process. I think the judicial branch of governments will get better at dealing with piracy, and I think that creators will get better at competing. It's the Mediocre who will have the problems, and any business drive by risk assessment models, as all big companies are, will continue to be mediocre.

Reklaw says

You can't stop the signal.

vince says

AWESOME!!!!! I'm so fucking tired of hearing people ignore exactly what you said!

Kate Falanga says

I didn't know you had a new album out so I just bought it in under 30 seconds and can now listen to it without moving from my chair or even thinking about it much. I think this proves your point.

Spencer K says

Julian Sanchez from Cato and Ars Technica has a couple of great articles on just this subject:

Alex says

I too find this issue to be complicated. On the one hand, I believe that people who create should be able to support themselves off of their creations. I used to pirate a lot of stuff, but then I actually had money coming in. I've starting actually buying things. I didn't pirate just for the lulz, I didn't have the money to pay for anything. In fact, I used to pirate your music, but then you offered the Artificial Heart bundles, and I had money to pay for it. So I bought the Level Four package, and it's sitting on my desk right now, and I have to say I am VERY pleased with it. Not only did I get all this cool stuff, I got access to all of your songs, and I helped support you by paying for it.
One of that hardest things for me was paying for content over the internet. Part of me is afraid of all this identity theft going around, and another part of me is worried about how much more complicated it is than to hand someone a few bills. But then I went and bought this Level Four package, and then I started buying games on Steam. And the weirdest thing is that now I've started paying for things, I don't want to pirate anymore. I want the people who create these things to have my money because I want them to know that I want more of this. I guess my point is that people should be able to decide for themselves
That's my two cents.

Chris Haslage says


This is exactly why I like your music and especially you as a person, you really do understand how it is out there. Not many really understand the line that content providers walk. I write software and work in the media industry so I see both sides of the same coin. I just spoke to a friend about this, who works in the Anime industry, who is always hit hard with piracy. That industry is torn between fan subs and re-dubs which waters down professional attempts by studios. It has gotten so bad that quality US Anime distributors have fallen.

It's hard for all of us content creators but there are better ways to legislate laws than by the double-edged sword methods that SOPA and PIPA offer. As I pointed out someplace else:

[quote]On the other hand PIPA and SOPA were horrible ideas because it did not tackle the core issue. PIPA and SOPA would've hurt me, a self-publisher, and me as a media personality. If someone posted a copyrighted picture as their avatar (which people do commonly) then SOPA can take my site down. Imagine if someone, heaven forbid, decided to sing their favorite song on YouTube.

I am reminded of Arnel Pineda who is now the lead singer of Journey. He was found on YouTube singing Journey tunes. He has the chops to do it. Justin Bieber? Marc Martel ( All criminals in the eyes of SOPA (and possibly PIPA).[/quote]

Honestly I feel true fans will support you through the good and bad in the end... With that said, come back to Ohio soon! I will gladly help Scarface sell more merch for you when he takes his break!

Also, please spread my FB around. We want JoCo on Jimmy Fallon!


Chris Haslage

Kathleen says

Another thing people fail to take into account that it's not a difference between paying and not paying for content, it's paying and not consuming at all. For some people, if they can't get it easily, they'll probably just not watch the show or listen to the music, so it's not as if each download is a loss of sale because without that avenue, the downloader may never have even bothered with the content in the first place.

If your stuff hadn't been on youtube [both through your channel and other people's], I wouldn't have started listening, and I wouldn't have ended up being one of those people who walk up and buy your CD after the fact.

Bryan says

I could not have possibly said it better, or agree more with every single letter of your post.

Dave says

Jonathan, I think this is very reasonable, but it ignores the DISTRIBUTION of revenues. Even though the Entertainment sector as a whole might not be harmed some sectors within it are taking it on the chin (or up other body parts) as they exist solely to redistribute content for money. They take on risk and make a substantial upfront investment in questionable properties to make a profit.

You are not a part of this particular sausage making process as you self-publish and bear the risk yourself, but some artists aren't so daring. Is it fair to sign a deal, take an advance and record an album that ends up getting pirated only to take the money that would have been spent on the album (reimbursing the company that took a risk on your unproven talent and marketability) only to take that money in as a portion of a concert ticket?

Adam says

Completely agree with you on this. It's not really hurting sales because people who download illegally aren't going to rush out and buy CDs/rush to iTunes and buy music. If they're getting it for free they obviously don't care that much about it, anyway and wouldn't buy it if the option to download wasn't available! Oh and on the note of SOPA/PIPA, it wouldn't stop pirating at all. Funny how they can completely remove sites that link to infringing material, but those which actually host it wouldn't be blocked - they'd just have their domain removed. Seems more like they were designed to censor anything without question than actually stop piracy.

John Bullock says

Couldn't have said it better. Anyone else think the way content providers blame piracy for drop in sales a little... collusion-y? I mean, they never seem to consider that people might not be buying as many albums or going to the cinema as often because those things aren't worth the prices they charge anymore. There's a lot more to take up our time these days, it's naive and/or ignorant to think that piracy is the only thing devaluing your product.

Dave Edelhart says

Yes - for most of human history people have not paid for art (though I'd argue quite a bit of art was found in crafts which people bought) and for quite a lot of human history, there wasn't nearly as much art as we have now.

I would agree the SOPA "cure" is far worse than the disease -- it seems to take the position that dead people cannot really be considered sick -- but I don't think we need to jump off the "Art should be free" ledge, or "I only stole it cos it was hard to buy". If we blow the SOPA argument so off base, it creates the impression that the choices are SOPA or people throwing trashcans through windows of stores, and I really don't think those are the only two choices available.

by_tor says

Well said, JoCo. The only song of yours I ever illegally downloaded was the one I couldn't easily buy from you, the original version of Still Alive. I bought all your Thing A Week, I have a (sort of ) signed copy of the CD of Artificial Heart, and I have enjoyed you and P&S rockin' the Union Chapel in London TWICE!

I reckon online piracy probably accounted for some drop in sales but only a fraction of what is quoted by record companies.

Right, enough of that. When are you bringing your band to the UK? I want to pay you money to play live again.

Bear Field says

If was encouraging people to violate copyright (as opposed to just offering a service which turned out to be used by others to violate copyright), then they should be punished through the legal system. But, even if the allegations are proven, those who were using the service in a legal manner do NOT deserve to be punished by the effective expropriation of what is THEIR intellectual property. It seems to me they those persons may have grounds for seeking compensation from the Government.

GBT says

Well said Mr Coulton, well said!

zacbentz says

"There are many alternate theories (people buying songs and not whole albums, music sucking more, niches and indie acts becoming more viable, etc.)."

For me, THIS is the point. It's the major guys losing control over the game. That's what they have a problem with, not so much the piracy end. Of course they can't see this shift themselves and instead look to those who are still playing by (and breaking) the rules they DO understand. Despite having my music pirated (and even sold by pirates!), I've (more than once!) sold my music directly to fans who have paid 25 times the asking price. I don't think a major outlet understands what that really means.

Jen McCown says

One of the arguments I already hear coming is, "But you're a big fancy pants star, of course piracy doesn't hurt you. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LITTLE GUY??" I'm one of the little guys. I have a weekly webshow that's run 48 weeks a year for the lat 3 years, and we have a small following. We have had some of our stuff nabbed and posted elsewhere without attribution or consent. And it doesn't hurt us. The people who find our stuff in the pirated places wouldn't have heard of us in the first place if they didn't stumble on it on the piracy site. I still don't like it, and I send notices, but seriously...the few people who like us are pretty loyal, if you will, and they don't bother running out to the wild wild Internet to find our stuff elsewhere.

So, Resolved: Piracy is bad. But it doesn't really hurt the big, medium, or little guys all that much.

And I'm totally reading this blog post on my show tonight AND MAYBE I'LL FORGET TO ATTRIBUTE, MUAH-AH-AH! (Kidding, I excerpt and attribute/link back).

Thanks for stuff.

Adam says

This whole situation has raised a few questions in my mind and maybe as a copyright holder you would know the answer or have some insight to it. I have a hypathetical situation. Lets say an artist had their copyrighted content on megaupload, and after the siezure they can no longer access their only copies of their copyrighted material. This copyrighted material was not the material was not the cause of the siezure nor is the copyright holder part of the litigation which is going to be involved, i.e. RIAA vs Megaupload. What is the legal recourse for that copyright holder to get their property back? Is it legal for the DOJ to sieze property of an individual who is not involved in the litigation which caused the siezure? What is the recourse for said copyright holder to recoupe any lost profits because their material was taken? Imagine this was a bank, and we were dealing people's money. Lets say that the mafia was using a bank to launder money and lets even say the bank owners were in on it. Does the DOJ have the right to sieze the money of every single account holder even if they have no evidence of involvement in the money laundering? Aren't situations like this the reason we have safe harbor laws? Have I asked enough questions?

Doug Belcher says

Really, anyone took that tweet for anything other than sarcastic or joking? I'm surprised because given the timing on the shutdown of the site and your tweet it could not have been anything other than a joke. I, for one, appreciated the joke and moved on.

Jake says

These big industries just aren't willing to change with the times it seems. Great read jon

Cheyenne says

Mr Coulton... I agree 100% with what you said. We need to get rid of the other websites that are distributing albums for free.

Krist S. says

Mr. Coulton, this is practically anthemic to what i believe many of us think; i'm very happy to see you pointing out studies like the one the Swiss Government did on internet piracy, and furthermore, that an artist such as yourself, one who anyone who may support acts like PIPA or SOPA, believe is suffering from such an action, has said such things. haha, you've proven to me once again to be not only a respectable artist, but a respectable social and political THINKER(and doer) as well.



cedarwaxwing says

What a wonderfully thoughtful post. I saw your tweet this morning and wondered what the heck MegaUpload was and when I realized what it was had some of the same thoughts you outline in your post -- especially about people who used it for legal upload/downloads.

I also have conflicting thoughts downloading things. I don't like it when my two teens watch movies or television shows from places other than legal ones, but I have downloaded movies (exactly three) that I cannot find anywhere else in any format for sale. I would have purchased them all if I had.

You are right -- it is complicated.

P! says

The two most important touchstones you presented:

"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan."


"if I had to choose between copyright and the wild west, semi-lawless, innovation-fest that is the internet? I’ll take the internet every time."

Most of us can whine and cry about not having easy access to pirated content, but you as a content creator - of content people actually want - makes these views the most important in the matter.

Thank you, JoCo.

Sleepy says

I am glad you seemed to have really thought this out, and make the point of noting the complexity of the entire thing. So thank you Mr.Coulton for taking the time to write out your thoughts on this.

With things like Spotify and Pandora I feel like piracy in terms of music is probably dwindling a bit, though I could be wrong.

Spotify is all I really use for music now.

As the head of Valve, Gabe Newell, often says it is a service issue.

When you provide a good service the majority of people will not pirate anything. It is simply a matter of providing a better service than can be received from pirates, and earning the respect of the people who are buying your products.

The only reason other things in our world aren't pirated is because they aren't in a digital format. If you could avoid paying your overpriced mechanic by "downloading" the parts you need somewhere else I think many people probably would, but not because they have an issue with paying, but because they feel they aren't getting a good deal for the amount of money they are putting into it.

I feel that people need to aim to provide a service that is better than piracy, which will raise the quality of services related to entertainment. The only thing that is unfortunate is that entertainment is the only real "sector" effected. If every form of job required a higher degree of service in order to compete with piracy we'd probably all be better off.

Flaminnoraa says

The way I see it is if you have $10 and you have the option to buy or not buy an album, the likelihood of you buying it is hugely increased if you've heard it before and know you like it. That's what downloading a "free" copy gives you. The issue is that once you have a copy of an album you may not see a benefit from buying a copy, and that's clearly an issue with the services provided. iTunes has made a big step forward in allowing you to re-download purchases and also use the tracks you've bought on any media player. CD sales are declining due to people preferring digital copies, but what CDs provided that digital downloads tend not to is a sense of ownership over that copy, although obviously not the distribution rights. There's so much scope for achieving this feeling; Maybe give people a type social media where they can show off their collection, or provide extended service to purchases such as demos of new tracks if they bought the previous CD. It's a given that people won't go on to buy albums they didn't like after downloading, but making a sale through a buyers ignorance of the products poor quality isn't any better than pirating an album anyway.

Christian says

All of this is perfect, and what I was going to try and write up this weekend.

Stolen content != lost sale, plain and simple. Ever since I first discovered the infinite pool of tunes on the internet way back when, I have discovered more bands and artists (like you) than I ever could have in a Best Buy Sunday ad, and have subsequently bought and supported all of those that I feel are putting out great music (like yourself). SO if anything, stolen content LEADS TO sales (just like you pointed out), whether it be a 1:1 return for the original content, or simply going to a show or buying a shirt.

Not everyone does the same, though- that's where things get tough. Some people see the internet as a giant grab bag- which it is! But I like to think that many are like me, doing what they can to support the artists they care about.

As long as artists strive and continue to create a product that is worth owning and paying for, I will pay for it, even if it's not rush-day delivery. I think that most people have a higher regard for a physical manifestation of a product, especially if it is something they care about enough. That's why I have a tough time getting behind the *completely* digital market that is so inevitable- but that's another discussion.

Anyways, keep being awesome. Love my Level Four box. See you the next time you're near Iowa.

jadrie says

Thanks for writing this up, Jonathan. :)

I'll be honest, I first found you via a YouTube video of Code Monkey, redone as a WoW Machinima.

Neil says

I believe EVERYONE I know would be more than happy to listen to adverts in exchange for content... like spotify.... yes maybe it wouldn't be as much money per sound, per movie, per television show, but it would end the need for piracy if it were available to EVERYONE equally, internationally, like the internet, imagine the revenue though adverts that could be raised by GLOBAL audiences... and think of the exposure for gigs, future content... unparalleled... this should be the future....only reason it wont is because of greed of the few, affecting the free of the many

Sonny says

Codemonkey agrees.

ZaxKellens says

I agree with you totally and you're even more awesome in my mind now (which I figured would be hard to do).

SolomonGajda says

YES! Thanks for this! It makes me want to buy your songs. I think I'll do that right now.

Kholdstare89 says

Very well said, sir. I admit to having downloaded some of your music not so legally, but after having seen you in concert, I've paid for two copies of Artificial Heart, two copies of Best Show Ever, and a t-shirt, and I'll certainly be buying more when the funds come my way. Quality content deserves reward. It also helps that you seem like a swell guy.

lalophobia says

>the worst online pirates beyond our borders.

The fun thing is that steam is proving this is not the case for games, and initiatives like spotify for music -that both took YEARS to get to the point where they were even allowed by the cartel to do the thing overseas - there is nothing for movies and shows aside pray to the gods the local networks will air something and when (in time versus it being released in the states) .. there just isn't an alternative to that and piracy - There is just one thing in existence and that is provide an accessible service.

it's slightly hypocritical to blame people for pirating if you create a demand people will 'steal' for if you don't give them the damn dru..uhm content.. on time and at an affordable rate and then turn around and cry when you habitually refuse to provide a good dealership uhm.. service.. .

Chris says

Your point is a good one. An illegal cassette of the legendary Moxy Fruvous demo turned me into a lifelong fan and legal purchaser of every single thing they ever warbled together, including The C Album which had to be imported. If the bastards hadn't broken up and were still touring, I'd be buying show tickets too. If you're good, people ARE gonna buy your stuff.

Live long, sir, and prosper, prosper, prosper.

Andre says

Piracy is more of a problem for certain artists than others. The larger you are, the more people are going to pirate your stuff. When it comes down to niche and indie acts like you mentioned, you have a much more dedicated fan base who are going to want to pay that money for the album. Or the special edition, like when you released the various packages for Artificial Heart. That's a great way to combat piracy, because it gives you something you can't download. I'm currently thinking about buying a special edition vinyl of my favorite bands first album, and I don't even own a record player. In my opinion, that's the best way to combat piracy.

Zeus says

I totally agree with your policy of "Make good stuff and make it easy to buy." I used to illegally download games all the time until I found Steam for PC and GameFly's "Keep" option for consoles. I don't have a problem with paying for things, I just don't want to have to leave the house or wait for it to be delivered.

Meluna says

I would so much love to fling more than 20$ your way, good sir. But you happen to never have concerts in good old Europe.
Also, doesn't the take down of MegaUpload show that there already are enough tools to deal with such stuff available? Why do we need sth that lets big companies censor the internet for shits'n'giggles bypassing the legal system? I don't recall reading any defense in that direction. Just 'piracy smells of elderberries, we fight into your general direction, hurr'. The FBI just made the biggest statement AGAINST sopa/pipa.

Paul Spooner says

@Dave #18
There will always be distributors. The current problem is that usually when you "sign a deal" with a "record company" you're dealing with a generally unpleasant entity. People would rather "pirate" stuff than buy it from an unpleasant entity. The solution, of course, is for the major distributors to stop treating customers like criminals, put on a nice hat, and start being polite.
Steam did this with games. There's no reason music distributors can't do it too.

Tyler says

Could not agree with you more!

You brought up the scenario about people going through all of the right channels to watch their favorite TV show, but since they still haven't been able to watch it, they head to their favorite internet site to catch up even though it may be illegal.

Another scenario which I think falls in that gray area is video games. Video games have always been an expensive "luxury" for people, and that's still true today, if not more so. A lot of people that pirate games wouldn't have bought the game in the first place. So it's not like the company is losing a sale. Hell, they may GAIN a sale because of it. A ton of the people I know are good people. If they do pirate something, and like it, they'll do the right thing and support it by buying it.

Matt Blick says

Jonathan you just downloaded a big steaming pile of common sense onto the internet - I love you

SRDownie says

Excellent post! As a Level Four participant, I have already shared the copyrighted joy of unboxing your Artificial Tidbits on YouTube!

Two more points:

1. We should not be using the word "piracy." If I was *really* a pirate, I'd take from you what's yours. If you, for example, had a rare Nostalgia Device and I swashbuckled in and snatched it, I would then have two Nostalgia Devices while you would have none. But in the digital realm, I can swashbuckle through the Pirate Bay (or RapidShare or FileSonic or wherever), nab your goods … and you'll still have the goods too. MegaUpload does not abet "piracy." It abets "distribution enhancement."

2. My (evolving) take on the digital distribution tradeoff is that digital content producers have returned to an environment that is in many ways like that endured by content producers prior to the invention of audio and video transmission technologies. In short, every performance should be considered a "live" performance. The performer needs to get, monetarily, whatever he or she can get at that moment of creation (even if the creation emerges from a digital editor). The audience is no longer "live" in the classical sense, but it is "live" in a time- and location-shifted way. Until recently, that time and location shifting required many intermediaries. For the most part, that is no longer the case. But the intermediaries who grew fat and sassy on their intermediate skimming, cannot adjust to the new/old realities.

As you note, this issue is too complex not only for Twitter, but perhaps even for WordPress. For example, what about large ensembles that play ditties that appeal only to the few? Who will bankroll them? We'll address that in another, future post perhaps. Or maybe on the JoCo Forums. :-)

Thanks for your candor and courage!

lanseri says

You can't stop the signal.

Frozen says

I want to comment on two specific parts of this post.

First your comments in paragraph four: You should spend some time to read the indictment

Not only were they actively and knowingly helping to commit piracy, but they were actively and knowingly paying known pirates for distributing and uploading copyrighted works. They were actively doing everything in their power to not follow the DMCA. If even 10% of the counts in the indictment are true, these guys deserve everything they get. I am saying this as a website developer and an IT professional. They broke every rule in the "how to stay protected by safe harbor laws" handbook. These are the kinds of pirates that should be stopped, and I'm okay with them getting exactly what is coming to them.

The problem is that legitimate files were lost, but I cannot for the life of me come up with a viable way to both put the people who run the site to justice, as well as keep the site running in a fashion that allows people to retrieve their legitimate files.

Now, for the second part. I love and appreciate everything you have to say about copyright and the internet. That is why I've personally bought every single one of your CDs. I love your music, and I love your opinions on piracy.

MegaUpload is gone, as are legitimate files that were on it, but another site will take it's place. The pirates will always find a way, and there's nothing you can do to stop them. The pirates who do it for money, like the owners and operators of MegaUpload, should be stopped. The pirates who just want to spread information and make it available to the world? I'm okay with them.

I can't count the number of times I've found something for free on the internet (your Thing a Week for example, or Cee Lo Green and his video when it appeared on Youtube, or anything that plays on my Pandora account), and went out and purchased a legal and legit copy.

Thank you for this wonderful post, and keep on doing what you're doing.

Shivian Balaris says

This shows me that the world isn't doomed and there are healthy, happy people out there. Thank you so much.

hyperforce says

Something the entertainment industry has to do is change its business model. The main reason people pirate in my opinion is not due to it being free (though there are of course instances where this does happen, like expensive software that they can't pay for) but because its easy, convenient and or doesn't have heavy DRM attached to it that bogs down the enjoyment of the content.

Case and point: I'm a pretty big Star gate Atlantis fan and I became familiar with the series through online pirate video, no downloading, just watching. Why didn't I just watch it on TV I hear you say. Why that's a good question: Simply because it was not available over here Holland. And i'm most certainly no big TV viewer, even had the series been fully hosted on my TV channels..

And yes, I did view every single episode. However, when I finally found the full DVD box in stores, I bought it for over a hundred euro's.

What I feel the industry has to do, is start distributing their content across the world using a similar model like spotify. People will pay for a subscription, just like steam has converted many a PC gamer into buying new and older games through their services.

Even better, allow the community to work with these videos, like provide subtitles for foreign language shows.
I'd love to be able to view Japanese Anime for a fee, that's translated. Its already happening world wide on dedicated anime sites, no reason the companies behind these anime couldn't make money off of subscriptions and adds on their own streaming sites.

All i'm saying is that Piracy is often a problem of conviniece. If People were willing to pay a website for unlimited downloads of potentially illegal series and movies, then they will be willing to spend a monthly fee to view those legally as well. And the better the service, the more people will be inclined to use said service.

No reason they couldn't use the same methods Megaupload employed to get people to subscribe, offer a limited amount of free content at a time interval for example to get people hooked, and then once they are paying give them unlimited access.

Want to stop piracy movie and music industry, perhaps you should learn from the "pirates" and provide a better service. Cause that's what it all comes down to in the end.

Easy, cheap & on demand entertainment.

lalophobia says

there is nothing wrong with copyright in the theory "I wrote this song and for the next few years I get to sing this, if you want to do that too, I except reasonable commision and I like to be able to sell my stuff in such a way the consumer can actually listen to is"

There is a problem with "I own all rights to the following word "corporatemediasucks" and demand to be payed every time anyone reads this word"

PS.. you must pay me 1 dollar now for reading this, or i will shut down this website.

Chris Shaffer says

I'd have to dig up the link and where I'm sitting right at this moment that's not feasible (but I could do so later), but I read a blog post a while back from a writer -- a small, mostly unknown writer -- who's sales started dropping off as downloads of her books went up and it got to the point now her publisher won't release her books in several markets because of the lowered sales numbers.

I'm also a member of the furry fandom, and furry artists have had trouble with online piracy of art portfolios and self-published comics since the original Napster days. If you'd like, I could try to get some specific input from one who ran the numbers on just how much the loss of sales was hurting him as he lost the ability to make a living off of the furry art and now only does it as a sideline when he's not too busy with his current job.

And then a good friend of mine, another mostly unknown writer, told me he got an email from someone who bragged they were pirating his stuff specifically because they thought 'he didn't deserve to get rich from his books.' My friend, by the way, really is one of those struggling artists barely making enough to pay rent (at a family member's home, no less) and not die of malnutrition. Now, he's as much a victim of the common misperception that 'writing isn't work and being able to write is a free money ticket,' but a lot of the people who started these big piracy services have explicitly said they're trying to destroy the systems by which people can make money off of creative endeavors.

Yeah, making money off of art isn't a human right. But that argument could be made for any industry (unless someone declared McJobs an inalienable human right). A lot of folks without big net followings don't have the time to work a paying job and also indulge their creative urges and for some of them that's like having to choose between eating and breathing. The distribution models need to change on some of this stuff, but there are a lot of people in the creative trenches who simply can't afford to keep hammering away at their art and hope someone with money stumbles onto them by accident Bieber-style.

Skyen says

The pirates are going to win. Eventually. It might cost a lot of hardship and stupid legislation and deprivations of freedom, but they will. The simple reason is that, as has been pointed out, the pirates are *better* at doing what the middle-men used to have a monopoly on doing.
There's a demand for their service and they provide, ergo they win. It's the free market, it's capitalism, so anyone who says otherwise is a communist and probably hates freedom and babies.

More to the point, there is no security created in all the life of the Internet that has not been broken by hackers and pirates. And there never will be (unless quantum-encryption becomes a thing, and even then I think they just might find a way). It's an arms-race, and the pirates have a lot more arms between them, plus they work for free and out of enthusiasm, whereas any security-consultant will cost a company money. Effectively pirates and hackers have nigh-infinite resources for security-cracking, and companies have no way to compete with that.

So, in time, the pirates will win. Those companies and artists who understand how to function and profit in the new environment will persist and grow prosperous, and everyone else will slowly dwindle and eventually probably fail.
And an industry will rise up around this and settle and dig in, and forty years down the line we'll have this conversation all over again when Psychotechnical Brain Transfer Data-Replication threatens their mode of business and they flail desperately trying to preserve an environment that was profitable to them.

In other news, those guys at MegaUpload seem to have pretty much been criminals and villains so good riddance to them. Too bad their behavior had to hurt decent people, but then, that is what villains do: screw other people over.

Kevin S. says

Over all I'd say it is very well put, but there is one interesting sort of related thing I realized during the beginning of the SOPA hullabaloo. Red Wing shoes supported SOPA and their reason was one that there are a number of foreign imitations, with websites that take advantage of Red Wing's popularity.

So I guess what I'm getting at is that the issue is further obfuscated by issues of protection of trademark, not just copyright.

DukeKataron says

Well said, Mr. Coulton. It means a to hear that coming from someone in the industry. I wholeheartedly agree with you, especially regarding the idea of making things easy to buy. I've pirated some games in my time, but then services like Steam come along and make things easy to buy, easy to keep track of, and easy to use. It's good to see people who understand how to utilize and appreciate the glory that is the internet.

Also, I really like bears. This doesn't fit in with this comment or this post, but just...Bears, man.

Kinslow says

When are you doing a Salt Lake -area solo show? This post has made me want to buy a ticket and buy something that costs $20 at the merch table.

Sharp Cypher says

When in the course of history has there ever been a movement for government to legislate an industry into existence?

I'm no anthropologist or historian, but it seems perfectly natural for me that money is made when a business provides something that consumers can not acquire for themselves. The price is determined by the difficulty of acquiring the end product. Diamonds cost a lot because they are difficult to find and dirt is cheap because I have a shovel and a backyard.

The Internet has made art easy to acquire. People used to need marketers, TV stations, radios, advertisers, CD printers, album makers, and all kinds of services to experience art. Those people were doing something that was worth being paid for. Now, however, these business are not as necessary anymore. I can pluck music from around the world out of the air.

It didn't become illegal to have a car because carriage companies would go out of business. Why should it be ONLY legal to get art through art companies? Why do you have to pay a company money because you MIGHT play music in your bar?

It's because companies are writing the laws. They are redefining the word "piracy" to mean "not giving us money for something you can get for free". They have succeeded in making people believe that just because something is easy to get is not enough of a reason to not pay for it.

I'm not saying art isn't valuable. It's one of the most valuable things that exists. I'm saying that we don't need what they are selling, but they have taken control of the government and can FORCE us to give them money. This is fundamentally wrong.

Alan says

Many good points. If I might add one:

Copying stuff is insanely cheap and easier and just getting cheaper and easier. In the face of that, if you make money selling text, audio, image, or video, there are three paths forward:

1. Accept piracy. Fight it, sure, but eliminating it is impossible. It's like a convenience store demanding absolutely zero shoplifting; the cost of doing so exceeds the money you save. Instead, make a reasonable effort to fight the worst problems and spend the rest of your effort providing customers with good stuff at reasonable prices in convenient ways. This is, of course, what Coulton is proposing.

2. Draconian internet controls. The nature of the internet means there are a million ways to evade any legal or technical attempt to stop piracy. But, it is possible. You need to block non-government approved encryption, spy on everyone's traffic, and block large swaths of the internet. You need to criminalize not only copyright infringement, but also talking about how to evade the censors and even just talking about where you might find information about how to evade the censors. The internet will be slower, as these filters take time to process data. The internet will be more expensive, as the filters aren't free. Technical innovation will be stifled, as any new system or protocol will need government approval taking time and money. The internet will fragment into dozens of smaller internets; every country will block different subsets. For a preview of what this looks like, see Iran, North Korea, and China. This is really what the SOPA/PIPA advocates want.

3. Half-ass it. Spend a lot of time and money fighting piracy, but don't go all in. End up spending more fighting the piracy than you will even make in profit off of the pirates. Continue to lose market share, eventually go out of business.

The major music companies were all happy to march in lockstep toward oblivion. They should thank the memory of Steve Jobs every day for saving their stupid asses.

lalophobia says

ps.. an interesting thought on trademark and copyright was brought up in a press release of the pirate bay. ( unfortunately i have to use a mirror to read it now but - it's on for those that still have access to tpb ) .. basically they say

hollywood settles in hollywood to avoid the patent on pictures in the westcoast, and they grew big on telling the copyrighted text stories in pictures.

Rakingmuck says

As a person who has worked in the music industry and particularly with artists big and upcoming I understand very well the new model for artists and how it deviates from the way music company CEO's made personal fortunes on. Oh how they wish the days of taking advantage of artists were back. But those days are gone forever. Artists are using the Internet in ways unimaginable only five years ago. They promote themselves, they self-distribute, they grow their own deeply loyal fan bases and control their own revenue streams. After the initial falling apart of the music industry model they have found their own way through the wilderness and now stand to succeed in an industry where precious few did. The RIAA refuses to acknowledge this sea change and that IT WORKS FOR THE ARTIST. If they did MegaUpload (agreed not all correct) would still be up. SOPA and PIPA are misguided in their true ignorance of who really gets hurt - the artists who bring us their creativity in ways that THEY NOW CONTROL AS THEY SHOULD Where or where would we be if the music and their voice were cut off.

Jon Hughes says

Frozen: "The problem is that legitimate files were lost, but I cannot for the life of me come up with a viable way to both put the people who run the site to justice, as well as keep the site running in a fashion that allows people to retrieve their legitimate files."

That seems quite simple, actually. "This site has been found to be dealing in illegal wares, etc etc. It will be shut down indefinitely in x days"

This would allow every legitimate user to find another location for their files. Yes, the so-called pirates would still be able to download the illegally-gotten data, but only for a short time -- considering how long megaupload had been up, I don't think a few more days would make the art industry crash.

Jeffool says

I applaud both your music and your reasonable attitude! One thing, though...

I have no idea what the ratio was, and probably it would be impossible to figure that out with any certainty, but let's stipulate that it was a very large percentage of illegal activity, and only a very tiny percentage of the users were there for anything other than downloading content that they didn't buy.

If they robbed others of $500M, as the FBI claim, and had 50M users as they themselves claimed (in their recent star studded commercial), then assuming we're talking $1 a track, and all music, then we're talking about a concentrated ten days of piracy since they opened in 2006. Or assuming four full years of business, we're talking 351123.6 instances of piracy a day. That's .07% of their claimed daily users engaging in piracy. Hardly a business model that needs pay to survive.

Of course we can assume they don't actually have 50M users a day. It was a commercial to make them sound big. But we can also make the assumption that the MPAA/RIAA values any given download at more than a dollar. So, when asked how rife it was? Going by their numbers? Not very, in my mind.

skylion says

Look at for how a distribution channel can make money, and offer a good service. Anime digisubbing has been a thorn in the industries' side for years. A thorn they reluctantly lived with if you agree with some views. This winter season, crunchyroll nearly doubled the amount of shows they simulcast. Which caused many fan sub group to not do what they do. Which is not only translate, but re-encode and re-distrubte. MU being MAJOR way to do so. Crunchyroll is now offering 1080p on most of the new shows and is showing signs of moving in that direction the coming anime seasons. It's also available on just about any box you can attach to a TV set. And if you want to spend the time, you can stream it from your computer to your TV.

IOW the pirates that pirate stopped being pirates cause there was no real need to pirate.

M. P. says

People have paid for art throughout much of human history - most artists worked on commission or had patrons. The material to make art costs money (the marble for all those Roman statues wasn’t quarried and transported for free, after all, and the base ingredients to make paint colors used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were often imported from Asia and not cheap), plus the people making the art need money for food, lodging, clothes, drinks to inspire the art, etc. Most of the art we see in museums today, especially in Europe, was originally in someone's private collection after they bought it from someone else, or from the artist, or funded the artist while the art was being created. In terms of your monkeys and robots and the proud tradition they follow, people have paid to hear great performances for centuries - there were rich opera super-stars back in the 1700s, making a living off their art. Many artists would still do their art regardless of profit – perhaps the role of the profit motive has changed in this day and age – but to say people haven't historically paid for art is completely off base. Other than that, great piece.

Andrew Ducker says

Have some research into the figures that the copyright spokespeople use:

Heather says


I've actually taught international political economy of intellectual property rights. It's pretty interesting stuff; what it often comes down to is some of what you've said here. The big companies are terrible at changing their business models, but they're really GOOD at lobbying Congress; therefore, we get the megaupload takedown and the SOPA/PIPA crap. There's a whole lot of chicken little in how these companies act. I find the entire thing super interesting from a political and economic standpoint. Someday I'd like to write a paper on how many sales Metallica lost because Lars was himself (a monumental jackass) in Congress about Napster, and how many they lost because they made "LOAD" at that same time, which was an absolute LOAD. I'd compare it to guys and acts like you and some others (I've not really thought it through) who have embraced the new model and made a viable business of delivering otherwise-unavailable music types directly to their (admittedly smaller) audience.

And BTW, I love Metallica. Also you. And Etta James, who is playing on pandora right now. RIP, Etta.

Um, that was a bit run-on-y. Sorry!
Heather from DragonCon
(PS, do you need help at the ATL shows? We'll be at both.)

Adam says

The fact that beating piracy is all about providing a better service is SO true.

Take my situation for example:

I really wanted to play Magicka the videogame. However I own a Mac, which this game isn't designed to play on and so I cant buy it from the steam store or their website. I had planned to install it through wine a platfrom used to port windows games over to Mac. However the process was so infuriatingly difficult to do legally the only way I was able to get the game to run was with a crack specifically designed to work with Mac.

The illegal crack was so well explained and set up it was fool proof and I easily got the game running in under 30 minutes. As opposed to the hours I spend trying to do it legally! The crack even had better support from the creator than the company gave me!

In the end I don't feel I had a choice! I simply was UNABLE to buy the product legally I HAD to resort to some form of illegality in able to enjoy the content.

So where is a consumer to go in a situation like this? In no way could this be considered a lost sale. Simple.

Ammonkapow says

Man, an entire blog on copyright and not one mention of Richard Stallman? For fantastic views on this issue (copyright, not the SOPA specifically) look up the essays he wrote. This comment is pretty much what I learned from them.

Copyright was never supposed to protect artists or allow them to 'nest egg' their ideas. Constitutionally, its sole purpose is to give the artist a little revenue in order to continue to make art. Possible solution to the SOPA problem: cut copyright down from decades to years. That way, culturally relevant things are available, artists make the money they need, and there aren't as many restrictions for the public. As JC's success shows, even if something is widely available for free, if people like it they will buy it even just to support the artist.

JoCo says

@Adam: well yes. I think the answer is that those people have no recourse, which is part of the problem.

@Frozen: a fair point, I have not read the indictment. I am lazy and it is boring. But all signs point to the MegaUpload people being complete assholes, and I am not sorry they're gone in particular. It just sparked some thoughts for me. And mostly I don't like that our policy seems to be more motivated by moneyed interests than by facts and reality. I was speaking to an NPR correspondent today and when I pointed out that nobody had shown a causal link between piracy and the decline of the record business, she basically said, well, it just seems obvious. It bugs me that we haven't investigated the industry's claims a little more. But yeah, these MegaUpload guys seem not so great.

@Chris Shaffer: if you find that link, send it to me, I'd like to read it. And I don't know what to say about the other folks you mentioned who feel like they're suffering because of piracy. I know from experience that it's easy to get anecdotal evidence that people are "stealing" from you and determine that it's the reason you're not making any money. I felt that way when I first started. I used to be a lot more worried about each and every download, but then my bottom line got better and it became less worrisome. I am lucky that for me it works the way it does. I'm sure other people have different experiences.

Dylan F says

I'm so glad to see an artist recognize the fact that not ALL piracy is horrible, what you called victimless piracy. When something is not offered anywhere else, or the original creators/artists who made it will not benefit in any way if you did buy it(old games no longer sold, albums or books that are long since out of print, etc.), or maybe if you already own the item you're downloading and just want to obtain a copy of it in some form that doesn't inconvenience you so much, then I personally don't see a major issue with piracy in these cases. Like you said, the easiest way to combat piracy is to provide a better product, and a simpler, easier, and more convenient way of obtaining it. If you look at video games, you see mainly larger publishers using incredibly restrictive DRM as a major way to combat piracy, despite this being proven ineffective. Every single game with DRM of any kind has been hacked and pirated, and this will continue to happen. Digital distribution platforms like Steam, being incredibly user friendly and providing a clean, simple way to interact with a built-in, well-established community, making it simply a better product. Corporations need to realize this rather than continue to wage their fake war against piracy and keep hurting their actual honest consumers in the process.

Matt C. says

The SOPA/PIPA kerfuffle made me realize that I would trade all the content creation that Big Media does in exchange for the assurance that cat videos on YouTube aren't going anywhere. If Big Media can't survive in the internet age without hamstringing the internet itself, there are others out there who will figure 'it' out. Content won't disappear even if a few corporations do.

w1ldm4n says

It appears you're doing music and you're Still Alive!

Omnifarious says

You have echoed my sentiments nearly exactly. Here is the letter I wrote to my representatives. From the responses I've gotten, I can tell that they have not read one line of what I wrote. Some staffer entered the fact that I didn't like the bills somewhere and the appropriate form response was mailed out. Even if they did read it, I doubt they would really get it, but I figured I would try:


There are two bills making their way through both the House and Senate. These two bills are colloquially known as SOPA and PIPA. They both purport to protect the rights of copyright holders.

I do not want them to pass. I do not want any bill even remotely similar to them to ever pass.

Copyright is a bargain. It is a bargain in which we voluntarily gave up our natural freedom to copy things in order that we might encourage people to produce more stuff.

When that bargain was made, the freedom to copy things was difficult to exercise. Giving it up was only of consequence to the people who had the capital for the equipment to copy things in large quantities.

Every single person in the US today now possesses such equipment. Making copies is virtually free for anybody. Making copies is a natural part of participating in a culture.

That means this bargain needs to be rethought.

Your ever more draconian attempts to protect rights holders (in reality, large interests who have played a game in which they manage to hold the artifacts of our culture for ransom) will inevitably meet with failure. You are fighting economics and human behavior on a massive scale. When millions of people do something, there are no laws you can pass that will stop them.

It is time for these large interests to realize that the rules of the game have changed. It is possible to be a successful artist under the new rules. I know of several, and they are some of my favorite artists. People will pay for the products of artists of all stripes if it's relatively easy to do so. People take pride in supporting the people who make the stories, pictures and songs they love. But the old rules no longer hold.

These large interests have invested incredible sums of money locking up precious things under the assumption the rules wouldn't change. They assumed they would forever be able to charge people rent for access to their own culture.

Please don't succumb to the temptation their money represents. Allowing them to attempt to turn back the clock by whatever means necessary will do irreparable harm and only forestall the inevitable for a brief while.

Some investments fail. An investment in a future in which our culture is held for ransom by large interests should fail.

DeoFayte says

Sadly, very sadly, what many of the major companies complaining about piracy have seemed to long since forget, is that there is a very specific relationship between buyer / consumer.

The customer has a need, the seller has to fill that need.

Over the years the customers needs, expectations have changed and evolved, many companies are struggling to keep up.

In my honest opinion the major companies very well know that they aren't loosing millions because of piracy. You can't be that successful and still employ large numbers of idiots. But why stop complaining about it if they can still sue major pirate profiting companies for millions.

SRDownie says

@EverybodyConcernedWithTheMoralCharacterOfMegaUploadProprietors: This is the high-tech industry. If we started denying $$$ to assholes, the whole kit and caboodle would vanish overnight!

Take my Larry Ellison. Please!

Matt In Brooklyn says

I bet this is how the drug war started. Just shutting down a few big time drug distributors to "make an example of them."

Now look where we are. U.S. prisons are filled with non-violent offenders with prison sentences in some cases harsher than for rapists.

Fast forward 30 years, what will the war on piracy look like?

JoCo says

@MP: Go back to cave paintings and then count the years of human history again. But yes, patrons. I was unclear, but what I was trying to say was that for most of human history, people who listened to music, looked at images, or fondled fertility figures were not paying for the privilege. Only since mass production has the idea of selling art to consumers become a viable thing. It's possible that in a distant future we'll need to get patrons again. But we'll call them sponsorships.

Tom says

This wonderful world of interwebs... a new generation arises who can share and create and collaborate and achieve wonderful things never dreamed of before. I file shared and got Jonathan Coulton music and I went to see him live and bought stuff because his music was on Youtube and I was able to find copies of his music.

I could never take money for these copies and as someone said earlier, the artist still has the copies himself. This rules out piracy and theft. But when these old white balding men who are left in charge of our system see something foreign like the internets, they seem to want to kill it.

The incredible benefits of the internet and social media is something that even Gene Roddenberry could not have envisioned. Even right now we can't imagine the possibilities of this incredible anarchical web.

No one should ever become a billionaire period, and certainly not from creating one song like "All You Need is Love". It's a great song, but why should someone make millions and then leave the song to someone else who then makes millions from a song. Come on. It's just a song.

And I think there is something wrong when a writer, like J.K. Rowling, writes some great juvenile fiction and becomes a billionaire. How do you justify this in comparison to great teachers, great public speakers, great nurses, doctors, scientists? It is not justifiable- unless you have a corporate system that is absolutely fine tuned and well oiled to steal money from an unsuspecting public. These are the narcissistic pirates, the media manipulators, the back room scammers, the criminal elite holding regular folk hostage to movies, popcorn and dvds.

Museums are full of art because people want the public to be able to see the art. Libraries are full of books because artists want people to read their books.The only problem is finding a new system where there is incredible ease of access and incredible ease of directing a small amount of money to those works of art. The system will change for the better, not because of old white balding men, but in spite of them.

Chris Lewis says

Hi Jonathan, excellent article. Could not agree more. To demonstrate, have bought your latest album. Fab so far!

Dan C. says

I agree with this entire post! Finally, someone to put all my thoughts into writing... Hey! Those were MY thoughts!! :P

But really, this clears up a lot of things. I think it's awesome that someone would come up to you after a show and hand you 20$ to make up for stealing your music.

If a person is a good entertainer, they will make money. A lot of it. This whole situation reminds me of that South Park episode that talked about piracy. This ghost was bringing one of the kids to all these celerity's houses, and explaining why they were so sad. Turns out, because of piracy, these artists could only afford 2 hummers instead of 3. LOL!

The world has bigger issues to deal with right now. Unemployment is one of them. If this bill were to pass, it would only increase unemployment.

I could go on for days, but I don't even plan on coming back to check and see if someone responded. Haha, just wanted to say thanks!

Derp. says

@Tyler There are certainly cases where the publisher gain music sales because of piracy and the viral marketing that is happening, but I think, with games, not so much. Your argument where you say you use the pirated version as a demo, and buy it later, it is just BS. Why would someone pay 60$/€ for a game that they have already played and is just going to sit and collect dust on their shelf? It sounds, to me as a stupid excuse to pirate the game. Unless you can prove via a Steam profile link that you've bought games for like 500$+, you're just talking out of your ass.
I think that the viral marketing that I mentioned earlier would just get more people to download the same game, illegally, since you can help your friend out by seeding for him. Sure, they generate a few sales without the publisher having to pay for advertising, but more often than not, it just leads to more piracy.
As an example of the argument that I just made, I would like to a link an article from IGN, that was written a couple months ago regarding the number of times The Witcher 2 has been pirated (and sold).
(I'm not quite sure if links are allowed or not, but this is actually a perfect example also how piracy hurts the developers, not music related, but whatever the case, here is a link:)
The numbers are just a rough estimate, but they give you a pretty good idea how much it has been downloaded. Piracy can hurt games dev companies, they can get fired from the publisher because the game doesn't make enough revenue, or if they are independant, they'd just dissolve.

As mentioned in your article, I think that victimless piracy is one of the few justifyable ways of pirating content, most of other things are just complete bullshit.

Mathilde says

In all seriousness, I only bought all of your albums after first pirating one.. I even recorded a bootleg live copy of "future now" for my own pleasure.. I'm not sharing >:D

Andy says

I wonder where this fits in the whole copyright issue?

Couple this with SOPA/PIPA and whats left for even an honest artist?

Fengjuan says

@Omnifarious Extremely well put. It's a damn shame that no congress-critter would read it unless it was wrapped in $1000 bills!

Mathilde says

Oh right. This is pretty relevant to anyone in the music industry.

3-D says

America has spent the past ~20 years living in a fantasy world where we can be "the idea guy" for the world for the rest of our lives, selling our information for money but not making actual things. Selling them to countries that make actual things instead of just ideas for more money than actual things cost. Other countries will just obey our laws and pay for our ideas when they could get them for free!

Let's be clear about that fantasy: it's over. It ended with the advent of widespread internet accessibility. It's the very simple economics of supply vs. demand determining price. If supply is limited, and demand is high, the price is high. If supply is high, and demand is high, the price is lower. If supply is infinite... it doesn't matter how high demand goes, the price is zero.

The internet pushes the supply of information to very near infinite. Economics 101 tells you this drops the price to near zero. The "information economy" is a fantasy. Period. WIPO, SOPA, PIPA, DMCA, RIAA, MPAA, ESA, DRM... this alphabet soup of "IP" players just consists of desperate attempts to create artificial shortage of information and drive up price. They have failed. They will continue to fail.

If you can make money on information for now be it music, movies, patents, or what have you, good for you. I still pay for stuff from great musicians like Jonathan as well. Be aware though that the days of making money on information will end, and find ways to use your information to promote your actual services and physical products. The information itself will become worthless. The only thing that will matter is what kind of services and products you can offer some one through your use of those ideas.

BartCo says

I'm still educating myself on the issues of SOPA/PIPA, but I can say with certainty - Artificial Heart is an excellent album. I'm glad I purchased it from iTunes.

Matt says

I would like to believe humans as a species will always be willing to shell out a few bucks for art involving monkeys and robots.

Joel says

"People have paid for art throughout much of human history – most artists worked on commission or had patrons." - M.P.

Yes, people have paid for art throughout much of human history. I'd like to point out though, that artists of the 15th century - as in for example Leonardo da Vinci - were actually considered to be more like craftsmen - like builders and bakers etc. They got paid for providing customers with art that was created according to specifications of their clients. Of course they were true artists and would have created (and indeed, did create) pieces just for their own satisfaction, but the truth is that for example "The Last Supper" by Leonardo would most likely have never come to be if the church Santa Maria della Grazie wouldn't have approached him and voiced a specific order. Art wasn't put on shop display for everyone to browse through as they do today. It was more intimate.

As for SOPA/PIPA, it's sad and disturbing how in today's (mostly) democratic and scientific world order we have to see such fiddling with human rights without any real dialogue between the governments and the people and without any real statistics or hard evidence.

That being said, we have clearly forgotten that it's not the government that makes a society, it's us - the people. All we have to do is combine our voices and make us heard. All the laws that they pass get passed because we let them. Simple as that.

Sergio says

"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan."

This pretty much nails it.

A lot of people who pirate anime (fan subs) do it because a lot of series never make it out of Japan. This was a bigger problem until more recently with several online sites now licensing series to stream in the US and other countries. Unfortunately, there are still series that for some reason are never licensed. These end up being hosted on sites such as MegaUpload's own MegaVideo site and others.

No doubt there are still those who would continue pirating shows regardless. But there are also people like myself who happily subscribe and pay for these sites to continue licensing shows from Japan.

Telsak says

Great read and it's really encouraging to see a content creator (getting sick of that term already, thanks old media!) actually being able to see the difference between the people that copy on the internet. There are the people you could classify as actual thieves, in that they are taking someone's work and selling it off as the original thing - and then there are the people that copy/download for personal use. Incidentally, the copying group are also usually big consumers of said media and more likely to explore the massive p2p networks and find new and exciting music, shows and movies and quite possibly will end up buying some actual non-copied versions of the works.

The fact that the media studios of old are being left behind in the amount of new content that is being produced by the world's internet users, US - is their biggest fear and problem.
In a world where a simple video of a cat running scared into a mirror wall will go viral and get millions upon millions of unique visitors there is no room for the megacorporation to own and control the content. We humans have always depended on sharing ideas, art, culture, practices and skills. This is how we are wired! We watch what others do and then we copy them, clumsily at first but we copy them nonetheless.

In closing, since the media networks are always so excited about doing reboots of old franchices/movies, how about they reboot themselves and enter into the age of the Internet with the rest of us. The Internet is so important, so mindboggling and so awesome. It quite literally is the single most crucial invention in human history. And you know what? They have a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of the betterment of mankind. All they have to do .. is want it.

Because either they travel with us into the amazing future of free knowledge and thought for all, or we'll leave their broken corporate shells behind. It's their choice.

Relevant additional links:
TED talk on SOPA -

Frumpy Jones says

@joco - For the love of Pete, your blog needs a share button. Making me have to copy/paste this to all my SN outlets is a pain in the butt...

Either that or stop posting INCREDIBLY ROBUST BLOGS that I wish to share with my little world...

Henrik says

I think actually the world economy would benefit by removing the legal barriers to selling digital content in other countries.

If you're European and like Hollywood movies, you have to wait until the bigwigs over there decide, we can watch the movie. As a result, movies are recorded off cinema screens and made as bootlegs.

Sony shut down a game export company, Lik-Sang, selling Japanese-only games to European customers through a law-suit. As a result, fewer games were sold. Thanks, Sony.

The iTunes Store took a long time to get to my country and still is unavailable in many countries. The barrier is all sorts of legal crap that makes some music only available in some countries.

Just remove all that crap! Make everything available for purchase to anyone, everywhere. Period. Everyone will benefit, artists and consumers.

Well, maybe not the lawyers. They will be out of a job.

Stacie says

I'd like to point out that I have bought future albums based on the fact that I could try (and perhaps love) tracks or albums that artists have allowed me to listen to (legally, by making it easy). Sometimes the payoff comes right away (wow! I like this and want to support this album), and other times it makes me into a fan who buys the next thing.

Because I found your music on the internet and on then your site, I enjoyed what you offered at the time and bought an Everything package (a couple of years after, so what 9 or ten albums worth at the time) when I was ready, and your purchase process was easy! I was also able to SHARE your music/links, and some of those crazy youtube videos with people who have become fans and buy from you on their own. Oh right, and some of us came out to see your shows when you came through town.

I recently bought Saul Williams latest album 'Volcanic Sunlight,' because he offered 'Niggy Tardust' for free (!)
But, more than getting to know both a musician/poet, and a style I hadn't been introduced to, I shared that discovery with friends, some of who are now tuned in to SW now. (and who would have thought that middle-aged midwest women would be groovin on poetry and rhyme? )

We want to pay for the good things, but how can we learn what those are?

harry tuttle says

Monkeys and robots will one day write their own songs and sell them to squirrels for hazel nuts and stuff.
There will be monkey robot bands and the humans must obey the squirrels. Only then will there be peace.

rav says

Just wanted to say that I've enjoyed hearing your music in the past, but never got around to even listening to an entire album of yours. I loved what you did with Portal, but didn't even borrow the cds of yours my brother owns.
Thanks for the link to Amazon. Because you made it so easy, I just purchased 2 of your albums. You make great art and I hope more people read what you've written here!

John N. says

People in authority struggle sometimes with a simple concept. It's laughable to you and me, but true nonetheless that they do not grasp this simple fact:

Criminals do not obey the law.

The people primarily hurt by anti-piracy measures are the innocent, whom this kind and type of legislation criminalizes in it's struggle to make people act counter to their nature. The nature of the entertainment industry is such that it relies on scarcity to breed demand. If people can use the internet to entertain themselves, and do it for free or less than they are being charged then what has happened to their business model?

Azrael says

Part of what you're getting at is something Robert Heinlen noticed way back when...

“There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”

The media industries in this country have fought just about every single technological innovation in the last 100 years. From Radio to new recording mediums like the VCR. They would rather buy legislation than actually adapt and reformulate their business model...

This and almost every "big player" industry in this nation speaks from both sides of their mouth, with a forked tongue. They feel taxing corporations is anti capitalism out of one side of their mouth, and then ask that their old outdated business models be propped up with government action, "to save jobs".

But the fact of the matter is actually a bit more disturbing, and simple: we are a nation of people who seem to react when a nasty bit like SOPA or PIPA (or the ACTA) come to the floor of the Senate or the House.

Democracy works best when you work it proactively, and often. You must participate for it to work, and We, The People...have been neglecting it for the last 35 years.

Rip Rowan says

Great essay.

If I come in your house without your permission, and don't break or steal anything, is that OK since you haven't been "damaged?" I think most people would agree, it's still trespass, and they would feel violated.

What if I take something from you without your permission, and give it back before you notice? No damage, right? I think most people would agree, it's still theft, and feel violated.

Damages aren't what makes something bad. Damages are simply the typical outcome of doing bad things.

Just because you cannot prove damages doesn't lessen the violation of taking something that I created without my permission and making money by giving it away to other people - and more insultingly, without paying me anything - which is what Megaupload was doing.

Allecia says

While I dont know much about you (sorry! That is going to be recified, I promise!) my husband and most of my friends are big fans.

I LOVE your post! During this whole SOPA/PIPA thing, I kept telling my husband EXACTLY one of the things that you have posted,
" ...but for most of human history people have NOT paid for art. I don’t want this to happen again, and I would be very sad if this came to pass, but it’s not up to me to decide."
I agree with you that it is a wonderful thing that artists are getting paid to do what they love. But it certainly hasn't always been that way!

I am happy to buy content. Which brings home another of your VERY VALID points. It needs to be easier to get. When I can go on Amazon (sorry but I HATE iTunes. If I have a song, I want to be able to listen to in anywhere I am at, not tied to ONE player) and get the various songs I like, that encourages me to buy. When I can't, then in all likelihood I wont get the song. I won't go pirate it, I will just do without. (I won't mention the early Napster years, I was young & dumb & didn't really understand at the time. Plus over 90% of the music I got was me looking on my vinyl records to get the mp3's of my favorite songs! lol)

Thank you very much, this is an awesome post and I am glad to have found you on twitter!

foljs says

"""So if you can stand me sounding a little crazy, listen: where is the proof that piracy causes economic harm to anyone?"""

Well, I, for one, have downloaded illegally albums that I would have bought if they weren't available online pirated.

Know lots of people that do the same.

We must be hiding our heads in the sand if we think being able to get stuff online for free hasn't tempted people that otherwise they would have bought the CD.

We must also be hiding our heads in the sand if we believe that people, especially < 20, don't immediately search for torrents and DDLs of new albums they like, without even thinking of buying them, whereas 20 years ago the same demographic would have bought 10-20 CDs a year at least.

Max says

I don't think modern instrumentation is capable of measuring how much I agree. Well done, sir.

I definitely agree about piracy being, among other things and perhaps most of all, a convenience problem. As technology advances and the means of distribution become easier and cheaper to use, I think (I hope?) we'll see a movement towards people skipping the so-called "middlemen" and distributing their own content on the Web, as you have done.

Speaking of which, I'd like to thank you for providing your content online, free of DRM, and making it as easy to buy as is humanly possible. I think you have the right idea, which is why I bought all of your albums and will continue to do so the foreseeable future. I only hope more artists and content producers follow in your steps.

Jeremy Burke says

JoCo: if I could love you and agree with you more I would but I fear it would be creepy and no one wants creepy. I go out of my way to never steal someones work that I can pay for in some legal way. I am constantly disappointed that I am treated like a thief for wanting things to be convenient. Also let us not forget the example of Apple one of the most profitable companies on earth they put no copy protection on there software and spend no money trying to stop Piracy. Further, they are constantly dragging other groups (kicking and Screaming) into making their content more convenient to the consumer. If movies were as easy to obtain as music is in iTunes I would own many millions of movies.

A. L. Stray says

I remember, I first came in contact with the wonder that is the Jonathan Coulton experience when someone linked me a machinima that was based around Skullcrusher Mountain. Fell in love with the song, then the style in general, and then I bought the albums.

As such, I've personally found that if I get a preview of something, and like it, I'm going to buy it. If I dislike the preview, I might check out later stuff and eventually buy it. If I buy something blindly and dislike it, there's a huge chance I'm not going to waste my time/money on it in the future.

Keith says

This seems like a catch 22, because artist want people to listen, watch, or read the stuff they work on and by cutting out these channels sure it helps out stop some of the illegal activity but it also keeps some people from finding your stuff. My friend would make 3 hour music sets and post it on MegaUpload cause it was the only database he could use to share his music. Now they're gone. There is greed on both sides of the line, greed for free entertainment and greed for profitability.

karaksindru says

I don't remember the last time I bought an album in a store. This is not to say I have not acquired new music or even bought new albums. Most of my spending money at Steam Con went to musicians, and even after the con I looked a few artists up and listened to entire albums streaming for free from their bandcamp sites. In almost all cases this resulted in me then buying digital albums through bandcamp, a hideously easy process.

Ancel says

Back in my day , we made cassette recordings of friends albums all the time!
I'd say, over half my music was acquired that way. The world did not end as a result and people kept making money!

Noodlestein says

When MU went down, I was upset simply because I had my own stuff uploaded there to make sure if my computer went down, I could access it/recover it.

Example: I used to play World of Warcraft, Screenshots since '06, nearly 15gb's of that on their site because my computer could use that space for other things at times.... which is now all gone unless somehow Megaupload goes live again.

While I don't endorse piracy, I hate how the things they want to do are effecting people who weren't using the service for anything dishonest.
Also as far as I know MU was constantly taking down infringing content that people were uploading to their site.

br says

Look, say what you want, but Harry Tuttle is right.

Vincent Pritchard says

This is in response ro Rip Rowan's post.

What you make is an agreeable argument, should it be found that your metaphor is actually valid. What the piracy industry really is like is something more along these lines:

You paint a landscape, which takes you tons of effort and time. You put this landscape /in a public place/ and offer to sell copies of it. Someone comes up and takes a picture of it. They have not even touched your painting. They did not even use camera flash, so your pigments are not in the slightest damaged. For all purposes to you, the artist, who cannot watch his content like a hawk all the time, nothing whatsoever happened.

If you make something available for people to buy, it is not the same as leaving it in your house. People are not required to trespass when they pirate something, nor are they required to break any rules to find the thing they seek. By saying "You may buy this thing," you, as the content creator, must make the decision to either keep it in your house where it would be hard to steal anyway, which is the equivalent of never releasing content onto the internet, or putting it in a museum where people can see it, the internet.

You lost a sale when that person took a picture. A "Sale" is not a tangible or even realisable thing until it happens, and as I am sure any person with a reasonable mind to speak will agree, one cannot lose something one has never had in the first place.

Matt says

"Obviously none of us knows the complete truth, but I'm guessing that the people who ran MegaUpload were knowingly profiting from the unauthorized download of other people's intellectual property (including mine). Probably they were making a lot of money that way. "

Actually, no, not accurate.

What you may think is unauthorized downloads is actually probably not even megaupload's responsibility? Are you going to blame the tool for how it's used? That is horribly, horribly ignorant. It has been proven through the legal system that a website is not responsible for what the users do with it - even if they profit, because they simply profit from the site being used, not automagically because "there was infringement".

Derplock says

To be blunt: I am broke-ass. And I don't think this means I should not get to enjoy art.

So when I can't afford to see a movie, I might pirate it. So I can see it. Nine times out of ten, any movie I want to spend an hour downloading I eventually buy when it's out on DVD and on sale at Target or on Amazon. If I ever do go to the movies, in a real live legal cinema, it's for something I know I am going to enjoy (Harry Potter, Pixar films, anything Robert Downey Jr does/is naked in). So, Big Time Movie Execs, if you want me to spend money I don't have to go see your movies in theatres, legally, make better movies. Preferably with RDJ. Naked.

Same goes for music. I'm not sure I'm going to want to buy an entire album. I'll pirate it first. Give it a solid listen. If I like it, then I will trot my happy ass over to iTunes and lay down real dough for it. But only if it's worth the money that, again, I really don't have. I did that with your stuff, JoCo. I wasn't sure about it, so I stole it, listened to it, and liked it. So I bought it. And now I'm gonna go see you in Santa Cruz. Hurray!

So, what I'm saying is, yeah, I pirate stuff. I do it a lot. But eventually everyone gets my money. But only if they've earned it. I wouldn't buy shoes without making sure they fit.

Make good stuff, get more money. The end.

Cap'n Lee says

the invasion of your private property would be considered a damage in your first example, when talking about large publishers it is fine to refer to damages purely as financial as by nature that is how it's value is calculated. That isn't the case for individuals.

As for your second I cannot find it in me to feel violated in a situation that you describe under the assumption that it cost me nothing and the value of what was taken and retuned has not decreased because of it's additional use.
If I were to get back to the office and somebody told me that they'd borrowed my tape-measure and returned it, I would not feel betrayed or violated, I don't even understand why somebody would.

It isn't about proving damages as much as it is about understanding the market. Damage claims are made based on a number of assumptions, if we are to progress, you need to challenge these assumptions. As Jonathan pointed out, if we assume that every illicit download is a lost sale and that the future worth of the customer is $0 then we can reach a damage value of $50million however neither of these assumptions are correct.

If you cannot prove damages, how can you be sure damages are occurring?

Bob Foster says

Somewhat off-topic, but you had a link to your new CD so I followed it to Amazon, where I could buy the MP3 version for $6.99. Very fair price, but I'm at work so just for yuks I checked the Apple store. $9.99 for the same CD. At first I thought, well that's Apple's 30%. But then it dawned on me that Amazon probably takes a cut, as well. So I'm sitting here, unfulfilled. I would have happily bought it from Amazon for $9.99, but now I've got decision paralysis! To help unlock me, perhaps you could explain why the price difference? Which way do I buy that makes you more money?

Ed says

Wait a sec. I have a copy of Artificial Heart (and yes, it's freakin' awesome), and I'm pretty sure there's a prominent Creative Commons logo on the back. So if I were to download a copy that someone else had uploaded under the terms of the CC license, I wouldn't be doing anything illegal at all, would I?

Ziti says

I can't afford a Ferrari so I'll just go steal one. Is this how it works?

Barry says

Jonathan --

First and foremost, you rock. This is awesome, which is no less than I've come to expect from you.

I've got a lot of your music. Most of it I've downloaded (freely and legally) from your website. (I've also randomly sent you paypal cash, unsolicited -- though admittedly, not much.) I've also re-bought some of these songs when I've purchased albums of yours through eMusic, even though I already had many of the songs (from free, legal downloads). Had I not been three weeks into being laid off when I saw you in Nashville last March (or was it April?), I would have forked over $50 for a thumb drive (now out of stock at Topatco), even though I already possess 70-80% of what's on it. I don't mind paying for good material.

When Shatner's "Has Been" album came out, I downloaded it (illegally), found that it was amazingly awesome (unlike "Transformed Man," or the recent "Finding Major Tom," which were both amazingly painful), and promptly bought the CD. On the same order, I purchased Weird Al's "Poodle Hat," after illegally downloading it and being awe-struck by the Zappa tribute, "Genius in France." I've purchased Eminem CDs (and Dido CDs) after being introduced to both artists by a friend who had burned an illegal copy of the Marshall Mathers album that included the song "Stan." The list goes on.

Are there things in my collection that fall into the category of "black market" or "grey market" or "illegal"? I decline to answer that based on the notion that the answer might possibly be incriminating. If it is true that such songs exist in my collection (and I'm not saying it is...), would they be in my collection if I had to pay for them? Nope. So, the net result here is, I have purchased albums that I wouldn't have even considered buying based on the fact that I had an opportunity (albeit an illegal opportunity) to hear them first, and I can't think of any music I have in my collection that I would have bought but didn't because it was available illegally.

I doubt I'm alone in this.

Kodak, an American institution, is filing for bankruptcy, because they didn't adapt in the right directions as the times changed. If they followed the RIAA and MPAA in their actions, they would be lobbying Congress to get digital cameras outlawed.

The music and movie industries can keep marketing their buggy whips all they want, but they're going to kill themselves doing it. I only hope they stop using them to whip us as they go.

Thanks again for everything, dude!

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it." It's that last thing that doesn't seem to be working anymore. All around my hometown, record stores are closing down. Where can I go to buy records? I don't want to buy mp3 files, I want records, and it's getting increasingly difficult. Why are the record stores closing down? I don't know, I can only guess it's because too many people prefer to download music, legally or illegally.

So, some people in this thread think it's a big inconvenience to leave the house to buy things. But you are overlooking something. A good record store has a value in itself. It's a pleasant experience to go there and talk to knowledgeable people about music. It's a lot more fun than sitting alone by your computer at home. And, believe it or not, it's actually a good thing to get out of the house once in a while.

Although I agree with Chris - "If you’re good, people ARE gonna buy your stuff" - you have to admit that there is a problem when people WANT to buy your stuff, but can't.

SRDownie says

@Ziti If you fabricate an exact copy of a Ferrari, leaving the original on the hard drive ..., er driveway where you found it, go ahead! After all, you paid for the electrons from which it is made.

Ian says


If stealing that Ferrari deprived no one else of their Ferarri, it becomes a more interesting question. In the near term, society is unquestionably better off (We all have Ferarris now!), but in the long term we might be worse off because why bother making Ferarris if everyone is just going to steal one?

J Clements says

I am not an independently wealthy artist. I depend on people and institutions paying for my work. If they don't pay I have to stop creating. No more art. Is that what people want? Art created only by the rich?

DHRaugh says

Here's a question I'd like to see an answer to:

If you are an artist of any sort (musician, graphic, actor, whatever) why would you NOT want your work to get to as many people as possible?

Monetary considerations aside, I mean. Yes, you'd prefer to get paid and I'd prefer that you did, but as folks have stated and restated each bit of exposure can lead to more sales, which can lead to more exposure, which can lead to more sales... It's a vicious cycle.

I'm one of those poor innocent fools who was using MegaUpload for legitimate purposes, using it to send large files I created to advertisers for my company when their own friggin' FTP sites wouldn't work. So MegaUpload being shut down is going to be a minor but sharp pain in the ass. It would never have occurred to me to try uploading or downloading videos or music through them.

Not saying I've never used a torrent site or, for that matter, that I've never uploaded anything to share on the internet. In the cases of stuff I've uploaded, it was 1) out of print; 2) not available in the US or, in a few cases, both. But there were actors in them that I liked and I wanted more people to see those actors so that there would be more demand for them.

I've downloaded an awful lot of video over the years. I tend to use the internet as my DVR instead of taping TV shows. I don't, as a rule, download movies unless it's something rare that I can't get from a legitimate source. Most of the TV shows I download I do eventually purchase on DVD when/if they become available. There are a lot of things I've downloaded (and subsequently purchased) that I might never have even heard of without going to a torrent site.

I tend not to download music illegally because I believe in supporting musicians more than I do movie studios. (I actually did pay for JoCo's music when I downloaded it, but I was introduced to his stuff on a mix CD a friend gave to me.) On the two occasions I have, I had already purchased the CD but was stuck in the two-week waiting period between ordering the disk and having it get shipped to the US from England.

On the whole, I'd say artists have made MORE money out of me due to internet piracy rather than less.

DataVortex says

Your music is good. It's easy to buy. I bought it. I never for a moment considered stealing it. So it shall be for all who meet those two criteria. It really is that simple.

Cap'n Lee says

@J Clements
Did you read the article? Nobody so far in either the article or the comments section has stated that we should not be paying for art. I'm confused as to what you have said has to do with the discussion.

RNR says

Thanks for the heads-up on Marketplace on your music.

I've grabbed all (I think) your music now. But I'll keep checking and get the rest if I've missed any.

I've put (most of) it up uncredited on my blog where I already get a few hundred dollars a month ad revenue now for music I discover and give away.

Sorry not to credit you but I have to do that to keep them on my site downloading and listening. If not they'd just come here.

But from your interview I know you're all for stealing music, which is cool. Cause it's working great for me so far.

SRDownie says

@J Clements Nobody said anything about Life being fair here. JoCo was lucky enough to hang out at Yale with an appreciative crowd and seems to have had lots of moral and financial support along the way. On the other hand, my Dad was a brilliant musician who was born in WaKeeney, KS (not exactly a media hub) and started playing professionally at 12 years old. JoCo hit the jackpot while my Dad played and worked (as a music store owner, for instance) and played and worked in Kansas seven days a week until he decided that health benefits and the occasional day off would be nice. So he dropped music and worked as a government investigator (EEOC). At the end of the day, whether or not the support pieces come together for you is a roll of the dice.

Historically, it takes money to create art. Haydn had the Esterházy family. JoCo has the moneyed Geek contingent. (If you don't believe me, check out their numerous what-am-I-going-to-buy-on-the-cruise discussions in JoCo's forums.) Just because that is historically the case doesn't guarantee that's the way it will be forevermore. But it does mean that if you want to change the way the arts are supported, you better get active now.

Diana Mota says

Megaupload have a big "market" in Latin America, and in my country which happens to be US neighbor: Mexico. Why is that? Easy and simple, we bought iPod nearly 6 years before iTunes was available in Mx. Many of us did wanted to pay for the big hit we heard on radio, but we can't. But a friend of mine bought the CD, so he passed it along, and then P2P was a huge success. What about tv series? mexican tv, even paid tv, showed past seasons, so it was easier for someone on the boarder to cross, bought the DVD's and then passed to friends. Later this became a huge industry in Mx, you could walk in the street, or ride in the subway and it was everywhere. How many people bought pirate merch just because to get the latest stuff? Don't know. But there's also a lot of people that can't afford a movie ticket, which cost a full day salary( for just one person). So they bought pirate movies, take them to home and watched it with all the family.

The corporations say that there are millions of dollars lost by piracy, I think it's a misleading sentence. Because is not the same "didn't get to earn" than "invest and then loose". The first is what is happening with the entertainment industry, the later what happend to all those people loosing their savings by insurance and bankers fraud. I also have the notion that (at least musicians) earn the big number by presentations, tours,and concerts, not by the cents they recieve for each sold CD.

Finally doesn't all those products sold by entertainment industry are part in these new and global culture we ALL are building, so does a human been doesn't have the right to enjoy, integrate and create culture just because they can't afford it?? I think it's even ( or should be) in the Human Rights.

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@Cap'n Lee:
People in this thread seem to be good-hearted; they want to pay for the music they like, eventually, if they get the chance. The problem is that there is a vast amount of people who are not that nice. They rather have everything for free, and the idea of paying for what they consume never cross their minds. These people are the problem - perhaps even an increasing problem. Although I don't know that for a fact. But I would guess so, considering the generation growing up with everything available for free.

HB says

There's no reason to buy anything anymore. No one cares about artists getting paid. Not even other artists, like Jonathan Coulton.

I mean if a guy like him goes up on Marketplace and cheers piracy, the screw it. Art is done. It's toast. Except for wealthy hobbyists. And we know how good most of them are.

HB says

I love how all you people try to justify theft on "convenience" terms.


Tynach says

Has anyone ever considered simply letting the media companies have their way? I'm quite sure they'd fail to survive if they got what they want (like whiny kids demanding to only eat chocolate), and eventually they'd collapse under the weight.

It would be absolutely horrible for us consumers, and we'd have to go through some very dark times. It would probably be years of dark times as well. But hey, at least that'd mean they die a horrible, painful death, instead of the quick death of, like, a hostile takeover, or the perpetually grumpy, unhappy state they're in as we refuse to give them chocolate.

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ Diana Mota:
"Many of us did wanted to pay for the big hit we heard on radio, but we can’t."
Exactly. Now imagine if there had been a few cosy record stores where you live, where you could buy that big hit. Would you have bought it there?

"I also have the notion that (at least musicians) earn the big number by presentations, tours,and concerts, not by the cents they recieve for each sold CD."
That is probably true. Which means, an album like Sgt Pepper's would be impossible today, without endless tours to promote it. If you are a musician who prefers to work in the studio rather than play live all the time, you're screwed.

AP says


Do you think Jonathan is writing this post from a cardboard box?
If what you said was true, then why are indie game/music/movie industry booming?
If no one is buying anything then why are so many people making money by making their products widely available and at a reasonable price point?
If everyone is pirating everything then who the hell is buying Jonathan's music? His mom?
I seriously doubt it's just his mother purchasing all his albums to make him feel good.

SRDownie says

@HB I think you need to read a few more of these posts.

@Tynach The media companies *have* had their way. Remember CDs? When they first appeared, consumers were shocked by the high price tag. The media companies said not to worry. Once the CD-manufacturing machinery was plentiful, they said, prices on CDs would drop back down to LP-price levels. Alas, CD prices never dropped and the media companies survived quite nicely!

HB says


"If what you said was true, then why are indie game/music/movie industry booming?"

I don't know what planet you live on, but on earth the music and movie industries are doing terribly.

Jerimiah Hootman says

Let me say first, the first time I ever heard of you was from The Skullcrusher Mountain video that was put on Youtube. After that I was like OK catchy song but still wasn't sure so I searched you music and since I can't stand Itunes it was through some MP3 site. I listened to a few and then said yep I like this music. I went to the local music store and bought 3 albums within a week of that. I have also boughten all your songs on RBN.

I say that to say this. I totally agree with your write up here. I would never have heard of you if not for those venues and you would not have me as a follower. Sure you have more than enough to make up for that but people continuously saying piracy costs soo much. I personally know that it made you money and a new fan. The same can be said about movies if I did get one online I wasnt planning to go see it anyway. There have been a few I have watched and said wow that was actually good and decided to go to the movie in the theater or made sure I got the DVD as soon as it came out.

Everything costs money and that does not really come the easiest. If all my money was spent for that 8.50 ticket for a movie each and every time. I wouldn't have any left. So voice out the movies very dear to my heart and I go and see them in all there glory and the ones that i had no intention of you didn't lose money on anyway.

One last thing to a post on here as well that a do agree with as well to an extent. Where they said well what if I broke into your house but didnt steal anything. Well the thing is there you steal broke in. That is here nor there though. They are to different extremes in my eyes. That is like comparing spanking a child for acting up to murder. If I view something and decide to buy based on that viewing or listening then I have not stolen anything. When you go to Sam's Club every weekend at the same time roughly they have samples of certain things and everyone goes around trying them. If you don't buy that product are you stealing? No you sampled and either liked or didn't like and reacted accordingly. The same thing is said for piracy in my eyes. And finally no matter what is implemented there will just be another way around that. It may take time but it will happen. Leave it where it is and find ways of coping with it such as many artists have.

SRDownie says

@HB "total gross revenues and box office receipts have doubled in the last 15 years. Grosses went from $52.8 billion in 1995 to $104.4 billion in 2009, while box office receipts went from $5.3 billion in 1995 to $10.6 billion in 2010." <a href=""Link

Doszak says

I will just clap. Everything's been said. By you and many like you. Times change, business changes (not too long ago people bought horses. HORSES, you have to, like, feed'em and all, but people bought them, until motorized cars showed up. And what did companies do? Stop selling horses, start selling cars. EASY!).

Yet there's people who doesn't want to see this. They have to LEAVE their jobs sometime, don't they? Let's wait.

Jaytee says

The cassette tape didn't kill the music industry. The VCR didn't kill the movie industry. The RIAA and others won't lose as much money as they claim they will in the digital age of the Internet. I have hundreds of legal DVDs and several boxes of legal music CDs all bought legally. My main objection to SOPA and PIPA is that it make the U.S federal government the Internet "content filter" and I don't like someone else deciding what I can or cannot see or read.

Cap'n Lee says

@Gervaise My point is that this is getting incredibly off-topic and is turning into what every topic regarding piracy ends up being. Since we are hurtling off-topic anyway though...

"They rather have everything for free, and the idea of paying for what they consume never cross their minds."

Sounds to me like these people aren't going to pay anyway; I see no reason to try to gain their custom. It costs 6 to 7 times as much to gain a new customer as it does to maintain an existing one and these sound like even more of a challenge than usual from how you describe them, it sounds foolish to waste your time on these people.

RandyS says

A few points:

$2.00 for a TV show that was free yesterday is absurd. Watching it on legit sites with more commercials than live and no TiVo fast forward is even more absurd. Do they think we are fools?

There have been MANY instances (back in the Napster heyday) that I purchased a CD, concert ticket or something based on music I downloaded.

Why is 50,000 ppl listening to a song on an FM station where the artist makes $.05 (if that) better than 5 ppl downloading a bad recording off of MegaUpload?

Does this mean if I don't listen to tracks on CDs that I have purchased that I can get my money back?

I like Jonathan's point about making money off of art being a recent phenomenon. After Michelangelo painted the Sistene Chapel and got paid for it, should he get a royalty every time someone looks at the ceiling? What about his heirs after he died? (See Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Dr. Martin Luther King.) Who made heirs artists?

What about the ever-extended copyrights afforded to Disney when they should have expired (by law) many years ago? Talk about milking art.

This isn't black and white. It isn't even grey. It is just a muddy mess made muddier when politicians get involved.

Darren says

Two ways I've always looked at it; libraries and cover songs. Throughout the 20th century, anyone could go down to the bar with their garage band, and play the songs of any band they liked, in public, for profit. Legally. You look at jazz and blues musicians; playing and playing variations of covers is just a part of working within that tradition. But once you want to press/distribute those same songs, then licencing comes in.

And that's, again, the 20th century. No one has ever called bar bands pirates or IP thieves. You try doing that with any other medium... all of a sudden it's fan fiction, and depending on the copyright holder,the fans can land themselves in a lot of hot water. Why? What's the difference between my kid's school choir singing an (insert popular musician/group here) song, and my kid's drama group performing their own production of (insert popular movie/play here)? It's arbitrary.

I don't think libraries need to be explained. They establish a legal precedent, that the purchaser of a work can share/loan out/resell a work with no permission/approval from the original producer or copyright holder.

SRDownie says

@Darren Actually, the bar has to pay ASCAP or BMI a music-license fee if bands are covering tunes they did not have the rights to. ASCAP or BMI can bust a joint if they know non-licensed music is being performed there by live bands.

Alyssa says

I got into a band because I downloaded one of their songs.

I think it was a legal download, so it wasn't actually pirating - but that just goes to show the efficacy of that tactic. It started with getting a song for free - it ended with me buying just about all of their albums, a shirt, and tickets to two of their concerts.

That song I downloaded wasn't a "missed sale". It directly led to me giving that band money.

(Death Cab for Cutie, if you're curious. The song I downloaded is still my favorite of theirs.)

You see this a fair bit in the Vocaloid fandom over in Japan, too. It's an enormous userbase just endlessly churning out great music, for free, and then some of those people put together albums and sell them. I've personally paid for albums I could have found elsewhere online for free, because they were worth it. And, yes, easy to buy.

What? says

Really? So you assume that the vast majority of files hosted on MegaUpload were pirate files, even though you have no way of justifying that argument? Shut the fuck up, shill.

phenomm says


'I have no idea what the ratio was, and probably it would be impossible to figure that out with any certainty, but let's *stipulate* that it was a very large percentage of illegal activity, and only a very tiny percentage of the users were there for anything other than downloading content that they didn't buy...'

Read closer, bud -- he's not assuming that most of the files on MegaUpload were pirate files. He's simply stating that, for the sake of argument, let's *stipulate* that they may be. Try reading (and understanding) the entire article before deciding to be a troll, mmkay?

Neil says

What I've observed is that the average person has an amount they're willing to spend every week/month/year on entertainment, and gaining or losing access to pirated entertainment doesn't affect that number. My parents have Netflix and cable, and they love old movies. Last year I made the mistake of teaching them how to torrent, and they proceeded to download rips of tons and tons of classic movies (compared to me, their techno-wiz son who has maybe pirated a movie once or twice in the entire decade it's been possible to do so.) The end result? The still pay for cable and Netflix. They just watch more movies.
Conscious-less pirates are a tiny minority. I think the average, casual user only pirates as a supplement atop their regular diet of legally acquired content.

harpo787 says

Harry Tuttle: did you say there WILL BE monkey robot bands? I give you....the future (and a poor attempt at a link to an image)!!!

wtf says

where in the world do people come up with this stuff. Ever heard of guilty by association?

First off if your dumb enough to put "legal" files on a "illegal" service what makes you think its not going to be taken down?

Amazing....really amazing...

Jackson says

I don't see how the potential financial loss (which I think is significant, but that's beside the point) has anything to do with it. It's *my* art/book/music. I created it. I own it. I am willing to give it to the world for a fee. If you don't want to pay the fee, fine-- but that means you shouldn't get the art. To find a way to sneak around and get it anyway is theft of my time, creativity, energy, and, well, art.

As an artist, if you don't mind giving your work away for free, that is 1000% your choice-- but it's the artist's choice, not the internet's. There is a way to have both the internet AND protect artists' rights, and I'm the first to agree that SOPA and PIPA were not it, but I think taking down a site that deleted files that weren't highly accessed, monetarily rewarded members for uploading files that were highly accessed, and gave incentives to people for uploading duplicates of popular files-- was a good move. I just wish the next move would be an upswing of people respecting artists' rights and choices regarding how they want their work distributed.

Preston Maness says

Good article, Jonathan. I enjoyed reading it. Always nice to know that people have time for more than 140 characters :-)

Sikhswim says

Hi John. Huge fan here. Love the Code Monkey track. I caught the tail end of your NPR interview on marketplace -- glad you wrote up your thoughts here.

I don't know if you've covered this elsewhere on your blog -- but as an artist, did you ever do any experimenting with pricing versus apparent piracy? For example, did you ever price one of your first albums 'too high' -- and then you noticed more folks pirating your stuff, and then you brought the price down, and observed fewer pirates and more actual purchasers?

I guess what I'm going for is the notion that it's "too hard" to acquire content provided by some movie studios because it's not available digitally, for example. Does that friction translate directly into pricing as well, or are users completely price-insensitive when it comes to buying media online -- as long as it's there, they will buy it?

Anyway, the real question is, what uptick will you see in your music sales after being on NPR and making this blog post? ;)

Sikhswim says

Edit: Jon not "John". Again thanks for your great work, you are an inspiration!

N says

This is a great post. I have enjoyed your music for quite some time and, in fact, discovered it by pirating some of it after a friend recommended it. I thought it was great stuff so I bought all your tracks on rock band and then bought an album by you.

I love it when artists choose the crazy reality of the internet over the insane delusions of the media industry.

I like that position so much that I like to encourage it by increasing my support of the artist. I don't really know what your new album sounds like, but I'm going to skip pre-listening to some of the tracks and buy it right now, just because of this post.

Dylan Bennett says


As an artist, you certainly own your art. BUT (and this is what I think many artists and the companies who represent them do not understand as a fundamental reality) in today's world, with the Internet, if it's possible for your art to be turned into bits, you simply cannot control the ability for your art in its bit-form to be copied. You just can't. It's as effective as telling everyone at a museum to please forget about all the art they saw as they leave the building.

As soon as your art has been converted to bits, it immediately has infinite potential quantity. This has never been a reality in the history of art. Industries that have been built around the selling of art as a commodity with finite supply are suddenly being turned on their heads now that the same art has infinite supply when in digital form. Instead of just treating that as a constraint of the medium and dealing with it, they are trying to put the genie back in the bottle and pretend that bits can't be copied.

Some artists and the companies that represent them have just treated the "infinite supply" aspect as just another constraint of the medium and dealt with it. Those that have done this have seen success. I'm talking about people like Jonathon, Trent Reznor, Radiohead, Tim O'Reilly, and on and on.

The artists who aren't willing to face the reality of their art having "infinite supply" end up fighting a losing battle against reality. If you don't recognize "infinite supply" as a constraint of the medium, you'll fail. It's like watching a stone sculptor try to pretend that each chisel blow to his block of stone isn't permanent. Artists, of all people, should recognize that your best work is done when you truly understand your constraints.

televisionshow says

I write for a cable television show, but I don't have cable myself. So the only way I'm able to watch the final edit of the show is to search for illegal uploads online. And that's exactly what I do every week!

If the network would put the content online, with commercials, I would watch that. And I'd feel a lot less ridiculous.

Philip says

Sometimes it feels like congress is mad at my generation and their hippie internet niche. The world needs more scientists and fewer politicians.

Personally, I don't buy software or media that has DRM/anti-piracy measures integrated into it because I feel it's an infringement of my rights as a consumer and a slap to my integrity an a human being. It's like buying a car but the dealer keeps the keys so you don't lend it to anyone.

I'd rather pirate software than jump through the validation/authentication hoops that iTunes/EA-games/SOE users have to deal with. Not sure if any of you are familiar with the "Humble Indie Bundle" series of games running amok on the internet. Basically it's a deal where you pay whatever you want for games, and it has been wildly successful (millions of dollars of revenue). All the games are DRM free, too, so they're super easy to pirate. People are still buying though. Why?

Developers and artists that trust me-- they're the ones I want to support, so they get my money.

Sarah says

Totally agree with this, at least when it comes to television and movies. Louis C.K. was a perfect example. I delighted in giving him $5, no hassle and no contracts, for a download. It was my pleasure. I actually found joy in the act of paying for something so simply, without being overcharged or otherwise abused by a cable company, and having the option of purchasing something good, directly and easily. Seriously. I kid you not.

Music might be different, I don't know. The few folks I know in music have told me that they can't make money like they used to, but anti-piracy laws won't change anything. The world changed, and they can't change it back. I think that may have as much to do with making songs available for individual purchase as with piracy. One-hit wonders don't make such a killing anymore, when the jacked-up price is $1.29 and you don't have another track worth buying.

Not Jackson says

@Jackson: You say "It’s *my* art/book/music. I created it. I own it". Let's clarify that a bit, shall we? You can own tangible property, so you may own a painting, reprints of a painting, a physical copy of the book you wrote, or perhaps a copy of sheet music. If you sell a tangible copy of it to someone else, then they own it and you no longer do. That's it. That's the sum total of ownership you can claim. Copyright is not about ownership at all. Copyright is society generously giving you a temporary monopolistic right to generating and selling copies of the art you created. Society is most assuredly not granting you ownership of an intangible, because society recognizes no such concept. You wouldn't be creating art of any sort if countless members of our collective society had not shared their royalty free ideas, methods, and concepts with you. As an artist you would be worthless to society if we did not let you freely benefit from the art and science of the rest of us. For this reason society has always recognized that these intangibles should not and cannot be owned by anyone in particular but by mankind as a whole. Are you prepared to pay royalties for your use of the English language? How about those aesthetic sensibilities we taught you that allow you to create art that we might like? Perhaps you'd like to begin a monthly payment plan to cover your use of literary and cultural references that you've been using?

At best you can complain about violations of your temporary reproduction monopoly. You have no grounds for complaining about theft since nothing has been stolen. You have lost nothing but a claim of possible opportunity and there is no ethical, moral, or legal rule that grants you a right of opportunity, much less a successful opportunity. As an artist, try to make opportunity for yourself under the temporary monopoly we have granted you - if you don't like that, get out of the art business. We do not owe you a living as an artist.

"I own it". No, you most certainly do not, Jackson.

Jason says

Mr./Ms. Gervaise Hamster-Smith is conflating 'convenience' with 'piracy', as so many people are apt to do.

Record Stores are plummeting because the /vast majority/ of individuals prefer the convenience of chair/couch shopping and having something that can (relatively) easily be replaced, not to even talk about the immediacy of it.

I haven't bought music physically in years, except to support the artist I bought it from. In which I generally leave the shrink wrap on, store it somewhere, and go on about listening to the album in digital form that I've had for DAYS already.

There's a whole extra side of the debate that I don't really feel like typing into this 10 line high comment box, and it has to do with: The internet may kill your job, but it will also allow you to find a better one.

There are 'knowledgeable people' on the internet too. You can have near-physical conversations with them, or just read their reviews/other work. Hell, if they lose their job for the record store, and had a passion for music, they can turn around and put the internet to use as their new medium for releasing their music, or writing about music, or finding a company that works in one of those fields and work for them.

Losing your job does not mean you're out of work forever. Find something new, put your passion into use and find a way to make a living doing it.

It's not easy, nothing is. (Didn't I say I wasn't going to type up this story? Oh well.)

minimo says

Obviously, one of the biggest piracy complainers is Hollywood. In their business model, an illegally downloaded movie is one that they should have gotten money for. Well, what if most of the movies they turn out suck? People who are bored enough might watch a movie for free that they would never pay *any* money to watch. That's not a "lost sale."

What if they accidentally watch a movie that's good when they're bored? They'll tell their friends about it and some of those friends will watch it legally, maybe on Netflix. So what's the loser here? The movie that sucks! It's a loser anyway.

It's amazing the Downfall people had the parodies yanked from YouTube. Do you know how many people had ever heard of Downfall before those parodies? About two!

Rachel says

I youtube to listen to songs I haven't heard before, and I'll buy the song if I like the artist -and- their attitude. Lets face it, some of their attitudes suck.

I used megaupload to catch shows that had literally aired the night before. I have a 4 year old son that's bed time is 9 PM. Realistically my TV does not belong to me at this stage in his life. If the shows I watch wont air on hulu then I have no choice. If they would make it available on their websites I wouldn't have to do that. Hell, I'd watch full seasons and then I'd even go buy the box sets if the show was decent enough.

Movies I want on dvd. I just... prefer the dvd. I can't explain it. Likely quality is better, or I can let friends or family members borrow it to see if they want it. Either way I think netflix is the only place I'll preview a movie.

Megaupload when I used it was pretty good at removing the illegal uploads. I remember going through 20 dead links from before I'd find the one that slipped through the cracks. And it sucks they're gone but hey, there's still It just means instead of not paying megaupload and waiting 30 minutes between each episode, I now have to not pay and wait an hour. is also more reliable on not removing the illegal videos which is pretty lulzy in retrospect.

Rachel says

@minimo I'd not watch the movie at all or wait for someone else to rent it at /their/ house if I was curious but didn't think it'd be worth the money. So yeah I concur, they wouldn't have lost any money at all.

Mike Stone says

The elephant in the lving room is the amount of money the labels extract from the process.

I admit that I haven't followed the numbers closely, but I recall seeing a breakdown of each 99c iTunes sale that went something like, "10c to Apple, 68c to the label, 12c to the artist." I've read several articles over the years where people in the industry break down the flow of cash in the rare case where an album sells a million copies.

I also remember that Lena Horne sued the labels for a huge body of her work sitting in the vaults that she'd never been paid for.. the contract said she'd be paid from sales revenue, and since the label never sold those recordings, there was no revenue for her to be paid. Then there's the line from BNL's "Box Set":

"Disc 2: it was all brand new, an album worth of songs. But we had to leave the whole disc blank 'cause some other label bought 'em."

Holywood is just as bad.. the story of how Paramount screwed over Winston Groom WRT "Forrest Gump" is the stuff of legend. Hanks and Zemeckis made $40 million each. Groom got $350 thousand and a claim that one of the most successful movies in history "hadn't made any profit."

These are the people trying to sell a narrative about "theft of intellectual property." Those are the business practices of the people who say that listening to music without paying for it is "a lost sale" and "theft."

The industry has been screwing artists so hard for so long that it's no wonder artists don't care about piracy. A thousand hypothetical lost sales are a drop in the bucket compared to the actual money leached away through fees, weaselly contract terms, and outright refusal to pay royalties owed.

Paul says

Interesting article, and a great read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

It seems that just about everyone around me has the time and energy that it takes to memorize just about everything about a song, movie, or game... artists involved to include their birthplace/city, verbatim monologues of epicness, life stories, sense of style, and how many hairstyles they've kept in the past decade. It blows my mind with the granularity of detail that people will interject into a conversation to sound smart but don't relate this prowess to their jobs. I don't see the sense in it. It's intangible to me. Kinda stalker-ish. Even creepy. Just sayin.

One thing that these individuals benefit from given these habits is their ability to associate artists to songs/movies. Complicating this is how busy I am, which contributes to me not being able to keep up with the latest music/movies/games. Plus, I'm kinda poor. I cannot tell you how many times someone tried to explain a movie and started listing actors, with me telling them blankly that it helps me none to do that. Worse, I will hear a song and half the time not know the artist or even the title. I'm ashamed to say, Mr. Coulton, that your name looked familiar but it didn't click until I saw one of the comments above mentioning Code Monkey. I thought it was just an indie song put out for my entertainment on YouTube, I had no clue that you had a CD. I'm sure that there are plenty of other songs that you have that I like, but again I like the song without much knowledge about the artist. Clueless, I know, and perhaps a bit shallow.

Months or years after hearing a song, I will accidentally trip across it again but will be too busy to stop and write it down or commit it to memory. My best hope is to download it off YouTube (if I remember) and try to hunt for the CD when I can next afford it. I will say that many of my downloads are in this "queue," and that several more are official music vids of songs that I own the album to. I'm sure that that last batch of songs is still piracy, even though I was able to purchase the audio version of it.

All of that to say this... While I am not an individual that tries to make money off piracy or even promote it to others, I have benefited from it. However, my practices also have extended a monetary benefit to bands/artists such as Linkin Park, 3 Doors Down, Disturbed, Evanescence, Cold Play, and Owl City. Now that I know who put Code Monkey out and that they have a product to sell, please add yourself to this list... as I'll probably download later this weekend it as a reminder to research more of your music. Thank you for your thoughts, art, and sense of being a common human being.

Marin says

@minimo . First of all, at least t a dozen of people have heard of it before the parodies. As for me... I've never seen it, but got really interested due to the parodies. I'd love to watch it, but it has been out of theaters for quite a long time, it might be on Netflix, but it or any othersite like that aren't available where I live. And where does that leave me? I'd have to pirate it. Now you could argue that I could get the DVD from Amazon, but I don't plan movie night with a two week notice.

Nic says

I like this and I kind of agree with all of it, except for the idea I often here, especially from people not involved in making film, that piracy doesn't effect legit sales.

I'm thinking of three friends. They have hard drives rammed with everything worth seeing. They never buy DVDs or downloads or go to the cinema or pay for cable or kick start or Distrify One of them hacked his apple iTV box to stream more stuff, possibly fro mega upload. I guess I'm tired of any filmmaker above the level of YouTube no-budget being grouped with Hollywood in this debate. Us indies have been fighting Hollywood longer than digi pirates have.. But we are finding it harder to finance our films and get people to pay to watch them. It was never easy and I don't have data. But it it's harder. And we don't have touring and t-shirts to fill-up the gap in the way musicians do.

Nic says

Erm 'hear' not 'here'. I just woke up.

MiltoniusPrime says

As someone who doesn't always have the money to legitimately support all the artists I enjoy, and as someone eager to consume/experience as much new music as I can, I'm almost always going to vote with freedom over control. I'll admit, I've partaken freely in some of your music, but I've eagerly downloaded every track you've released over Rock Band Network, and look forward to the first time I get to see you in concert/throw money at you for merchandise (that doesn't involve driving up to PAX East).

I like an extra touch when it comes to purchasing music. I'll happily support members of the nerdcore community, and the kind of bands that will swing by dirty dives like The Ottobar in Baltimore. I love the thought of an album actually being handled by the artist, instead of delivered from a warehouse (especially if they happen to sign it or throw in a sticker or two). I'd much rather spend $2 on a Rock Band track than $0.99 on Amazon/iTunes, which will probably lead to me taking out my actual guitar and learning at least the chords.

I've spent easily over a thousand dollars on DLC for Rock Band/Guitar Hero/Dance Central, and even more on controllers and individual games. I've driven hours to see bands/artists I like, and drove down from Maryland to Florida for Nerdapalooza in 2010. I've spent money I probably shouldn't have on seeing bands live, leading to shirts, albums, buttons, stickers. I have a sizable shelf of physical albums, that serve no purpose other than to remind me I support musicians. Apparently I don't enjoy music enough to go "Okay, time to drop $20 on a highly-advertised album and roll the dice on whether it lives up to the radio single", and I'm a horrible person for doing so.

I would much rather spend $15 (plus merch) to see, I don't know, Black Mother Super Rainbow or MC Frontalot or Peelander-Z or any other lesser-known group, than save up $100 (plus drinks/merch/parking) to sit hundreds of feet away from a band who could give less of a shit if I was there.

Quetz says

"Back in my day , we made cassette recordings of friends albums all the time!
I’d say, over half my music was acquired that way. The world did not end as a result and people kept making money!"
Posted by Ancel
I live in Eastern Europe, and because of the political regime 25 years ago, we didn't have official access to western music. So whenever someone from our group of friends managed to get a cassette everybody recorded copies. When the regime changed and cassettes and later CDs were available in stores, this practice continued. When Napster and the other p2p programs appeared the same principle applied. This has never stopped me buying cassettes or CDs of bands I like. Hell this encouraged me, because whenever I had the chance to get some good music I would do it, knowing that I'll get some appreciation from my friends. It was a great vehicle for the bands to get to be known.
In a "perfect world" where Youtube would've been limited to people uploading videos of their cats, and music would be available to buy "as it is" with no preview whatsoever I wouldn't have probably heard of your music, and probably I wouldn't have heard of many other performers, cause surprise surprise, we don't get many copies of your albums or other indie American performers in stores over here.
The problem with SOPA/PIPA is that it does not the provide any viable tools to protect copyright it just provides legal grounds to censor content that MIGHT infringe copyrights.
As for your tweet Joco, I guess you should've used <> tags

Martin says

The general problem with SOPA , PIPA , DMCA etc. is, that they are not designed to protect the copyright of the artists but to preserve the business model of the content industry. Since this business model is already dead in the water, scavengers like Megaupload come out to feed on it.

The business model cannot coexist with the Internet and a free society. So you need to either remove freedom or the internet, otherwise the business model will decompose further.

The problems will increase as the artists are discovering, that they are tying themselves to a sinking ship.

P.S. I took you blog post and used it as an argument in my G+ post:

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ Cap'n Lee:
I definitely see your point. Concentrate on those who are willing to pay, instead of whining about those who don't. Well, I agree with you on that. But what happens if and when those who don't pay become so many that they are close to 100% of the consumers?

I'm afraid this could happen, when you let a whole generation get used to having everything available for free. Say you're 14 years old, and you don't have that much cash. Right now you have $20. Do you spend it on buying that album you downloaded for free earlier, just to support the artist, or do you spend it on something else you really want? Probably the latter, right? Alright, now you're 18, you have a part time job and a little more cash. Does your behaviour change because of this? Probably not, because you have been downloading music for free since you were 14; it's a habit now. Alright, now you're 38 and you have a 14-year-old kid of your own. Is there any reason your kid is going to behave differently when it comes to downloading? Probably not. And during this time, a lot of people who were willing to pay have grown old and dropped out of the marketplace. Non-payers move in to take their place. See what I'm getting at?

I hope I'm wrong.

Angelastic says

I don't bother with piracy much since it's easier to either buy stuff or get it for free legally (unless some executive has decided to only make it available in other countries or after jumping through hoops, in which case I don't bother with it at all because I have plenty of more easily-accessible content to consume.) There is so much free stuff out there! I'm legally downloading around fifty free songs a week through various podcasts, songwriting competitions, and zunior samplers. It gets kind of expensive though, since I often end up buying everything else the creators of the free stuff have ever done, traveling far and wide to see them, and/or just randomly giving them money because it's Christmas or something and they have nothing available to buy.

I haven't read about why MegaUpload was shut down and I can't remember if I've ever used that particular site, but every so often I've needed some way to share large files (videos I've taken) and had a lot of trouble finding sites that allow large enough files. I hope such sites still exist (though I don't like the sites that make money from other people's content without even so much as crediting them), because sometimes it's impractical to drive to someone's place with a USB drive. Oh wait, xkcd reminded me that there's DropBox, which seems to work.

Yordi Anti SOPA says

You said it hurts the AMERICAN economy!!! WHAT ABOUT THE FKING OTHER COUNTRY'S IN THE WORLD!!!!!? There are more country's then AMERICA you know there are more people on the world. But the FKING FBI think they can rule the world but it isn't! And even if they say it has nothing to do with SOPA , well thats a freaking LIE. They say that they are hunting on megaupload for 2 years! And when SOPA arrives Megaupload is gone. Well I live in the Netherlands, and my greatest wish was to live in America, but now this has happend.
I stay in the Netherlands and i will live in the Netherlands however this country sucks.

Greetings from a ANTI SOPA + ANTI FKING FBI activist!
Fuck You all!

psycosulu says

Honestly, I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, Adventure Time, and a couple other shows on MegaUpload instead of on the TV. But because of how easy it was to watch whatever episode I wanted, I was able to enjoy it on my time. Eventually I bought the DVDs because I wanted to support the content creators. I think sites like MegaUpload have a place on the web as long as the content creators deny access to their content.

MJ says

On the damages:

Always remember that people's money is finite. Stop them from pirating one song and there are only 2 alternatives: (1) They don't buy the song -or- (2) They buy that song but don't buy something else (another song, or lunch, or that doctor's bill?)

For the economy at large, it doesn't make any difference. That money is spent once, that's it. If you could force people to buy media that is currently pirated, you would get a big boom and many new jobs in those industries. And at the same time, exactly the same number of jobs would be lost in others. Oh, and people would starve because the'd have to pay more for media than they earn ;)

Martin Smith says

For me there are two issues here. One is the issue of whether there is financial harm to an artist. In some cases there must be, in some cases the artist probably benefits. I think this issue is an important one, but it isn't the one I worry about, because this question will be answered gradually as the whole creative arts/internet system develops.

The second issue is whether these personal violations of copyright should remain immoral. I say yes. Many of the examples you listed aren't immoral. Downloading something you bought once before but lost, or downloading an episode you missed on TV - these clearly aren't wrong. But downloading music or books or movies and TV that you didn't buy and are not otherwise entitled to is still taking something that belongs to someone else that is not freely given. Most people know when their copying is immoral, and that's why it is important that we continue to call copyright violations immoral.

Noel Lynne Figart says

Like many artist, my husband has a day job, but he does do comic book art for small titles (inking, that sort of thing).

He would send scans of his work to these little companies, who worked entirely in digital before it met print. And yes, he used Megaupload to handle it because the files were so very large it was a reasonable way to get the content that HE'D BEEN CONTRACTED TO CREATE to the client.

So there ya go -- a legitimate use of Megaupload.

Obviously as a household that creates intellectual property and content that falls under copyright laws, we're both pretty happy to have copyright protection. But Mr. Coulton is right -- most of the legislation being pushed about these matters now protect the very large profits of the middleman, not the artist.

Shoot, I BOUGHT copies of some of Mr. Coulton's work because I'd seen a video on YouTube of someone doing RE: Your Brains in ASL, liked it and decided I wanted to own a copy of the song, and then liked some others and wanted to buy those, too.

Steven James says


"The only way to watch the final to find it illegally"

or you could...get cable? or did you mean the only _free_ way?

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says


"Record Stores are plummeting because the /vast majority/ of individuals prefer the convenience of chair/couch shopping and having something that can (relatively) easily be replaced, not to even talk about the immediacy of it."

Yes, I know. People are lazy bums who can't be bothered to get up off their asses. They'd rather sit back and have everything delivered straight into their homes, immediately. Personally, I think that's a bad thing.

"The internet may kill your job, but it will also allow you to find a better one."

Maybe. Maybe not. Not all of us can work for an online business. But that's not the point. The point is, it's killing parts of the physical worlds that I'd prefer be left alive - like your friendly neighbourhood record store.

"There are ‘knowledgeable people’ on the internet too. You can have near-physical conversations with them, or just read their reviews/other work."

Of course there are, and of course you can. But that was the case 10 -12 years ago too, and back then there were still a lot of physical record stores out there. And - again, this is my personal opinion - online record stores, and online knowledgeable people, are not the same as the real world equivalent. Like I said before: a physical record store has a value in itself. I know a lot of people don't agree with me on this, and that's why there are hardly any record stores left, at least not where I live. And there used to be plenty.

"Losing your job does not mean you’re out of work forever. Find something new, put your passion into use and find a way to make a living doing it."

Easy to say when you're 25 years old. When you're 45 it's not that easy.

JoCo says

@Matt: yes, I'm familiar with that argument, and in fact that protection is built into the DMCA. But the indictment against MegaUpload seems to suggest that people knowingly encouraged and maybe even paid for people to put illegal content up, which is different.

@Bob: it's hard for me to unravel all the takes that various people in the chain take. I profit most when you buy direct from my site (but I only sell digital copies, so if you want a CD, just buy where you like and don't worry about it).

@Ed: correct. The cc license makes it legal to download and share in a non commercial context. The problems come when the hosting site profits from it without compensating the copyright owner.

@RNR: what's the name of your site, YouTube? PirateBay? Because somebody on those sites beat you to it. My point is, I'm still here.

@HB: I'm not advocating piracy, I'm saying that for me and a lot of other artists, it doesn't seem to cause any problems. Maybe that's a subtle distinction. I prefer to be paid, as do most artists I know.

@wtf: well, MegaUpload was not an "illegal service," at least not until the indictment.

@Jackson: absolutely, I agree with much of what you say. And that's what copyright and the DMCA are for, and most of the time they work pretty well. What we do when they don't work is what's at issue here. In my opinion most of us overestimate the extent of the damage actually created by sites like MegaUpload, and we underestimate the value of the babies we throw out with the bath water.

@Sikhswim: I've experimented with variable pricing and donations, but neither worked very well for me. I do sell bundles of things that are cheaper than buying individual tracks. Mostly I think that a dollar a song is a reasonable price that people are comfortable with. I don't, and could not possibly, track piracy levels, I just try not to worry about it too much.

Thanks for a bunch of thoughtful and well written comments everyone, the quality here is always high, so I'm not surprised.

Mart says

One point I would like to bring up is that unless you live in the US, and/or have a US-based IP, purchasing content isn't easy.

Since I do not stay in the US, I do not have easy access to iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, etc. I have to resort to VPNs and getting myself a prepaid US Virtual Mastercard from a site. I have this method of purchasing an Amazon Gift Card emailed to my secondary account, removing my local credit card on file, add the gift card credit to my account and set my Amazon account to use my virtual US address before I can purchase Kindle books or iTunes US gift cards with an email-able code. I have 2 iTunes accounts, one local for my iPhone apps and one US-based for my music & videos.

I have to pay extra fees and find workarounds to circumvent the geo-restriction, just so I am able to pay for music and movies/TV. One thing I love about iTunes is that it doesn't restrict content by IP, unlike Amazon Music.

Sometimes, the hassle really gets to me. I just wish for the day when the internet is not bound by geographic restrictions.

Sassinak says

I see this the same way as Pot being illegal because it competes with alcohol and tobacco. As a boon this also creates a whole sub-class of potential prison-slaves.

lalophobia says

January 21, 2012 at 1:33 am
about 2.

I see your point , but..
sorry but no,even with all the draconian measurements you can imagine - as long as people can post information anywhere this stuff can and will happen.. even if they tear down the internet and all that's left is websites like this with a submit box .. I can cut up a file in enough parts to spread them around unnoticed - even in this text .. the only thing is that I need to agree with the receiver on a few details on how he can expect the content.

but without making it complex, evey file is a bunch of 0's and 1's in the long run .. sure it will take forever but we can still exchange files until the day we can not submit anything anywhere online.

I made a long argument proving this here

lalophobia says

same way as in we will never get rid of people that drive too fast, the only way to prevent that is to forbid manual driving and/or destroy ALL the cars..

but that still wont totally get rid of it because people will find workarounds, build speed machines and drive them around in the dessert ..

maybe it's out of sight and small scale - after the entire world has been changed in order to attempt it, but it will never die

problem is that it's currently not small scale but quite large, because the same people against it are not doing enough to make it available , and then complain

surely it's not good to get it ourselves .. but colleagues that do make it available say they are glad they do and notice that they make huge sales and people are buying it despite they could still get it free..

but sure, listen to the ones that refuse to make it available..

Brett Glass says

Alas, Jonathan, I *do* know artists who have been very badly hurt by piracy. Some of them are studio musicians who do brilliant work but, due to a lack of constitution or important life commitments, cannot play out much (if at all) or tour. Some are software developers (who, unlike musicians, don't tour; they have to make money from the software). All are small creators, not the large corporate entities that so many people use as straw men to justify illegal copying.

Just because we cannot quantify the damage done by sites like MegaUpload to the penny doesn't mean that the damage was not done.

Unless we change the entire social contract regarding creative works to one that rewards creators in a different way (e.g. a model which uses an ASCAP-like formula to distribute the proceeds of a tax), we need to have a market-based one, and to have a viable market in anything you have to protect the sellers from theft. If nothing like SOPA is implemented (and I'm not saying SOPA is the best implementation; it has some flaws that definitely would need fixing), we'll soon reach a crossroads where we'll have to consider such a model.

By the way: I had the idea to do a site with some of the features of MegaUpload (and some of those of the original Napster) way back at the dawn of the Internet era, in 1992. I didn't do it PRECISELY because I couldn't figure out a way to do it that would not support piracy of my friends' and colleagues' work.

Taylor Guest says

I think a major beneficial aspect of piracy is what bands/labels call exposure. With the heavily fractured and stratified world of music we now have, radio can only cover so much 'taste'. I know with my particular preferences, the only station I listen to is a college station, and that's still infrequently. If I have only limited or obstacle-heavy methods of checking out a band, I'm actively being disincented to actually buying their material. If I can check out songs on youtube or pandora or spotify, see that this artist has multiple good songs that I want to listen to at will, I will purchase their album.

Also, let's be strait here: Piracy impacts the agents, executives, marketers, and all the other tagalongs of the music industry many times more than it hurts artists directly. It's not music that is getting hurt, it's the music industry. Many self-produced/published indie artists have risen to levels unheard of before because of the internet. And I think we're going to be seeing a lot more self-published or small collective published music in the future.

Will says

I got into a band after pirating some of their songs. They had a weird name, something like "Johnathan's Coltrane" or something. There were monkeys involved.

Jan says

here is another idea what could cost record sales: video games. just compare how game sales developed over the time when record sales declined. again: not a proof, but people only have so much money to spend on media and time available to consume it.

Brett Glass says

@Jan IMHO, competition within a market is good. But allowing a market to be destroyed due to theft is not good.

Hatandsuitcase says

If we can play ask-a-professional-artist for a moment, what is your opinion of subscription music streaming services? I'd like to listen to your albums on Rdio, but I notice all that's available is the live album. I assume there's a reason for this.

SRDownie says

@Brett How do you know that "piracy" hurt the "artists" you mention? Was their work truly "pirated" -- did it actually completely disappear from their hard drives? If they didn't get out to promote their work -- due to other priorities -- how was the wider public supposed to take note? If the "art" isn't the "artist's" priority, why should the "artist" expect it to be anyone else's priority?

Taylor Guest says

Of course, the funny part is I seem to recall this whole argument happening before when people got cassette recorders on their radios and VCRs for their TVs. This is not a new problem. We've had media pirates and bootleggers since the 80's.

SRDownie says

The legal squabbles over "stealing" content and ideas goes back much farther than the 80s. If Edison -- who was an expert in exploiting legal avenues to keep tight control over all competitors -- was based in New Jersey, where did the Hollywood movie industry come from?

It came from the fact that Edison's competitors migrated to southern California to be beyond the easy reach of Edison's lawyers! The modern media industry has its very roots in IP "theft"!

Liam665 says

@jackson: You say "It's MY art." Oh really? I don't know what kind of art you do, but I'm betting you've been inspired by and borrowed from hundreds, even thousands, of other artists. Does Buddy Guy "own" the blues chord progression or the guitar licks he learned from dozens of others? Of course not.

I strongly recommend you read Jonathan Lethem's "The Ecstasy of Influence" before insisting too vehemently on your supposed property rights in the art you make, since 99% of it was "pirated" from thousands of others.

And that's how it should be. Culture is a vital process of sharing and inspiring. That's why copyright is not a property right: you don't "own" your work--we all do. The problem of unauthorized copying is certainly an issue worth discussing, but don't get too invested in your supposed absolute authority over the things you make: your art is mine, and my art is yours.

steve says

Liam665 great point What if in the past somebody had copyright protected musical "genre's" , what if before you could release your new blues song you had to pay the owner of "blues" or sombody owned "Country Western" and any time you wrote a Country western song you had to pay a royalty to whoever invented Country Music , ect ect .. its crazy to believe your "art" was not influenced by prior art and that you should be able to hold the copyright for ever

lalophobia says

"Well, I agree with you on that. But what happens if and when those who don’t pay become so many that they are close to [..] of the consumers?"

that's a moot argument because right now the biggest industry that shouts the loudest that their goods are being robbed from their warehouses are the ones without digital distribution platform outside the usa, they refuse to go digital outside the usa because of piracy but piracy is caused because they refuse to go digatal outside the usa.. we can't steal what they don't offer, and we're not breaking into warehouses either since we show record sales in cinema, spotify, steam,... but not the movies and tv .. because it's not allowed to stream to your country. they can't blame the consumer for their own problem.

Barton says

I buy movies and CD etc. I get extremely angry when the first thing the movie shows me is a message saying "I am a thief and it is going to cost $200,000 if they catch me". Most of the time this is in English and once in a while it is in French. I never see it in Spanish, German, Chines etc. Are we English and those rude French the only people that pirate/steal those wonderful movies made by Hollywood and the other moguls?

When I buy a movie I don't expect to be called a thief and be threatened. I want to watch the movie, I don't want to be forced to watch "previews of coming attractions" or be subjected to other forms a advertising. I payed to watch the movie.

After being called a thief I really hope someone does rip those bastards off. I hope they go bankrupt and end up living under a bridge.

Sven Geier says

A small quibble:
Music industry profits have't gone down "since Napster". They've gone down since considerably before that.
The entire *concept* of a " Music industry" is a late-20th century concept: yes, there were people who made, promoted, organized and sometimes even profited from music in the 20ies and 30ies, but what really created a music "industry" was the dual invention of Rock'n'Roll and radio. The latter was a medium that propmoted the former, and vice versa. People bought radios to hear the music (for free!) that they'd then go out to buy the records of. The producers were musicians themselves, they put their own money on the line and they *paid* radio stations to play their songs. Let that sink in: an industry was created by content producers paying for the *free* distribution of their content. And the selection of content was done by those who heard the music on the radio and voted with ther dollars: the consumers. By the peak, 1986, 90% of records released nationwide made a profit within the first year.
Then the MBAs entered the picture and took over. Music was created not by artists, who created because they could not NOT create, but by commercial hacks who's only motivation and purpose was money. Quality plummetted and consequently so did profits. By 1993, the year MP3s were invented, the number of nationwide releases had dropped by a factor of five - and only 10% of those made a profit in the first year. And file sharing had nothing to do with it. It was simply the greed of the newly styled "record execs", people whout any sense for music or art who only "understood business".
If you take the last ten years before the MP3 (1983-1993) and you plot a line through it and extrapolate it to today, you'll find that we're right on that trend line. All the file sharing ups-and-downs in the meantime, the Napsters and Audigalaxys and Bittorents and Kazaas and Megauploads had no net effect on this trend line that was started before people had computers in their homes.

Roger says

good analysis. one of the best short comments I have seen on this. Thanks

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ lalophobia:
I have no idea what you're talking about. Please clarify - it seems interesting.

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ Liam665
"Does Buddy Guy “own” the blues chord progression or the guitar licks he learned from dozens of others? Of course not."

This might just be the dumbest argument in this entire thread. It's like saying "The Kinks used an F major chord in You Really Got Me, many others have used that chord before them, therefore, The Kinks do not own the rights to You Really Got Me".

Only a person who knows exactly nothing about making music could say something like that.

Art says

"And if you can stand me sounding even crazier, here is this: making money from art is not a human right."

Thank you for saying it.

SRDownie says

Re: No money necessarily from Art. I dunno. I heard that those effete cave-drawing snobs lived pretty high off the wooly mammoth!

Kevin Robinson says

I'm a blue collar working musician. I'd just like to comment about yr quote:

"making money from art is not a human right."

..and AGREE with you, but would like to take it to the logical conclusion, which you left out:

Making money is not a human right.

We are born into this cold world with no promises, I agree with what you're trying to say but you left out a few key ingredients. We live in a society that is based purely on economic science. Economics as an energy source. Which is why we call money "currency". It is as valid an energy source as electricity, water power, gasoline, or a wind turbine. When you work 8 hours a day at a factory, you are exchanging your personal time ( via: expended energy) into something that comes back to you via: paycheck - currency.
In our world, rarely do these energy amounts align, but that's the basic principle of energy transfer. What MegaUpload does is ensures that when the energy transfer going *out* never returns. By pure math, it will deplete it's source.

So, I encourage you to consider a few things which this youTube clip presents wonderfully:

Then consider this video:

...and you'll understand that indeed money is being generated, hoarded and - to quote The Who - "meet the new boss,...same as the old boss"

**please watch the videos above, they honestly explain the problem perfectly**

So, if you put your hand to *anything* for a paycheck, and depend on it for your very life and family - how long could you do it for free? What is any wage earning but the return signal of currency?

I'm participating in a roundtable discussion of this w/ a few other national lifer artists (Cracker, Del the Funky Homosapien) that you guys may care to participate in too. here's where announce will go up:

I've no finger to wag, or punch to throw - my email and website and name are all really me.
I don't sleep at night on pillows of cash, or sit on a throne of rare french cheese, this discussion affects me in a very real way.

thanks! - kevin robinson

Kevin Robinson says

I should add that MegaUpload has *nothing* to do with SOPA or PIPA. If this is truly about making content available to share, there are many other options now, streaming and such.

The RIAA and "record labels" as they are horribly, and correctly conceived, are not the solution either. There are solutions coming which will funnel the IODA digital distribution pipeline directly into the pockets of artists, which - believe it or not - doesn't exist at this moment.
What we are seeing is the glorious death of the middleman, and MegaUpload only served the same master. It must die along with the old guard.

Leonardo Bighi says

Just adding my two cents.

I have to say that a lot of times piracy made me buy things I wouldn't. These days people don't listen to radio and I don't watch music videoclips (I don't know if anyone does it). Piracy is the 21st century way to find and evaluate new stuff.

When a friend recommends me a new band, I go out and pirate it. If I'm not sure I will like a PC game, I pirate it. Most of the time I will play the game for 1 or 2 hours and then delete it. Sometimes I will really really like it so I go out and buy the game. When this happens I kinda laugh because this piracy they try so hard to fight is what made me buy the game.

Based on people I know, people that pirate and never buy would never have bought the game/album. It is not really a lost sale.

Kevin Robinson says

one last thought on "throwing the baby out with the bath water". Or - if your in school - and have been punished, along with your class, for the doings of *one* dipshit, consider this:

Taking down MegaUpload, RapidShare, etc... doesn't mean a death knell for the internet. It will carry on without it just fine. SOPA does mean the death of the internet! It means you won't be able to find out what awful shit our country is doing in the rest of the world that doesn't wind up on television. Shit that just may wind up on your doorstep one day.
There are way more incredibly awful things going on behind the curtain, and MegaUpload is being used to confuse the issue.

Brett Glass says

@SRDownie To claim that the artist only suffers harm if his or her work is destroyed is absurd in the extreme. To destroy anyone's livelihood does him or her harm. Nor should artists have to tour to be able to create or to be worthy of compensation for it. The Beatles, to name one very popular example, were a "studio band" that seldom played live. It also seems quite presumptuous of you to claim that an artist's priority is not art if he or she doesn't embrace your preferred business model. Artists have a right to their work, and you do not have a right to steal it.

Kevin Robinson says

by the way - you are all ABSOLUTELY correct in distrusting the "music industry" as it is commonly conceived. It has developed new ways of listening to music only as a means to get you to buy the same recordings over and over again.
You understand this if you've lived long enough to buy the same records on vinyl, cassette, cd, and finally mp3's. Seems everything has a tipping point, huh? Enough! How many copies of James Browns "Hot Pants" does a guy have to buy?

here's a great link from negativland explaining the lynching process:

Although - now - you may not believe, but there are some labels that genuinely just "work" for the artists. They take their cut for the work provided, and that's it. The digital realm has destroyed the record store, and MegaUpload provides a free option to something that took years to create, 4-6 months to promote before its release, 1 year to support on tour, and usually a full year or more in radio & press campaign.

I would ask you to consider this:
Who is your favorite artist to listen to ever? Are they still alive and making music?! Who do you listen to when life is shit and you need something to make you feel better about yourself?

Rook says

@Barton You do realize that the legal messages are regional, right? A German version of that movie for example would say the same or nearly the same thing, but in German.

Kevin says

The real trick is making the content available to consumers. A great example of this is Valve's digital distribution platform. Before Steam came along there were lots of games you simply could not get without pirating them. Now, you can legally obtain almost the entire last decade of PC video games from Steam AND the publishers get a cut, unlike the used games market. I can honestly say that I haven't pirated a game since Steam started having summer/winter sales. It just isn't worth the trouble to pirate when its so easy to get what I want legitimately.

Jamie says

As a musician, I wish more people would steal my music and listen to it! D=

Yunus says

I would have never ever wanted to attend any concerts if it wasn't for the downloads that I've done. Yes I don't buy cd's, but I love those artists. Because those cds are not worth buying, just a handful of songs for one cd is stupid, if it werer cheaper with many more songs in cd or something, I'd have definitely bough them.

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

“And if you can stand me sounding even crazier, here is this: making money from art is not a human right.”

Making money is not a human right, period. So that particular argument is kinda useless.

Bret says

Copying is not piracy. Watching videos is not piracy. Listening to music is not piracy.
Piracy is when get your money stolen on a boat (sarcasm)
So Tim, fuck you !

SRDownie says

@Brett You still have not provided any evidence, so I assume you have none. So aside from not being able to back up your contentions, here are other points to consider:

1. Don't conflate "artists" with "distributors." It is the distribution network -- not the artistic creative endeavor -- that is disrupted by the technologies under discussion. The degree to which distributors value their "artistic" sources varies dramatically.

Case in point: A band I worked with in the late 70s-early 80s created some music for the Scott Baio epic "Zapped" (1982). Last year, the lead singer of that band finally completed his self-appointed task of drinking himself to death … and we're still working on getting the studio to pay us for our work. So if you think the System, as it stands, is the be-all-end-all, think again.

2. "Great art" doesn't mean diddly if you can't get it out of the studio. Perhaps you're too young to know this, but before the Beatles turned into a "studio" band, they'd developed something of a following. By virtue of the fact that they'd gotten out and about, they had developed many, many connections. They even had a distributor (see above) working for them to generate more publicity! They formed this support base not by sitting in their garage surrounded by works of rare genius, waiting for the masses to beat paths to their door. The Fab Four got out and sold it.

3. What an "artist" claims and what potential patrons claim can be two very different things. It sounds as though the "artists" you cite (without documentation) have very high opinions of their own works. But it also sounds like those self-assessments are not shared by a community large enough to financially support said "artists" in the styles to which said "artists" have become accustomed. This social impedance mismatch may be due to a wide variety of factors. I'll cite only two of many:

a. The "artist" is deluded. For example, I just posted the world's greatest Artificial Heart unboxing video on YouTube. It brims with vitality and wit. Yet I haven't made a *penny* from it! Astounding! My genius is clearly on display but nobody has yet credited my PayPal account with MacArthur-Grant-like cash! Philistines! [Or maybe my "art" is "art" only in my own head?]

b. The "artistic" kernel appeals to only a small number of people worldwide. That is the sad fate of a considerable amount of music I like. Odd "classical" music occupies many gigs of storage on my iTunes drive. It has never been commercially viable and probably never will be. There are thousands of music professors and music students around the globe *right now* who might be cranking out very interesting new stuff. But I can't even find them, much less buy or copy their stuff. That's, unfortunately, where music fits in our broader society right now.

There are options. For example, a friend of mine is in Africa right now studying music with Prince Diabate. I think that's a great cause so I plunked down $100 to help him out.

In summary:
1. Copying is not "stealing."
2. Back up your vague arguments with evidence.
3. Do much more homework on this subject.

Liam665 says

@Gervaise Hamster-Smith

I did not say that musicians do not own the copyright to the music (although often they don't--they have to sign those away to the label). My point was that the concept of ownership of art itself is nonsensical, since all art builds on and borrows from previous work, and that's important to the issue of moral rights vs. legal rights vs. the value of the public domain.

Again, the Lethem essay I recommended is really worth reading, and if you had read it I'm sure you would have better understood the distinction I was making and why it matters to this conversation:

SRDownie says


Thanks for pirating that Harper's article. Good stuff!

Andy Sipher-Bull says

I'll buy a jc album if he ever makes one with a cover of hallelujah on it

hank says

i probably messed this in all the above discussion, but could someone explain the difference between appropriating material (whichever art form) from the internet and selecting a book or cd from a barnes & noble store and leaving with it without paying for it.

JoCo says

@Brett: How do you know that it was piracy in particular that hurt those creators? This is a serious question. And yes, just because you can't quantify the damage done by MU doesn't mean damage wasn't done, but it doesn't mean it WAS done either.

SRDownie says

@Hank If you walk out of a B&N store with an unpurchased item, alarms will ring.

Oh. And also you're walking out with a physical object. That means that B&N has one less physical item in its inventory (and on its shelves) to sell.

If you copy a file from one digital storage mechanism to another, the original file is still there. Nothing has been lost. The person in charge of that digital file can make as many copies as he or she wants for the price of rearranging some magnetic fields. (Rearranging magnetic fields is very, very cheap these days.)

Yahsnow says

I just started reading ur post. Just a moment ago I saw this thing about megaupload and was about to cry. The reason is that I was one of the small % of people that used for legal stuff. I have a big problem with computer so I always have to change my laptops. And so I don't lose anything I put my pics/photos, homework and other personal stuff on megaupload as a private download. Now I JUST FOUND OUT I LOST EVERYTHING. Things from years. So sad. I can understand why the site had to be closed. But I wish I got a warning before so I could download my things back. I understand the cause. but it doesn't make me any happier or less sad.
I also know I should start using other types of storage. and I just learned my lesson.

Anonymous says

We are Anonymous,
We are Legion,
United as One,
Divided by Zero,
We do not forgive Censorship,
We do not forget Oppression,
US Senate,
Expect us. -Anonymous

Kevin Robinson says

yo, moderator. I put some wicked replies up here that are just floating. Check em out and either approve or not. Trying to make some valid points. thanks fellas.

MZ says

You're exactly right on a couple of really important things:
1) You can't make it really, really hard to get your content and then complain when people make their own easier ways to get your content;
2) It's impossible to quantify the "damage" done. But I guess that since lawsuits are about numbers of dollars, you have to invent a number of dollars.

I do have one quibble, though:
- Art has not usually been free. People paid painters lots of money to paint them the stuff that we now see in museums so that they could hang it in their kitchen. Museums as public spaces are pretty new things. And that's true of other art forms as well: Shakespeare got paid, medieval lutists got paid, professional storytellers got paid - even if that payment was in the form of their supper. Mark Twain got paid, Andy Warhol got paid, Louis Armstrong got paid. Now, they got paid DIFFERENTLY than they do now, and Louis Armstrong was probably a lot less dependent upon Blu-Ray sales than he would be now, but there were still record companies and art dealers and book publishers and a whole pile of sleazy middlemen that wanted a taste of someone else's creative action that are not structurally different from today. So anyway, the "art should be free, or at least freely available, because it always was and only recently corporate slimeballs have gotten their sticky mitts in things and gummed the whole works up" argument isn't that true, is it?

Brett Glass says

@Gervaise Hamster-Smith Actually, according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, making a living IS a human right. (See Article 23).

@SRDownie According to the same document, so is remuneration for one's creative endeavors. (See Article 27). I won't address rest of your posting above, because it's so off-the-wall as to be incoherent.

SRDownie says


Hmmm. Article 27, eh? Is the UN's Declaration of Human Rights Department hiring?

Or on a more humane scale, how much to do pay a homeless person when they sing a little song to you in the street? What is the going rate for human-rights wages these days? If you don't pay singers in the streets, do UN cops come to your house and shake you down? Do those rules apply only in the U.S. or also in the parts of the world where you're doing well to earn $1 per day?

You failed to back up any of your substantial claims with verifiable facts.

Brett Glass says

@SRDownie I only stated verifiable facts. And now I'll state one more: You're a troll. Bye.

Brett Glass says

@JoCo I (and they) know because some of the pirates were bold enough to show them the pirated media on iPods they were carrying. And tell them, to their faces, that they didn't pay for it or intend to.

In any event, it simply isn't true that the actual loss due to piracy is unknowable. (The claim that no pirate would have bought the media anyway is as extreme as the claim that every one of them would have bought it.) Determining the loss -- to a very high degree of accuracy, is a contingent probability problem -- an application of Bayes' Theorem. Of course, because there are vested interests involved here, none of the major players has taken the time to gather the statistics that would need to go into the calculation. Least of all ones like Google, which seems, far and away, to be the world's biggest copyright infringer. (It's admitted to copying millions of books for profit -- no exaggeration -- without asking permission from the authors or compensating them. And of course its YouTube service has copies of practically every song ever written -- most of them unauthorized.) That's why it's spending big bucks to lobby against not only SOPA but ANY law with teeth that might protect creators' or artists' rights.

Brett Glass says

By the way, here's an insightful comment from Jaron Lanier (also a musician) about the some of the deleterious results of undermining copyright and/or insisting that Internet content be available at no cost:

Crystal says

@Gervaise Hamster-Smith: "Alright, now you’re 18, you have a part time job and a little more cash. Does your behaviour change because of this? Probably not, because you have been downloading music for free since you were 14; it’s a habit now."

Actually... yes, it does, since I did almost exactly that.

When I was 14 I lived overseas and was a regular pirate. There were record stores full of pirated goods. Stalls with illegal stuff were right down the street. I pirated all sorts of stuff (and I gotta say, I watched a lot more movies back then than I do now.) Everyone did, even the adults... not because it was a habit, but because the rare, legal DVDs sold for 20USD, which is fine... in the USA. Where I lived, it converted to about $50 a legal DVD, and no one really is that crazy. So I would say that I was a very good pirate with a giant history of piracy.

When I was 18, I moved to the USA and had a part time job. I started buying legal software, because it was more affordable and of generally better quality, and I actually was earning the correct currency this time. I still pirated music and books.

When I was 21, I graduated and found a job... and I've been mostly legal ever since.

I don't deny that piracy hurts smaller companies and artists, and I'll live happily without Megavideo. But people buy goods when they can afford it. And yes, they often do take a more expensive legal item over a free illegal one. It's also a matter of making the legal one easier to find, and pricing it right.

Dom says

It makes me wonder how they calculate lost revenue due to piracy. I really doubt that the percentage of people that would have purchased the material had they not got it for free would be above 5%.

bill says

Thanks for your insightful analysis.

I will miss the sister site They had a lot of old stuff, hard to find anywhere else. I would not have purchased it normally, so it's not much loss to studios.

Yellow says

If hollywood produced any products that were worth paying for then maybe they'd have less issues with revenue. Keep dumbing down the movies, keep aiming for "Rob Schneider in derb itie derb"

They always play this role when it comes to new tech. They shutdown all the competition then Sony releases their own dual-cassette recorder/DVD burner. Soon enough the studios will have their own free P2P file sharing networks once any established competition is shut out.

Gary says

Nice article. As a software developer, I was told by my first publisher that 90% of my software users would be pirates and only 10% would be paid .. live with it! Whilst I don't advocate piracy in anyway, and ALWAYS pay for my software (because I want people to pay for mine) .. it is a fact of life. As a developer, you can spend many thousands of dollars on anti-piracy measures and still be beaten.

Does revenue drop because of piracy ?? .. I don't look at it that way, I think it's just part of the equation in calculating your potential sales revenue.

There has always been, and always will be an "underground".

Patrick says

Chris Onstad (Achewood) talks about the new moneymaking model for artists in this interview:

I don't know if I understand it, but I'll take the word of him and JC before that of Universal Records or whoever.

Emilly Orr says

The inherent problem, in my opinion, is their definition of the word "theft". What theft meant before piracy was one physical object was stolen, by another person, and the original owner of that object no longer had it anymore.

Digital "theft" is trickier, due to how copies transfer digitally. Assuming you're running from the original template, or close to the original template, you can get something that has the same sound/look/texture (now that we have 3D copiers) of the original, BUT the original owner still owns the original object. No "theft" actually occurred. At best it's fraud and machine forgery; most of the time, as JC pointed out, it's someone who thinks--at the time--they have a right (temporarily or permanently) to download one thing--and who may end up buying it later on anyway.

I *frequently* download songs I already own. I watch indie artists for when they toss out songs for free. I watch iTunes for when they toss out songs for free. If I like an artist, I won't run out and buy that CD right off the bat--I'll see if I like the rest of their work. (And usually, I do, and usually, I end up buying that CD, that DVD, that magazine, that book, anyway. But that's not the point.)

Say I download a Jonathan Coulton song off YouTube. It has YouTube encoding, and unless I know how to change that on iTunes (or whatever other service I'm using), it's generally going to say it's taken from YouTube. Eventually, that's going to bug me, and I'll track down other versions (if I can, and I'm too poor to afford the CD), or I'll track down the CD. Maybe even buy it directly from Coulton's store. Or, as he said, at one of his concerts.

And there is the beauty of why piracy is never going to be a crippling deficit--putting aside the valid issues of copyright and infringement, if I buy a CD from Coulton, or Amanda Palmer, or Bitter Ruin, or name your band--I'm getting both the songs I know I like in the format they want to present it to me. Artwork, maybe, lyrics, maybe, a hard case for better storage, all of that--which I WON'T get if I just download the song.

Even better, if I find I really like Coulton, and he passes through town, I get the chance to buy a ticket and listen to him in person. Save some money for the merch table, because those t-shirts, posters, flash drives, whatever, are not going to be around all the time. And I will be *overjoyed* to get them, and while pirating a t-shirt, or even a flash drive, *can* be done, what would I gain from it? At that point, standing in line at the concert, it's about the experience. It's about what Coulton chose to sing, who he sang with, what he said between songs--*none* of which you're going to find on a downloaded single, or even a downloaded album.

The same is true for any artist. I can download a picture of a painting; I can even print that out and hang it on the wall. But it's never going to be the same as owning the original.

Ted says

I hope you don't mind, but I just stole your article. Now you will be a little more famous!

hereAmI says

"people who ran MegaUpload were knowingly profiting from the unauthorized download of other people's intellectual property (including mine)" ...? I believe that if I invented such a system, I could be rather blind about the content, and "knowingly profiting" just from people using my service. I would not like to be a cop and to follow so many traffic just to avoid the "Justice" retaliates on me. It is what happened: they can't sue or arrest megaupload users, so they hit people allowing that. It's like arresting a knife producer since you can't arrest all the killers who kill with a knife.
Then, and maybe most important: the two words "intellectual" and "property" can't survive together; you think it exists such a think like "intellectual property"? no, it's an artifact. and what the digital era did is to make it incredibly clear.

Lucien says

Something that comes to my mind, every time I hear about American media companies complaining about piracy and IP is this:

Disney used for one of his films Music from a European composer that wasn't legally (c) in the USA at that time. They paid a marginally low compensation for that, with the argument, that anyhow they could use it for free in the USA. Only the fact that the European market would be locked out for this film made them considering paying fees.

While legally correct, I don't think that they are morally in a position to complain, especially if the site is at a location where the material distributed is not (c) at that location.

I agree, that there should be fair compensation for artists. But I don't think that the overblowten profits and mafia like behaviour of the editors should encouraged by lawmakers.

Declining revenues of the media companies may also be the cause of misunderstanding the market. Take the budget of young people. What they spent on Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo etc is no more available for the music industry, where one song is exchangable with some other one. A lot of the artists are clones of each other and the real creatives are rare.

Dr. Mike Reddy says

Jamie said: "As a musician, I wish more people would steal my music and listen to it! D="

Give us a link and we will! =D

I loved the tl;dr summary of this: Make good stuff and make it easier to buy. That's exactly what Apple have been doing (very profitably) with the iTunes and iPod/iPhone combination. And with "legal" jaiilbreaking other routes to content are still viable. This is having a massive effect on Society and my interest is where this will affect attitudes to Education. All old guards are being shaken up by this.

Dr. Mike Reddy says

P.S. Not an Apple fan boy - I know they're not white either - but just wanting to suggest a corporate example that has learned to adapt to the Internet, rather than "trying to take it with them, dying and screaming"

Someguy says

Here is something funny,
I listen to a Heavy Metal radio station, heard i song i loved, went to youtube to investigate it. Loved some of the songs, pirated the album. The very next day went out and bought the album.

Does that make me a pirate or a legitimate customer.
I pirated it from a torrent to be precise. So what the content industry is telling me is that that pirated copy is a lost sale. Even if they got money from me eventually.

Theraot says

I started writing a comment here, then I dicided that it did deserve a whole post. You can find it here:

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ Brett Glass: so making a living is a human right - but making a living from creating art is not? Does the UN define exactly what sort of income is a human right, and what sort of income isn't? Do they have a list of jobs I can look at?

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ Crystal: So you are one of the good people out there. Unfortunately, not everyone behaves like you.

Martin says

@ Gervaise Hamster-Smith
"so making a living is a human right – but making a living from creating art is not?"

You seem to have difficulty with the concept that certain ways of making a living are a human right, but others are not. Let me help you out with another example:

Making a living is a human right – but making a living from a protection racket is not.

With SOPA and PIPA, anyone who doesn't like your web site can make a complaint about it and get it shut down: with no investigation, or proof required. Or they could merely threaten to do so:

"That's a nice web site you've got there. It would be a pity if something happened to it..."

Gabriel Hasbun says

"so making a living is a human right – but making a living from creating art is not? Does the UN define exactly what sort of income is a human right, and what sort of income isn’t? Do they have a list of jobs I can look at?"

That's because the money system is outdated. Time to update the social system to the level of our technological systems.

someone says

Bless you Jonathan.
You have some very insightful ideas that should be common sense but are not. Also I love your music.

Steve says

I have an unlimited cinema card, so for £17 a month I can go to the cinema as many times as I want and watch movies for free. The trouble is, they're rarely showing movies at convenient times. I want to go after work (around 6pm), but they mostly seem to start around 5pm or around 8pm (which is too late with work the next day). I wish the movie distributors, would allow me to pay my £17 a month, but access the latest movies through Netflix/LoveFilm/even through Sky and watch them when I want to watch them. I'm quite happy to pay to watch, but on my terms, not when I'm told I must. The alternative is to download the movies illegally because they're no longer at the cinema and I missed them because they were on at inconvenient times. The film distributors need to adjust their thinking to stop piracy, not go after sites like MegaUpload (which I used for my business to share large files with my clients!)

The audio companies have changed their thinking a bit. I have a Zune subscription, so pay £9.99 a month for unlimited music. If there's a song I really like, then I pay and buy it DRM free so I can put it onto my phone to listen too when I want. I did used to download music illegally, but no longer have to... I also no longer have to buy an album becuase I liked 1 song on it, which is great from my point of view, probably not from the record companies though!

Branco Medeiros says

Damn, there's not a like button on this post? I want to click it a thousand times.

Jamie says

I wish more people would start saying this.

Piracy is a problem, but mostly, because it's illegal. Shoplifting is also a problem, and one that has a tangible problem. Yet, how many stores would implement a policy of, say, frisking every customer on the way out to ensure they hadn't shoplifted?

I don't know what the ACTUAL losses due to piracy are, but all the estimates make one big assumption: a pirated work is equal to the a loss of the retail price of that work.

That estimate, of course, assumes that: the end-user would have paid full price for it if the free version was not available; the end-user even had the ability to pay for the product (e.g. it was available to them, wherever they are); the end-user has any money in the first place (e.g., isn't incomeless, as in a child or dependent of someone).

That probably eliminates about 95% of the "losses." The remainder, of course, assumes that the the end-user didn't just spend that money on something else that benefits hollywood or the recording industry. E.g., did the fact that they pirated Britney Spears' new album mean that they put $20 in the bank, instead of spent it on something else?

I don't think that piracy resulted in people making more money that they didn't spend on consumer goods.

Theraot says

ACTA, Article 9, Numeral 3, Literal b, note on presumptions:

The presumptions referred to in subparagraph 3(b) may include a presumption that the amount of
damages is: (i) the quantity of the goods infringing the right holder’s intellectual property right in
question and actually assigned to third persons, multiplied by the amount of profit per unit of goods
which would have been sold by the right holder if there had not been the act of infringement; or (ii) a
reasonable royalty; or (iii) a lump sum on the basis of elements such as at least the amount of royalties or
fees which would have been due if the infringer had requested authorization to use the intellectual
property right in question.

Jared says

What a fantastic article. I've purchased some of your "Thing a Week" albums and will buy your new cd to support an artist who just gets it.

Warren Grant says

The whole issue of Intellectual Property rights versus the rights of the consumer is obviously coming to the fore at the moment. Its much more than just IP rights involved though, its also an issue over the rights of a corporation to enforce its business model on the customers that buy its products, and the lack of limitations on how they can enforce that business model.
The real problem to me is that corporations have been granted the right acting as if they were a citizen under the law. It seems obvious to me that the resources available to any corporation far exceed the resources available to almost all private citizens. Thus those corporations are able to use their resources - money and influence - to distort the legal system and effectively use the current laws to get their way. The MAFIAA/RIAA have been doing so with their endless lawsuits directed at individuals they accuse of illegally downloading copyright materials - sue for a huge penalty then settle for a smaller amount. The huge penalty makes it into the news and the settlement seldom does (being a private matter under the law). The "accused" is more or less forced to pay this amount or face a legal battle they can't possibly afford. Legal blackmail in other words. Furthermore the onus is placed on the individual to prove their innocence - which also costs money.
In the same way, these organizations can use their power and influence to make their outdated business model a political matter. The recent SOPA/PIPA legislation in the US is typical of this. Giving corporations the ability to censor whomever they want with just a single request is beyond acceptable to me and obviously to many others. Luckily this attempt to takeover the internet was obvious enough to many people and to some more or less responsible corporations who bucked the trend and protested the legislation. It will return in a more subtle form though, that is a guarantee, the media giants have too much at stake to give up. The freedom of expression and information exchange on the internet is gradually being eroded at every turn. This is a battle that will continue to be fought for many years I expect - and I sadly don't think the freedom side is going to win in the end.
The problem is that the media corporations are stuck with their outdated business models. They are unable to adapt and rather than deal with that inability, they choose to legislate any competition out of the market instead. The concept of "piracy" they promote is completely a distortion of the reality. I suspect a lot of so-called "piracy" is really just copying media because the current methods of disseminating it don't meet with the needs of the individuals who want to experience it. Consumers are frustrated with the regional coding system for DVDs for instance, they would like to buy something but can't use in their players (because the old model says that the distribution rights must be sold by physical regions - in a world where the internet has made those regions effectively meaningless) - and so they download a movie from Europe that isn't being sold in North America for instance. People want to enjoy a TV show or movie without having much of it cut out to make room for an ever increasing number of advertisements - in some cases completely destroying the continuity of the original. People want to try something out first before they spend money on it etc.
Yes, a percentage of people just want stuff for free and that is wrong under the laws of the moment. Those people are actually copying stuff illegally of course, but since there is no guarantee they would have spent a dime on buying it in the first place, not much real harm is being done. Someone who wouldn't have paid for something got it anyways, but no one lost anything as well.
The media companies can deal with all of this illegal copying by making changes to their business model of course. Accept the fact that their models must change - mostly this means actually developing the infrastructure to distribute their media effectively and above all conveniently, and accepting that since it costs them effectively nothing to make a copy of a file available (a cost best measured in cents at the most), they need to accept that the price people are willing to pay is lower than they are currently demanding. Lower the price, watch the "piracy" decrease. Its all about the convenience of the consumer. I think most people are willing to pay for media, but they are willing to pay a lot less than those selling it think it should go for.
Another problem is of course that these corporations are being marginalized themselves, since the need that gave rise to their existence and gave them the stranglehold on media distribution that is their sole business model has now more or less disappeared because of the capabilities of the internet. A lot of artists are cutting out the middleman entirely because it served little purpose other than to suck money away from the artist themselves. Most sales of music under the old model went primarily to these organizations and many artists saw little if anything as a result. The media companies also engage in a lot of "creative bookkeeping" that would have done the real Mafia proud - films that make millions at the box-office actually turn no official profit etc.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has come up of course. It happened in the past with the sheet-music industry. At one point there was the same sort of legal hassling being conducted to protect owners of sheet music from having rivals produce copies for sale. The technology changed and allowed cheap copying of sheet-music and the old industry failed to adapt. At the time they claimed it would destroy the entertainment industry. Obviously not.

The same thing likely happened with the first recorded music too. I am sure orchestras were upset at the potential loss of revenue from audiences who might stay at home and listen to a recorded performance instead of paying to see the performance live.

Lost in all this is of course the rights of the artist to benefit from their work. I believe in those rights, but I would like to see a reasonable period for them to exist as well. The original design of the Copyright system seemed viable to me, but the continuous extensions foisted upon us by greedy corporations have made the current system unacceptable. Copyright no longer encourages creativity and innovation so much as it presents a barrier to the same. The model is broken, but the companies that benefit from that broken model have too much power, too much money and their very existence at stake.

Until the business models change - or the companies who cannot adapt disappear entirely - there will be so-called "piracy". When they get a business model that works and is convenient to their customers, I feel a lot of that copying will disappear, because its mostly a copying of convenience, not maliciousness.

Unfortunately the media companies are corporate citizens, with greater rights and resources than their customers, and the legal system is being abused to shove their old business model down our throats. I would love to see their reaction to a protest similar to the SOPA/PIPA blackout, but I suspect it would be impossible to coordinate. If we could get a huge enough majority of consumers to simply not buy ANY music or movies for 1 month, we might show them our power. Maybe we need a national organization of media consumers to focus our voice and fight back against the eroding of our ability to communicate on the net.

Jamie says

@Theraot - pretty much what I had assumed about the basis for those figures: the loss equals what they would have earned had the infringer obtained the goods through legal means (whether or not they exist, whether or not the infringer had any money).

I don't understand Hollywood/RIAA's rationale for putting so much energy into this pursuit. This isn't rocket science; no legal victory will change the landscape substantively.

The only thing they can hope to achieve will be to further limit distribution (and therefore public exposure) to their only product. Anti-piracy laws don't make money appear. If someone didn't spend $20 on a Britney Spears album, they almost certainly spent it on concert tickets instead.

As others have noted the problem is quality and availability. These guys should be working to create viable, comprehensive, modern distribution channels. I spend over $100 a month on TV, and I think it's a rip off. So does a huge chunk of this country. RIAA should be trying to get some of that money from Comcast and DirecTV, instead of suing their customers.

If someone could offer an internet-based option that actually had the stuff I wanted to watch, I'd gladly be paying them. But it doesn't exist.

SRDownie says

Ars Technica: "If the feds can shut down Megaupload, why do we need SOPA?"

Eugen says

Excellent article....
I have grown up in a communism system ( I lived for last 20 years in capitalism) where legally we didn't have access to Hollywood films, western music, and jeans...but all my friends and many more people dressed up in jeans....we watched lots of films from Hollywood (by swapping and copying VHS and passed them on to next person (if the people who wrote SOPA knew about our "piracy" would have put money into it just to score a point against communism), a VHS type will take about 3-4 months to come back where it started) and at discothèque we danced to Boney M, ABBA, and other popular western singers and bands at the time ....unfortunately didn't know about you!!!.
After living in both political systems I have come to the conclusion that there is not difference between them. The only difference is in how the systems controls the society; in the communism system the "pen" and "gun" come at same time, while in capitalist system the "pen"(rules and regulations) comes first, and after comes the "gun"(FBI)....(both ways come to the same result, taking away the freedom and the decision making from individual, and gives it to a person who doesn't care much about the outcome, he gets paid for it, or hopes to get votes).
The society will always find a way around the "obstructions", but the individual will suffer...

Mike says

Excellent take. I enjoy hearing from artists who make a living via their art on topics like this because, while I enjoy creating art, I never have to make a penny off of it to support myself and my family. That obviously skews my perspective.

Make good stuff.
Make it easy to obtain and pay for.
People with money will buy it.

Seems pretty simple. :)

Raw Dog says

Songs about monkeys and robots? Sounds like someone is a Jason Ellis fan.

Phil says

Great article,I have a a few thoughts:

I write software and so I'm sensitive to the whole IP theft issue. I was a Napster member and during the year I used that service I bought 12 new CDs. I'm not that I've bought that many since its demise. The reason that Napster worked so well was that I could easily connect with others who shared my interests. One study I read at the time stated that illegal file sharing boosted music sales, not harmed them. Sure, there are plenty of people that are there for a free ride but there are many who, like me, found it a stimulus to explore and consume. Ultimately if musicians don't make enough money, they stop making music and we all get hurt so it benefits us to pay for what we like.

My understanding is that MegaUpload was mainly about circumventing email attachment size limits. Never having used the site and with it being shut down, I can't tell if there was a direct revenue stream for them is providing pirated content or if they were simply the medium of distribution. Nobody has suggested that eBay should be prosecuted if a seller is selling stolen items through their medium. Should the postal service be prosecuted if stolen items are delivered by mail?

The current proposals to protect IP (especially SOPA and PIPA) are symptomatic of the power of wealth and lobbying in the US, probably won't solve "the problem" but will inflict draconian punishment on easy targets.

SRDownie says

Update: File-sharing services are on the run. Aside from the aforementioned MegaUpload, FileSonic and changes, seven other outfits have now dramatically changed policy or shut down completely.

SRDownie says

There's an interesting LA Times article looking at the reaction in China to the recent SOPA/PIPA blackouts. While they (quite reasonably) point out that the level of censorship in China is much more extreme, one key point did catch my attention. Apparently, when the Great Firewall of China was first set up... Chinese officials defended it as a way to cut down on infringement:

Wen supports U.S. activists challenging the bills, saying it’s a slippery slope to lesser web access. He said China’s so-called Great Firewall, which blocks access to many foreign sites like Facebook and Twitter, was first billed as a strategy to stop piracy and pornography.

“Now it’s being abused and extended to thousands of websites,” he said.

The slippery slope to censorship starts with the insistence that the mechanism for censorship only has "the best intentions." But the reality is that once you have the infrastructure for censorship, it's only a matter of time until that censorship expands. It's just too powerful for those in control.

Anony Mole says

Digital content piracy can be most easily understood through cost/benefit analysis. When the cost of something exceeds the benefit derived (actual, estimated or imagined) then piracy will exist. When an individual feels that $0.99 is too much to pay for the benefit they will receive from first licensing and then listening to a song, then, if there is an avenue to take that evens out the cost/benefit, they will take that road instead.

On the other hand, if the cost is such that a person feels that a justifiable benefit is derived from the product then the cost will be born.

Unfortunately, different folks have different cost/benefit threshold levels. The trick then becomes a balancing act for the distributor to gauge the average consumer such that the majority will find value at the published price. Those that find value will pay the price. Those that find the cost/benefit is too high, will not. And if desire is great enough, will find alternative channels to acquire the product.

When the cost of bread is too dear, people will steal to eat. It's that simple.

Dan Sutton says

I have a feeling that megaupload got hit simply to make a point: there are innumerable websites out there doing much the same thing, and they're all untouched. Whether megaupload was participating in reprehensible activities is somewhat beside the point: the flow of illegal content will hardly be affected by this action, and all they've succeeded in doing is picking a scapegoat, shutting it down, calling it a victory and making a few people miserable in the time being. What a waste of effort.

RDSchaefer says

There is ZERO loss from piracy. There never has been, there never will be.

There are only two classes of pirates, those who sample to determine worth then purchase what they approve, and those who wouldn't pay regardless of price. In neither case is there a loss of sale.

I will use myself as an example. Years ago a colleague gave me a copy of a software package. I evaluated it for a week then, since the price was very reasonable, I purchased it. I continued to purchase updates for years until the price was no longer reasonable then looked for alternatives. BECAUSE I was able to "pirate" that software, the 'owner' received quite a lot of revenue for almost a decade.

Had the original been copy-protected or overpriced the owner would have received NOTHING, ever.

Keith says

If MegaUpload is making so much money with their storage and ads why can't artists just release their stuff for free exclusively on their sites. People would all go download it from them instead of some dingy download site. Put a donation tab as well with exclusives and just spread it out to everyone. It unfortunately would hurt the big record industries so it probably will never come to fruition. Even the name Record industry seems antiquated.

Fred Thekat says

Piracy is a myth made up by governments to get control of the internet. Corporations and governments can't stand the idea that there is communications network in the hands of citizens. There will be a day when the internet is under government control and only authorized citiziens will be allowed to use it under constant monitoring.

Craig says

I often get my movies from the public library....for free! Try shutting THAT down, Hollywood! (Muahahahahaha!) ;)

Fred Thekat says

ACTA is what you really need to be worried about. An extra-governmental, extra-national agency to police the the internet. Only a few days left. No stopping it.

Aerinx says

Neil Gaiman was against piracy once, then he gave some of his work for free as a test in some country (I think it was Russia, but don't remember that well). Then he saw sales incremented in the country. Piracy serves today as the old borrowing system, some people will like it and end in sales, other people will like it but will be fine using their friends material, other people will not like it and will make no difference. At the end it is exposure for the artist and it is good for them (except maybe in a few cases with bad material and a lot of publicity).

The big companies just want us to buy before knowing, that way all the choice is based on is publicity, and they are good at that.

Dereck says

Legislation like SOPA and PIPA, no matter how much you want to debate it - these bills benefit one entity: The music industry that pumped millions of dollars to the lawmakers to ensure it passes. As a content creator and musician I say to hell with the MPAA and RIAA - lets let the masses create and distribute content. The old way is dead and this is the death rattle of an industry that has worn out its welcome.

Kevin Robinson says

indeed - fuck the RIAA.

Sopa and Pipa are evil.

but so is MegaUpload. It's the cancer that is killing from within.

I believe we're do for a hard-reboot.

Kharn says

I have over 300 legally purchased albums in my music collection. Without internet piracy allowing me to sample and choose what I deemed worthy of my $$$, my collection would be far less.

Mr. Coulton, I do not enjoy most of your music. I only know this by sampling it on youtube. You are talented, I just prefer the music I listen to to be... less whimsical. Without a means of listening to your music for free, I would not know I didn't like it, but certainly wouldn't buy it blindly on the chance I would. Ordinarily this would mean that with or without piracy, you would not have a purchase from me today. Because of your stance on piracy outlined above, that will not be the case today.

Thank you for lending your voice of sanity and reason to what is unfortunately no longer a debate, with governments siding with whomever lines their pockets most, AKA not the people they are meant to represent.

Jeff says

What I don't understand about the MegaUpload situation is "who was advertising there and why have they not also been hauled in under the 'they knew what they were doing was bad' law that is presumably being applied?"

MegaUpload had two sources of income. People who pay to access, and advertisers.

If the advertisers were not present, the people who did not pay to access would have presented zero benefit, and thus MegaUpload would have no incentive to allow access.

jefffurry says

Excellent post, and I put my money where my fingers are (which makes for weird typing, but what the heck).

I've been doing file trading since before the internet, and in my experience, it's not about the money. It's see-what-its-like, or try-before-you-buy, or gotta-catch-'em-all, or re-route-around-DRM. Lost sales? Not so much.

SRDownie says

@Jeff Who was advertising? Who was supporting? Perhaps this video will partially answer your question: "MEGA UPLOAD SONG!!!!"

aikanae says

How can sites like MegaUpload be successful doing what Hollywood says it can't? MegaUpload just replaced Dotcom last month to continue with developing the site into a legit hosting service that paid independents, i.e. a competitor.

I think independent music is about 50%-70% of what is selling today. That's a threat.

Vaarel says

It actually makes you wonder how much business is actually driven by piracy, especially in cases where individuals would otherwise not have had access to sample artists beforehand. I'll admit I've on more than one occasion found a group that I otherwise would not have thanks to easy access and as a result purchased goods from them.

Tlchimes says

I never would have found you if I hadn't found Captain Valor on Youtube. He does a great job with your music in ASL. I have since bought your CD, read what you both write, and generally stalk your movements from a safe distance.

I don't know he had your permission when he started. Didn't think to check into it. But I am telling you that he was my gateway drug into your music. So really I think in someways the folks who use other folks work in their own creations can help the original artist. Does that make sense?

Don2002 says

Look at CK Lewis, he made over a million dollars on his $5 DVD of his act.
He was in control of the whole process. I agree with most of the post that I preview the work, if I like it I would buy the CD (most copy are low bit quality), go to the concert, get a tee ($35). I would not drop $20 for a CD of an unknown artist for one song??? I also agree that the quality of music has changed. I'm 46, my music; AC/DC, Eric Clapton, Eagles, Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Robin Trowler etc are some of the top grossing tour in the last ten year. Will people still be listening to (Insert Hip Hop Artist Name Here) 40 years from now? Some artist, Nine Inch Nails, have embraced the internet and the new model. Sony, RCA, etc have not and do not have a plan forward. Will they be the Tower Records, Blockbusters of tomorrow.
I'm not a Dead Head but they allowed people to dub their show and swap tapes and they did OK.

Allie says

Have we not had the ability to share music for quite some time? Burn cd's, back in the day make a cassette tape of an album. You heard about new artists thru the radio, friends, word of mouth. Well, now it's the internet.

John I. Carney says

I'm involved in a community theater group, and not long ago we did a dinner theater at a local restaurant. Most of the ticket price went to the restaurant to cover the cost of the meal, but we got a small share. For the very last performance of the run, due to an honest misunderstanding, someone affiliated with the theater group offered people who hadn't been able to buy a dinner ticket the chance to pay just for the cost of the play. As I say, it was an honest misunderstanding: person A thought that person B had gotten permission from the restaurant, when in fact person B hadn't been able to reach the proper person at the restaurant in order to have the discussion.

I promise, this is headed somewhere.

We only had a few people take advantage of the offer -- people for whom money was tight, people who wouldn't have been able to see the play at the full dinner theater price. In point of fact, the restaurant lost not a penny by those people being there, since none of them would have attended the play otherwise. They weren't taking seats away from paying customers because that night's performance wasn't anywhere close to being a sellout. It's possible the restaurant actually made a few extra dollars, if those people ordered anything from the bar or an appetizer or what have you.

But the restaurant people didn't stop to think about the reality of the situation. They went berserk, and the head of the community theater group ended up paying them money out of his own pocket just to placate them. It was a matter of control, not profits; they just didn't like the fact that these people had been admitted without their permission.

It's sort of the same situation here. I suspect it's not the profits that the entertainment industry is really concerned about losing, at least in the short term; it's control.

JBHemlock says

@ Vaarel - I know that Baen Books has done a very public experiment with different ebook strategies (i.e.: some of their titles they sell ebooks for; some they give away ebooks after the first run sells out; some they give away as soon as they're published), and their conclusions don't mirror RIAA or the MPAA's.

While I won't admit to illegally downloading media, I will admit to have discovered some really good artists via downloading free legal copies of their work. Those artists have gone on to make a bunch of money from me in ticket and merch sales.

One thing I like about JoCo's essay here is that he talks about the cost of anti-piracy efforts. That's something that many people don't like to talk about. Anti-piracy efforts (*any* anti-piracy efforts) cost. They cost money to implement or pursue. They cost in lost sales, both to people who won't buy a work without sampling it first and to people who won't buy a work *because* of the anti-piracy stance of the artist. They cost in returns, and in tech support calls. In the case of legislation such as PIPA, they cost taxpayers. This has to be balanced out against the losses (if any) that piracy creates. This, I think, is why anti-piracy proponents like to toss around improbably statistics. It's easy to shock people with figures like "$500 million in losses". It's hard, as JoCo points out, to show that those figures have any basis whatsoever in fact.

I used to work on Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, which was one of the things people would sometimes use to look up facts before Wikipedia became the accepted form of the hive mind's long term memory. I worked on the CD/DVD version of it. It was not a particularly costly piece of software. Most people got a copy when they bought a new Dell or Compaq. We were aware that many of our users did not pay for their copy, especially in places like Asia and Eastern Europe. We played around, at various times, with different anti-piracy methods. The worst years, in terms of support costs, were the ones where we tried to implement some sort of hard software anti-piracy system. In the end, we determined that the most effective - in terms of cost versus benefit to us - method was to simply print "Please do not make copies of this disc" on all the media.

Count Freud says

I make a very meager living talking about really old films, many of which will simply never see the light of day except as bootlegs. TCM and burn-on-demand DVD have changed that to a great extent, but I can tell you only a very few of the movies I ever found bootlegs of were released legitimately. When they are, I buy them. MST3K fans are the same way, buying the legit releases after buying bootlegs in droves back in the 1990s. I'm not sure anyone is hurt in these situations, but I would bet the government would say "Bob bought 8 bootleg episodes of MST3K, causing Best Brains to lose $90 in sales" when evaluating the situation, which is an unfair assessment.

Sometimes companies don't want to release things at all, and sometimes they release things in edited formats. Movies like Charley Varrick show up unedited on TCM every so often, but the legit DVD had scenes removed and was in pan and scan. The BBC releases edited versions of old Top of the Pops episodes on DVD; if you want the unedited full version, you have to record it off TV if you're in the right country, get a bootleg, or grab it from YouTube.

Also, I'm going to start using "blahbity bloos" in everyday conversation, especially in job interviews.

Doug says

The salvation of the music industry lies with iTunes, Zune, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify, RapidShare, and The Pirate Bay. Salvation will not be found with SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, DMCA, or DRM.

Leo says

I'm a film student - piracy is an issue that the big businesses would have you believe is going to leave me crippled and jobless in the very near future. Now, as we know, that's simply untrue.
On more than one occasion, I've pirated a movie. The movies we love, and watch over and over? We buy the DVD! The assumption of each download being a lost retail sale is simply wrong - at best, it's a lost rental. So I saved a couple bucks by downloading 'Movie X' instead of walking to the nearest video store and renting a scratched-to-hell DVD. Now, Movie X was a great film! I watched it a couple times, and then decided to order the special collector's edition director's cut from Amazon. Where's your lost sale?
Let's try another scenario. I babysit my little cousin while Aunt and Uncle celebrate their anniversary. I have a nice collection of horror movies, but the closest thing to a kid's film is probably Child's Play. My Aunt would surely murder me if I made him watch something like that, so what do we do? We pirate ourselves a copy of Cars 2. Hey, Bruce Campbell's on the voice cast - I'll watch anything with a Bruce Campbell cameo! Lord knows I sat through Congo for that very reason! So we watch Cars 2, play some Mario Kart, and nobody gets hurt. Except the movie industry, of course, thanks to my detestable downloading! Flash forward, and he now has both Cars movies on DVD, and a crapload of toys and merchandise. Where are these irreparable damages, again?

But let's talk music. One of my favorite singers tweeted recently that once an album of theirs hits the torrent sites, sales stop. And that's sad, really. Talented musicians deserve to be supported. Now, when I have never heard a band before, and read about them online, I will usually see what songs have been uploaded to YouTube, and the answer is usually EVERY SONG EVER. Copyright violation or otherwise, the whole album's on YouTube. So I give it a listen. "Hey, this is damn good!" Flash forward, and I've bought every album, as well as other band merch. This is very much an indie band, so the major record labels aren't seeing a cent of that, I'm sure. I'm also sure that they feel like indie artists are cheating them out of money, in that regard, because it seems that the indie artists have much more dedicated fan support. Modern mainstream music is - quite frankly - crap. I'm not buying it because I DON'T WANT TO LISTEN TO IT. I'm not stealing it. You would have to pay ME to listen to it. The market is different. I'll admit, the only name in modern music I even know of is Justin Bieber. I would wager that a good >90% of those Tweens downloaded the album to put on the iPod Mom and Dad's money paid for, then begged them for the Justin Bieber shirt that they could wear to the Justin Bieber concert, both also paid for by Mommy and Daddy.
It's like the Webcomics business model - Penny Arcade upload three strips a week, free of charge. You can buy print collections, if you would like to. You can buy shirts and merchandise. This is where the money comes from. If anyone can get your product free of charge with no obligation, you reach a wider audience. If you reach a wider audience, you can sell supplementary material to a wider audience. The real 'lost sales' are the thousands of supplemental things that can't be downloaded - like T-shirts - that could have been sold if more people listened to your music. An illegally downloaded mp3 of JoCo's Code Monkey may be indistinguishable from one acquired through paid download, but the kind of person who would have loved the song after hearing it somewhere in the pre-internet era and bought the CD for it, now has the option of buying one track, or downloading the album free, and then showing their love off with a Code Monkey T-shirt!
The market has changed, and they don't seem to realize it. Get with the times, big businesses.

peepers says

Can we not agree to call it sharing instead of piracy? Piracy is when you sell a bootleg. Sharing is when you let others at the theatre eat from your popcorn. Is that a lost sale? given the economic law of supply and demand, if digital popcorn is infinitely replicable its value is infinitely ___________...

ira says

I like how you think but am unfamiliar with your work. Given that,is there any place I can download a sample for free to determine if your "art" is worth purchasing or is a steaming pile of puke?

ira says

Nevermind I found the music. Sounds like Weird Al and Green Day spawned and unholy love child. I think I like it.

Charles says

1) Simply put, Jonathan Coulton's piece (above) is the most sensible thing I've read in the past week about SOPA, PIPA and MegaWhatever, but hat said, I'm a bit surprised there was no mention made of Creative Commons licensing, which is part of the foundation (so far) of JoCo's career.

2) As several people noted, 'piracy' of intellectual property does not necessarily translate into any lost revenue to the content creators and owners, in fact, quite the opposite, many people - like me - actually discover new music and books and films via, ahem, non-traditional means, and end up spending significant money buying certain artist's product, like the boucoup bucks I gleefully spent on the Level Four Participant Boxed Set of Goodies for JoCo's awesome new album 'Artificial Heart' - no really, I did, and what's more, I took my daughter to see him in concert, and have turned dozens of friends onto his music - indeed, I think it's fair to think of JoCo's fans as his street team, hell, even some artists - like Neil Gaiman - maintain that piracy leads to *more* book sales:

3) I saw a headline this week that caught my eye, to wit, that YouTube is now drawing over 4 billion views per day:,2817,2399212,00.asp - let that sink in for a every one of those views is monetized with those relatively unobtrusive little ads that appear at the bottom of the video...and then it occurred to me, YouTube was/is a 'piracy' site, too, except that its founders and Google found a way to make it profitable for both them and the content providers, and see, I think that's where the movie/TV production industry have failed to see the forest for the trees - if they would just release their product via streaming video on their own 'megavideo' type sites, with embedded advertising like they already do with a small number of their current shows on the network websites, i predict it would eliminate a significant portion of the piracy that they loathe so very much - obviously some would still want to own copies of the programming, but there's little incentive to spend hours and hours downloading some recently-broadcast show from a torrent site or a cyber-locker if it's legally available in HD, on demand, with no more adverts than one would have to cope with on regular TV - but that's just my opinion, I could be wrong

(With apologies to Dennis Miller for pirating his line. heh)

Devon says

I see a lot of "I heard this thing about thing copyright thing in Russia." I see very few citations and sources. If you're taking about legal mumbo-jumbo, newfriends, citations and sources are a pretty cool thing to have.

The present copyright law system, especially as pertains to the internet, is outmoded. It's antiquated. It requires updating. SOPA and its bastard cousins are not the way to accomplish this and leave the populace weeping in their joy, happy voices raised in song, praises sung in messages board signatures the world over. And as advanced and wondrous as we all fool ourselves into believing this Internet Superhighway is, it has not provided an amicable, user-friendly technological solution within the confines of legality. Oh sure, smarty-pantses, we've got Netflix and we've got Rhapsody and the iWhat-Have-Yous: but we have not provided the world with tools to both try what we want and pay what we want and do what we want and make everyone happy. It ain't just The Man that's failing to understand technology and its progression hand-in-hand with the law: it's all of you.

I accuse you of not providing me a legal method of trying out an album for a week or so and then say, nah, not for me, and placing it back on the shelf and not have Mall Security frisking my inner thighs. I accuse you of stealing and carrying off merchandise and not even noticing who owned in the first place. I accuse you of complaining about SOPA and defending The Pirate Bay in the same breath. I accuse you of not bludgeoning old politicians with iPods and smartphones and external hard drives. I accuse you of not picking them up after the bludgeoning, and then calmly and intelligently saying, "Sorry, pal. We sort of changed the world."

I accuse you of complaining about megaupload as vocally as you have when the government stepped in, and not when you knew, when you were absolutely certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were doing something illegal.

I don't claim to know anything about anything. I'm Canadian, I make no apologies for that. I don't know if I'm infringing someone's copyright if I watch something on YouTube. I don't know if I've broken the law when a barely-known friend sends me an album of folk stuff by a guy named Gregory Alan Isakov. And hey, I don't know if she has. The internet brings us together. Guess what? I just used the internet to borrow her CD. Remember when we borrowed stuff? That was a pretty cool time.

I like Jonathan Coulton's music. Were I to use my telephone to record a video of myself singing Still Alive in a sweet and angelic, yet somehow sultry tenor, would I be infringing something? What about if I put it on YouTube? I don't even know any more.

Tides are changing. Times are swinging in and out. I don't think the New Boss is going to be much the same as the Old Boss, not this time.

I have read every word that all of you have written. I agree with everyone, and I disagree with everyone, too. We're parleying on some funny middle ground. Everyone's to blame for not reaching some quorum, some form of understanding, of sympatico, of coming to terms with immense change in the face of technological growth and innovation. And the innovators blithely move on, ignorantly refusing to express the innovation in ways the Old Guard can grasp. Sometimes, you can explain a thing to someone with soft words and kind speech. Other times, you have to strike them with a wooden mallet.

A while back I was watching a great philosopher named Kid Rock on television. In an interview he was asked what he felt about Napster, and all the hullabaloo surrounding it. He said "Who cares? I'm rich."

I refuse to believe that we will suddenly be bereft of artists (or nefarious business interests) Scrooge McDucking themselves into piles of money simply because I (and by "I" I mean "somebody else") downloaded a few episodes of Gilmore Girls that I'd missed somewhere along the way. I have bad news: most everybody's pirated software of some sort. I have great news: they've continued to buy software. Besides, I like buying CDs. I like throwing them down my basement stairs after I've put them on my phone, my iPod, my computer, my Xbox, and anything else that has some form of storage. A poet named Saul Williams released his album (The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!) for free on his website, before asking users to pay $5 for a better audio quality series of tracks. I did both of those things. Not only that, I found a copy in a bizarre shop in Edmonton. Bought it for the ridiculous price of $22.09 (with tax).

Unfortunately, we're going to have to complain very loudly about SOPA and whatever else comes along. But while we're complaining we should be offering up our own terms. And explaining to the Old Guard what kind of tricks the New Guard can bring to the table. We have tricks. Even though I have no citations and sources to give you, I can assure you of this: we need to knock all these silly acronyms before more get made.

Brett Glass says

@Martin, either you have not read the bill or you have been deceived by Google's lobbyists. Or perhaps both. SOPA can only be used to take down foreign (not US) sites which are DEVOTED to piracy. Hardly a protection racket.

Greg says

Love the blog, its spot on and great Newsjacking. Sorry I don't know your music sorry but this is a perfect example how your business model is keeping with the times. Movies companies live in the past and need to stop being lazy and create new sustainable business models.

Ines says

@Brett: Oh, so great, I don't know what is worse: If that you are a SOPA believer, or rather that you think that content around the world should abide to american laws, because USA has the rights to decide if world content is good or not.

Please, don't insult the rest of the world. As Mr. Coulton said, you have people that simply put wants to share big files of own-created media, people which has pages of totally illegal content, and people which is "harmless". That doesn't only happens in American, duh.

You forgot to mention one more possibility: Let's say, Mr Coulton, that I've haven't heard of you since now. Let's say, I'm from Uruguay (I'm betting you don't even know where that is), and if it wasn't because of the Internet, possibly I wouldn't have heard of you in my entire life. Let's say artists have now an audience of billions of listeners, readers, and watchers, and that opens up new possibilities. That cannot be entirely negative.

SOPA is taking this a little too far just for the profit of the big companies, I don't think artists would become more rich with this.

See ya!

Craig says

When did Bill Maher turn into your average congressman? "Bill Maher Comes Out In Support Of SOPA/PIPA Despite Knowing Nothing About The Bills"

Maybe Jonathan can go on the Bill Maher show and smack him around a little.

Don says

I'm in my 50s and remember when piracy was taping my friends' LPs to cassette. Did that hurt sales? I say the opposite. We were college students with limited music budgets. Instead of all of us buying the latest Springsteen, one did and the rest taped it. Which left the rest of us some extra bucks to try out lesser known artists like Michael Dinner, Liv Taylor, Morningsong, etc. I say our taping helped the industry by spreading our dollars out more widely instead of making a few big names even richer.

Riipa says

Thanks for being the voice of reason.
Also, THIS: "I would so much love to fling more than 20$ your way, good sir. But you happen to never have concerts in good old Europe."

Laxator2 says

Did anybody notice that the Inquisition became the most active around the time of the Renaissaince? It was about that time that politicians had to come up with smarter ways to justify that they deserve the power, rather than becoming clerics and claiming that power is their God-given right.
The real problem the Records Industry has with the Internet is not piracy, but the fact that they don't control it. The article mentions the fight over distribution channels. It's a question of power, and people and artists have for more than a decade figured out that, thanks to the Internet, they don't need middle men to get in touch with each other.
The Records Industry was made irrelevant by the Internet and has no reason to exist; it has to come up with a new reason to stay in power, and that reason is "piracy".
The Internet ushered in the new Renaissance. And the Records Industry is the new Inquisition (guilty until proven innocent laws, as we can see).

Steve says

People forget to stop and think what they do with online services. Companies decide to make online backup a REPLACEMENT for backups they have physical control of. Never mind individuals doing the same.

I don't have ANYTHING online which is vital or important and does not exist elsewhere. I don't trust some online people to care for my data and to ensure it is secure from prying eyes, including theirs.

Anything else is taking a gamble where you don't in reality have a clue what the odds are for or against.

Just because it's new and cool sounding does not mean it's a good idea, or practical in every situation. I had someone exclaim this about my product, -"You don't support the Cloud!?! It's the FUTURE!"

Yep, that's true. But if you have millisecond requirements and absolutely cannot have any question about the accessibility to your data, then I'm sorry but clouds don't cut it. The above person was in disbelief and thought me an utter fool. Alas he knew very little about the industry I'm in, and I'm guessing, that he was trying to be in.

Woody says

I don't feel I know enough about piracy to properly engage in a two-sided debate, but I just wanted to say I agree with you. You're pretty cool. I liked this post a lot and, well, you're an entertaining and intelligent man. Have a great day :)

Diana says

Very sensible, thanks. Now excuse me while I go buy some of your art!

Flutterjedi says

You know, my respect for you was just boosted considerably. I do agree that it's sad that Megaupload was taken down for those legitimate uses, and it's a shame that a thing like this can't really exist without being used for piracy. Perhaps if Megaupload took greater care to remove the illegal content it could have stayed out of this legal trouble as YouTube seems to have done.

As for your talk about piracy, I think it was very well said and very intelligent. Like I said, you earned a lot of respect from me.

Monika says

I'm so glad that people like you say things like this.

I'd like to add an example:

Say there's a smart, young woman living in a country in Europe that's not the UK. Let's say that she had a thing for British and American TV shows and Asian movies as well as anime. She loves those things with the heat of a thousand suns and wants to be caught up on her favorite shows. She wants to watch them in their original language (if needed she'll read subtitles the whole time). She's ready to pay per episode as long as she gets to watch that file as many times as she wants (because, clearly, she tends to get really excited and needs to rewatch last week's episode of Doctor Who or Psych to spot all the details and learn all the amazing quotes by heart).

Her only problem is: She lives in a country where, even if she were to download/pay for the episodes on amazon or the likes, she'd still be doing something illegal under the law of her country. So, basically, no matter if she downloads pirated episodes/movies or pays for them on a site under the law of a different country, she's screwed either way.

The only two chances she has, is to wait for the release of that show on DVD (and how would she know that she really will still love that season of that show if she hasn't seen it before? Isn't it a bit unfair to expect that she's going to spend 30 bucks or more on a DVD set which she might resent buying? If they expect people to do that, then why have TV at all? Why not just release the DVD sets and see how that goes?) - or she could wait till MAYBE, AGES after its original air date, a TV boss from her country decides to spend money on that show, bring it over and then commit the crime of dubbing it - which she really wouldn't want because Benedict Cumberbatch's or Christian Kane's voices are nothing to be trifled with!

Now, tell me, why is it fair to make her wait when she's ready to buy all the DVDs and products and CDs and books as long as she gets to see what she's getting into first? Of course she wants to see if Sam and Dean are still as sassy as they used to or if House had gone any madder. Maybe she'll resent Arthur for sending away Gwen and not recognising that she was under a spell. Maybe she'll even stop watch a show altogether because the lead actor is becoming increasingly annoying and she is no longer willing to put up with him for the sake of minor characters that she actually likes. She won't know if she's going to like it or not, unless she gets the chance to sample it. If her country's going to punish her for paying for the content online, then why not download the content illegally for free? At least that way she'll save money that, later, she can use to buy the DVD sets and coffee mugs and tshirts and concert tickets.

As long as production companies don't make it possible for people from all over the world to watch their product as it airs (or a few hours, but not more than 12-24 ... and the smart, young woman from the European country actually prefers it to be less than two or three) - as long this is not happening, piracy will find a way. Just because they take away the internet that doesn't mean that the piracy is going to stop.

In fact, there are people trying to organise a protest called the Black March. They're asking everyone to not buy any copyrighted conted for an entire month. I'm personally not a big fan of this because it may hurt the companies a little, but it's mostly hurting shop owners and employees. Maybe not buy from amazon or big chains for a month, that'd be manageable, but please keep on supporting the small record stores and book shops and DVD places.

Basically, I agree and just wanted to say thank you for writing this.

Also: The young, smart woman from the European country obviously isn't me. But although she's hypothetical she's also very real. Just not me. Obviously.

Mike Barrett says

"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. "

And Jonathan doesn't just give lip service to that idea. He goes the extra mile to give the fans what ever he can possibly think they might want. I know, I've bought his karaoke tracks (and enjoyed singing them to stunned and delighted crowds who were probably expecting me to murder a Springsteen tune).

emily says

this sopa/pipa stuff recalls Zizek's speech at Occupy Wall Street: "we can imagine the end of the world but we can't imagine the end of capitalism." don't forget the movie industry plays perhaps a larger role in this than about actors making less than $40 MILLION PER FILM?

you can't calculate money lost based on downloads. A huge percentage of it is people downloading what they wouldn't buy, checking it out. Having technology that makes it possible to freely and openly share things is GOOD. It's GOOD for artists to have access to unlimited ideas. Too bad the system has to have a dollar sign on every fucking thing...mine mine mine I did it first, me me me. Artists should be able to feed themselves, it's true, but so should janitors and line cooks. And if you're complaining about money lost through downloading, probability is, you probably have plenty of it already, otherwise it wouldn't make too much of a difference (not 100% on that but that's how it seems). And if you are more concerned with lost profits you are putting that over your own personal intellectual and artistic stimulation. If I saw people downloading my work, I would be happy there was enthusiasm for it personally. But I am fine with being a starving artist.
There needs to be a NEW MODEL for creation, consumption, and capital. I have no idea what it would be but the time is now.

Rob says

Great posting. American, perhaps more than any other government, are notoriously bad at knee-jerk fast-tracking poorly designed legislation in to law. The DMCA is a fine example. Did it help piracy? Of course not. How about all the law suits? Of course not. Another question I've often pondered is where does the US government get it's statistics on piracy? I've specifically done a number of tests on BitTorrent, to test their statistics, on virtually all English medium (Movies, TV, Music, printed materials). The result is always the same. If it's in English, 80%+ of the peers on that torrent will originate from American IP addresses. I challenge anyone to try it. So, where do they get this super low piracy rate number?

If we look at other, similar laws such as HADOPI in France...has it had any affect? Of course not!!. I once read an interview with a French ISP executive that bluntly stated that bypassing the HADOPI system had become a "national pass-time" in France. The same can be said of similar laws in other places, such as the UK.

As others have stated, all these laws are are attempts to assert control over the Internet and really have NOTHING to do with piracy. These days, when you control the flow of data, you control the world and we all know how Americans think they control the world. There are very few official bodies in the world who have a larger sense of self entitlement and self importance than American big business. Honestly, no offense intended by these statements. Sadly, it is generally a very common perception many non-Americans have of the US.

Riti says

In response to the poster above me: I am admittedly not the best informed on this front, but I don't feel like there's a significant difference between the amount of care that megaupload took to remove illegal content and the care that youtube took; and, certainly, videos in violation of copyright laws were constantly being taken down. Not to mention the fact that, unlike youtube, megavideo/download users were generally limited in how much they actually COULD use the site for pirating purposes per day.

My point is, I don't know that a site like megavideo really COULD have operated much differently than it did.

Riti says

well, that got blocked off. It should be in response to ...a comment I can't seem to find anymore. ARG.

Clash says

Great post! Thank you! One thing I'd like to add, however, is the *value* of art/artists. I don't think this was exemplified as well as immediately after 9/11. Both as a means of 'therapy' for the nation, when a lot of places were closed the show did go on, as well as an economic driving force. ENTERTAINMENT, in all it's forms, was the first industry to move after that (and history shows it never truly falters, we need to be entertained). But society will always forget. Pity.

Jeremy says

Quick personal story: in 2000, a friend burned a mix CD (from Napster) and 2 of the songs were from a band I had never heard before (we'll call them Band A). I really liked those 2 songs, and later she burned another CD with 7 of Band A's songs. I liked them so much, I burned their entire CD. A few months later, they released a new album. I went and bought that album. Then I heard they were playing 5 hours away... and I drove 5 hours to hear them (buying a concert ticket, of course). The opening band, Band B, blew me away. The next week, I bought Band B's album. And a DVD of their videos. Sometime later, Band A released another album, and another, and another. I bought them all. And I've seen them in concert 2 more times. At one of those concerts, Band C opened for them, and I bought Band C's album. Then Band B released another album... I think you see where this is going.

All because my friend illegally downloaded 9 songs for me.

Dave says

Hi there. I knew your name sounded familiar when I got linked to this post.
So I went to youtube and listened to 2 songs of yours then decided to buy the new album.
$10 well spent.
That's how you stop piracy. I really couldn't agree much more to anything.

Misaki says

Well, first lets separate the difference between copyright infringement and counterfeits. SOPA covers both, but these are two completely different problems that require different solutions.

To address counterfeits, which is defined as replica products that carry trademarks or purport to be an authorized, licensed product when they aren't. These are physical products, and there is no way (yet) to make copies via download (see 3D Printers), I give the world about 5 more years before the toy companies start complaining about piracy of their plastic toys. Right now companies send DMCA takedowns to companies that sell the legal product, claiming counterfeits, because they are selling outside the licensed region. This is known as parallel imports, and some countries, like Australia allow parallel imports because of price discrimination.

To address copyright infringement, companies need to make it easy to access, which they aren't doing by having DRM and region locking. Try to buy a song from Japan on the US iTunes store. It won't let you. Why have this restriction? So instead of receiving 1.99 for the song, they receive zero as the potential customer has to instead find it on TPB or some other site because they won't sell it to them.

This problem is also found with countries that speak the same language. Australia routinely has to pay 3 times the amount for the very same product sold in the US or UK. Canada's prices are often on par with the US, but because of antiquated culture laws, or licenceing issues, Canadians can't buy from iTunes things that are on the US iTunes site, and get a much more neutered netflix experience. So how is this solved? Piracy. They may keep their netflix subscription, but they still pirate the shows that are on the US site.

Same with Anime. Japan produces far more anime than what gets licensed in the US(Funimation) or Australia(Madman Entertainment.) The fansubbers have a turn around time of less than a week per episode. There is no legal way to do this, but since many of these shows are not licensed in the US, and aren't on the iTunes store in any way. But Americans want to watch them anyway. Quite a problem here, there is no legal way to give the Japanese production company money for fansubbed anime unless it happens to be the small amount that is released on crunchyroll. But there are also pirates who will distribute the fansub the very same anime that is on crunchyroll.

So not everyone is going to pay. You can't force them to buy what they don't want to buy, and sometimes you just have to let the freemium model be the default model. 2% of potential consumers of the content are willing to spend on a project (see kickstarter and independent comics) because they want to, the remaining 98% consume the content for free, but may generate some ad revenue if there is an official distribution point, as opposed to zero revenue if it has to be obtained entirely through piracy channels.

We should not be concerned about piracy, if the media's primary distribution method is "free", produce good content, and people will support it. Produce bad content, or make it difficult to consume (DRM, region locks, physical-media only, exclusive to X store/service, etc) and you have nobody to blame but yourself for lack of sales.

David Dietle says

First off, I am not even a little surprised that the guy who brought me "Still Alive" and "Want You Gone" is this insightful. (And yes, I am convinced they exist for me alone, even though you have never heard of me before.)

I remember back when the whole Napster thing blew up; it actually turned me against some artists I had previously loved, because they got incredibly preachy about the whole thing. Despite owning every studio album they had made up until that point already, I went ahead and downloaded Metallica's entire library off Napster. It wasn't much of a point, but I was trying to make one. (Namely, "Go to hell, Lars. You can already afford a Porsche. Plus, you stole the band's name from a friend, ass.")

I have a decent body of work on the internet, myself (I'm a writer, quite a bit for and have not only had my stuff copied word for word by other sites, but even been straight plagiarized, with one idiot copying and pasting an entire article on his site and claiming credit, not to mention engaging commenters as if he had written it.

And I am still with John thinking this whole anti-piracy legislation is crap. Sure, I wanted to huck rocks at the guy's head, but he got his anyways, thank to the existing state of the world before any of that crap was drafted.

MustrumRidcully says

If they change this:
> As long as production companies don’t make it possible for people from all over the world to watch their product as it airs (or a few hours, but not more than 12-24 … and the smart, young woman from the European country actually prefers it to be less than two or three) – as long this is not happening, piracy will find a way. Just because they take away the internet that doesn’t mean that the piracy is going to stop.

So anyone (not ust a smart female, maybe even a dumb male and everything in between!) can get the stuff that is produced, fast, timely and comfortably,

> “Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan."

Then this will _really_ work. You probably don't even have to create stuff that's just for a mass market (though it's always cool if you manage that) - even niches can be satisfied. That means more revenue.

To a limit - at some point, we really don't have any more money to give you.

But maybe the problem is - Is there too much "cut out the middle man"? Middle Men don't like to be cut out...

Dave says

Sometimes middle men just don't serve purposes anymore. If that happens they vanish. That's what happens unfortunately.
I heard after steam trains started going out of service they still put the guys who shoveled coal onto the new trains even though they didn't have to do anything...

steelman says

That's nice to know that not all artists are Luddites opposing the change.

There's been very loud dispute about ACTA for the past four days in Poland. Although there is a lot of opponents only few of them can say why this bill is a problem and most people just yell "STOP ACTA". It is a problem because it mixes few types of "intelectural property" in one bag, while each of them requires different protection and these needs change over time differently.

Rob says

"But maybe the problem is – Is there too much “cut out the middle man”? Middle Men don’t like to be cut out…"

I have a real-life example of middlemen at work in Canada. There are sectors where it is illegal to cut out the middleman. If I wanted to open up a bike shop, for instance, legally, I HAVE to use a middleman and am not allow to buy directly from the manufacturers. That, often substantial, middleman markup is, of course, passed on the the customer. When I bought my bike back in 2004, I got it on sale for $1900, which was marked down from $3000 due to being the previous year's stock. The retail price in the US was $2000 and some places had the previous year's stock on sale for under $1000. In any case, there was a 50% markup on retail price, from the US to Canada, which is obscene. Same goes for bike parts. Even after exchange, duty, shipping, etc. I can buy Race Face parts from a US store like Pricepoint for, on average, half the price I can buy it here at a local bike shop. Now here's the kicker, Race Face (Now defunct) was a Canadian company and most parts were manufactured here. Much of this markup must have had to do with the middleman requirement.

So yes...I hate middlemen, when I see the Canadian and US dollars at parity and products I want in the US often for half what they are here.

Not really have much to do with middlemen, but more about inequitable pricing...
Movies are another area of contention for me. Compare BluRay prices on and Again, with a near-parity dollar, the price difference can be shocking. You can't even order off anymore to save money like you used to be able to, you get hit with a seeming arbitrary import tax, which if you do the math, really equalizes the price to VERY close to what you would pay on It reeks of price fixing to me. I have ordered from and friends have ordered from and they have no such import tax, but the language barrier can be challenging and obviously LONG shipping times.

Another example of overt mark-ups I've recently encountered, perhaps also due to middlemen, was at Chapters. I was looking at some graphic novels and was shocked at the markup. I don't remember which ones, perhaps Fables or Hellblazer. In any case they had the typical publisher SRP US/CAN pricing of something like $21.99US/$24.99CAN...THEN they were marked up even further with a price tag stating $26.99. I was so appalled, at Chapters selling above SRP that I almost took it to the cash register to ask why, but didn't figure they would be able to tell me why.

Andy says

i download musics and doesn't afraid of anything.

but I also go to shows and buy merch.

Dartigen says

Just so you know, yes there have been studies on the effects of piracy.
One found that pirates purchased ten times as much music as they steal.
Another, squished by the MAFIAA, reported that pirates were vastly more likely than the average person to buy DVDs of movies and TV shows, because they are generally more interested in these things.

(Another interesting bit of science us the procesTs by which people discover new music - it goes Listen-Like-Buy. Skip any step and it falls apart. I am willing to bet money that the process is pretty much the same for all entertainment.)

You have, in one sentence, summed up what I have been saying is the solution to piracy.
However, I have wondered if there is not also a way to increase interest in media in general (and more interest means more sales.)
If everyone offered a small sample of their media for free - say, the first chapter of a book, or one or two tracks off an album, or one episode of a TV show or 15 minutes of a film - it is enough for people to decide if they like it or not. If they like it, they will probably buy it. And if you make it easier for people to figure out if they like it, more people will buy it.

Trahern says

I was dubious when the BBC restarted Doctor Who, but after seeing a few episodes on youtube, I was a dvd-buying fan. This exemplifies the business model the entire entertainment industry should be moving towards. I stopped watching television years ago. I've been going by online word of mouth since Firefly/Serenity.

I respect the copyright of any product unless I can't get it any other way. DVD region codes are one reason. Another is not wanting to pay for something I decide isn't worth the price. If there's one thing I'd like to see done with pirated material, it's to put together the three Transformers movies, edit out all the crap, and end up with one reasonably entertaining movie.

Something someone else said: "Hollywood was specifically created because, at the time, Edison held almost all patents controlling movie-making. No one else could get a foot in the door because of his lawyers, so they hightailed it out to the west coast, where no one was interested in encforcing patents out of Memlo Park New Jersey, and thus the movie industry as we know it was born. Funny how now that the shoe is on the other foot they scream bloody murder."

Claire says

Well done! Thank you for writing that! I know people who do plenty of downloading but in most cases they still spend money on TV DVDs, going to the movies, movie DVDs, legal music etc etc. It very often broadens the scope of what people experience and are thus so much more likely to spend money in ways they would never have considered before...

“Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan.”

Absolutely the way to go!

stack says

brb downloading all your output...

werewolves says

Mr. Coulton, I have never purchased your music before, but after reading this I immediately purchased Artificial Heart (with two clicks at Amazon). Bravo.

Squirrel says

@Brett Glass

Im sorry, but what you've said is technically impossible. The United States can not pass a law that is effective outside its borders. Likewise, the US can not pass a law that makes things illegal if they are performed outside the US, and they can't take down websites that arent in the US. If we could, then you'd see us doing something about the Mexican cartels, and Pirate Bay would have been shut down a long time ago.

Trish says

I think it's sad that anyone who wants to make art has to accept that everything they make will be downloaded and pirated no matter what you say. Any art. Whether that's music or movies or anything. You're right with the signs of the times. You don't get money from "art" now. And whatever, that's fine. Maybe it'll deter those fools who want to get into art for the money. It's the fact that if I make something, I don't have the rights at all whatsoever as to where my art is distributed or shown, due to the old models of the entertainment industry. The industries have to change, because it isn't piracy. It's "I'm checking if this is shit or not before I spend my hard earned money because fuck you I'm the consumer." That's the way of the world now.

James says

You raise some very good points about the usage of these file storage/sharing services. I store all of my weekly system backups on one of these sites. They are perfect for offsite backups. I don't know why I would be denied the right to save my own data online just because some people choose to use the same service for illegal purposes.

I also agree that the media companies need to find a better way to serve their content to us. Sometimes there is no choice but to watch 'illegal' content.
For example - I loved the TV series "Moonlight". It was made in 2008, but did not air in my country until the very end of 2011. Netflix does not operate in this country, and iTunes cannot stream most content because it is not licensed for this region. So what alternative do I have that download a copy myself? I can't exactly fly to America just to watch a TV show.
Incidentally, when the series did eventually air here I still watched it. So where was there any loss of income. In fact I encouraged a few other people to watch it because I knew they would like it. So having access to the download increased the potential revenue.

The media industry must stop fighting to preserve an old paradigm and learn to operate in the new one.

Paul Record says

If you make the thing accessible, DRM-free and it is worth a crap, I will buy thing, directly from you. I will even likely support your "brand" too.

MogKnight says

"Stopping piracy is pointless so let's make piracy pointless."

This is something that companies just aren't doing a good job of. Games in particular become too difficult to purchase for people outside of America that their only resort is to pirate because it's just leap and bounds easier. It's like when we want to import games from Japan, some of the prices are just ridiculous clocking in at like 100 bucks for a PS3 import. Certain online distributors aren't accessible in other countries like Steam, iTunes, Netflix and Hulu. When it becomes impossible and piracy becomes the only solution, we got a problem.

On that same note, piracy is a method of "try before you buy" for games and as stated by some people here, it ends up being a gateway to music artists and genres. Not everything is so bad with it and there are some hidden benefits that we cannot possibly create statistics for.

We need to stop region locking, stop putting on restrictive DRM that hurts the consumer experience and probably reconsider some of the pricing. It's hard to really say every retail game is worth 60 bucks nowadays.

BethanytheMartian says

“Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan.”

A while back Fox decided they'd have an 8 day delay before they would send things on to Hulu. Fox made this change, presumably, because they felt too many people were watching online and not tuning in. As soon as this change took effect there was a peak in piracy. People didn't suddenly start tuning in, because if they were gonna watch it on Fox then they already would have been. When it's almost instantly available on Hulu, people watch it on Hulu! When it's not, people watch it elsewhere!

laura says

and what about all the extra work/jobs being created to fight piracy? probably just as many if not more than the handful potentially lost because of piracy.

if the content is good enough people will pay for it. if you make some countries wait up to 2 years for said content, or don't make it available for purchase at a reasonable price, then it's your own idiotic fault. it's rather simple.

as a teenager, i had little money to buy music with. so i downloaded it. it's true. but that ability to download more music meant that if i heard a song on the radio i would get the artists whole album, and realise i liked them a lot more than i thought i did. my list of musicians i like grew exponentially. now i'm an adult. i have more disposable income. instead of having a handful of favourite artists i buy the albums of, and just listening to the radio for other music, i am now buying the music of many more artists. i am more open minded to trying new music. iTunes suggests i might like someone, and you know what? i press the little play button next to their songs and i discover someone new i now like!

i don't think i would spend as much money on music as i do now, if i hadn't pirated music for a few years in my teens. I've even legally bought most of that as well.

i dare say it's the same with TV/Movie pirates. although i find TV and movies have less replay factor than music

if i caused loss of jobs back then, then i'm contributing to more jobs now. and i'd say they should count it as a win. i know i'm not the only one who has gone this way.

Julian says

I feel that SOPA and PIPA are silly bills. I know that the guy who created SOPA has a picture on his site that infringed a person's copyright on that picture. Basically, he didn't credit the guy who took the picture on his website. Anyway, searching for piratic internet users is pointless. It is very hard to convict a single person of piracy. Everyone commits piracy on the internet. How does a person sue the internet?

What I mean by "everyone commits piracy" is not "everyone uses Limewire or downloads torrents" I mean answering "yes" to these questions:

Have you ever burned a copy of your favorite CD for a friend? YES! I do that all the time! That would technically be "piracy" because you are copying and distributing a person's work without their permission. Why aren't those people being charged with piracy?

Have you ever given someone your favorite book to read? YES! Everyone does this! You have at some point in your life recommended that your friend read a book you liked. That is also, legally speaking, the same as burning a copy of a CD for your friend.

I think everyone understands my point. Besides, there is no economic evidence of how illegal downloading or distributing affects the artist or the company the artist speaks through. In fact, I believe that the sharing of music or books over the internet creates an economic BOOST for the artist. Cory Doctorow, an author, posts his books for free on the internet, AND HE MAKES MORE MONEY!

See it for yourself!

Florian Pohl says

I do agree with this. The most companys miss the most important point. All the customers are already paying the money they can afford for music/movies/games. No one thinks "Well I haven't paid all the money I can spend this month. So I will buy the CD/DVD/bluray additionally to the other stuff.". So let's assume piracy would be banned completly from the internet. The only result will be that the money which was spend until this point will be more divded between all titles.
The main problem is all these companys are thinking when they do publish more stuff the customers will also buy more. Since this didn't work the next thought was to compensate this by making the products more expensive. This had the same result and this will always go and on....
There isn't a huge problem with piracy. It is just a problem of to bad products for a price which is to high.

Justin says

I'm not prepared to read everyone's comments (sorry, too many), but I just thought I'd say that as an artist, I would turn a blind eye to people illegally downloading my stuff. However, I don't believe that recorded music should be free to all, all the time. Making a record is really expensive, and if no one ever pays for it, independent artists will stop making new independent art, and then we really will only have the shite of the idol industry left.
If you get your hands on my music, in any way, and like it, I'm happy. But the fewer people who buy it means the longer it will take to make the next one. Bands also use sales figures to decide where they will tour. So if you really want to see a band live, and haven't bought the latest record, don't complain when they don't play in your city.
Otherwise, unless someone else is profiting from illegal downloads, I don't see a problem.

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

@ Martin:
"You seem to have difficulty with the concept that certain ways of making a living are a human right, but others are not. Let me help you out with another example:

Making a living is a human right – but making a living from a protection racket is not."

That's not a very good example, now is it? Protection racketeering is a crime - making art is not. Better come up with a better argument than that. Preferably one that explains why art, in particular, is not a legitimate way to make a living.

Gervaise Hamster-Smith says

What I'm saying is this: the statement "making money from art is not a human right" is ridiculous, if we accept the premise that it is in fact a human right to make a living (as stated by the UN). Why art? Why not apples? Apple producers have no business complaining when people come to their orchards and eat their apples for free, because "making money from apples is not a human right". I don't think most people would agree with that argument. So, what about real estate? I suppose it's ok for me to just move in to an apartment without paying rent to the owner of the building, because "making money from real estate is not a human right". No? Ok, fine - but why art? Why is this argument valid when it comes to art?

It isn't. It's an intellectually unfounded argument.

Note: in this post, I am not comparing filesharing with stealing apples, or with squatting. I am just examining the statement "it is not a human right to make money from art". So spare me the "copying is not stealing" replies, please.

Igor Levicki says

@Gervaise Hamster-Smith:

Maybe he meant to say "it is not a human right to make obnoxious amounts of money from art"?

You know, I personally believe that artists are over-compensated nowadays.

If I make bread for a living I have to make new loaf each day to be able to keep selling it. On the other hand, an artist can write one song, and, if it is any good, keep living off the royalites. I understand that much more skill is required to write a good song, but the reward is disproportionate to say the least. Every day surgeons operate to save someone's life, every operation is a work of art, yet they are compensated less than musicians, or actors. I am sick of this model where entertainment lobby using their vast resources idolizes artists and creates fake demand thus raising their "value".

dartigen says

Two things - one, there have been studies on piracy. Both had unsurprising results, really.
One study found that pirates (or others who legally acquire music for free) are ten times more likely to purchase music than the average person. The other found that pirates buy more DVDs, see more movies in cinemas, and are generally more interested in movies.
(I can't find the full text of the studies, but here are some news stories on them:
Study one:
Study two: )
So the issue with poor sales is lack of interest.

People find new music by a specific process - listen-like-buy. You must first listen, and then like, before you buy. Miss and step and the process halts. If you don't listen, you cannot like, you will not buy. If you don't like it, you won't buy it either. I am willing to bet money that the process is much the same for books, movies, TV shows and videogames - you have to try before you buy.

While I disagree with giving away anything for free, I would like to point out that the cosmetic industry has it down - give away a small sample for free, let the consumer try it, and if they like it they'll buy the whole thing. Videogames do it with demos that allow you to play the first one or two levels of a game. The solution is not new.

So let's say the media in question is a book. Every writer knows that the first chapter is the one that has to hook the reader. If they are not hooked by the end of that first chapter, they won't be, ever.
So, give away the first chapter for free. If people like it, they'll come and buy it.
Or music. Give away one or two tracks from an album, or one single or EP, for free. That should be enough for people to decide if they like your band or not.
Movies, theoretically, do this with trailers, but it's very hard to pack a three and a half hour movie into sixty seconds, and the art of making good trailers seems to have mostly been lost. Rather, previews such as the IMAX previews for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises seem better to me - 10 minutes of the film, or a prequel of the film, is enough for people to decide if they like it or not.
For TV shows, give away the pilot, or very first episode.
Essentially, give away a small amount for free so that people can decide if they like it or not, and if they like it they'll buy the whole thing. And if not, nothing is lost by giving them a small sample.
Providing small, free samples would also make people more interested overall in media, and thus more likely to buy it.

That's only the start - there's a lot more issues, like release times, distribution, ease of purchase for overseas fans, and localization (for videogames and software) but it's a start.

Ryan Keys says

The fight against Internet piracy isn't about internet piracy or loss of sales.
It's because the big media companies despise competition from the little guy.

Their services are outmoded and ineffectual, and they compromise quality for a more palatable product that will earn them back their investments.

Meanwhile, guys in their bedrooms and basements are earning a steady living off generating content that the media companies wouldn't invest in, and they can't cope with it.

That's all it boils down to. For me, Piracy is usually a service issue more than anything else. Look at people who like to watch Japanese shows like Kamen Rider or Super Sentai, these are shows that aren't licensed to the west, so fan subtitles are all they could rely on. With the take down of MegaUpload that source has been temporarily taken away from them. But they will manage to get it back, and this is a viable market that isn't touched because companies don't think there's any profit.

They see the internet and they're scared of it. That's all it boils down to.

Adrian P says

I was first exposed to your music quite a few years ago because someone gave me a thumbdrive full of MP3s. Piracy! As a result of this, I have bought some of your songs, and bought tickets to several of your concerts. I've also shared some of those mp3s with other people, gotten THEM hooked on you, and THEY have bought songs, concert tickets, and a bit of merch.

So... I'm not sure if I should apologize or not for a little bit of piracy in the beginning, because as a result of it I've (happily) given you more of my money than I would have if no piracy had occurred. To make it more complicated, at one point I felt like a bit of an ass for having songs I hadn't paid for when you had been so generous and given away so much for free, so I bought a few songs from your website which I already had copies of.

I can't say that everyone will react this way. I'm sure some people have just torrented all of your stuff and never given you a dime. All I know is that in my specific case, piracy resulted in me giving you money.

While I'm on the subject, I also downloaded OK Go's first two albums for free. I got hooked. I watched all of the cool videos they were giving away. When "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" came out, I bought it. I would have felt like a TOTAL ASS if I'd downloaded it, because they were giving away so much stuff already.

At least for me, being good to your fans is a much better anti-piracy measure than any law.

Angel says

I know that may sound a bit anarchistic, but I really DO want the music industry to die.
I have to clarify - that's not a hormonal teenage rant against The Big Man.
When I say 'music industry' I mean this heavy and expensive system, developed in order to facilitate the distribution of the material objects that cotain intelectual product to the people this intelectual product is addressed for.

I just think that the relationship between the author and the recipient of the his creation could be (with the internet) and should be (through the internet) much more intimate than now. I always try to pay for the stuff I download and even if I can't say that all the music I've listened and the movies I've watched are legally obtained, I assure you - it's not due to lack of will.
I want, I need to show support to the people, who make me happy and I want to help them have a good life, because that's the bargain - they help me, I help them. We're all happy. So I gladly pay what I can to the painter (for example) - for the frame, the canvas, the oil, the brushes. Also, he painted, instead of making money any other way, so I pay him for the time it took to work the masterpiece, and I pay him out of respect. What I don't need nowadays is a salesman to bring the painting to my home. I don't want to pay for this service, because I don't need it.
Basically the 'Distribution of Intellectual Goods Industry' is just an overgrown infrastructure that's rapidly becoming obsolete. There'will always be recordings, studios and concerts and for these things we'll always have to pay. I prefer to pay the author directly.
And that's why at the end when the Industry dies the piracy will become a negligible nuisance - it is my opinion that criminal intent you will find only in people who have an easy choice between illegal and legal download (I think everybody here agrees with that) and what's most important - most of them don't steal from the authors, but from the middle man. I know, it makes them sound naive and stupid and also victims of misunderstanding, but I still think it's correct - most people download illegal content, not having in mind that they steel it from the author, but doing it to mess with that big shiny rich corporation whose only line of profit it making you pay for stuff. People steal movies from Hollywood, not from the actors, they deny profit to Amazon and iTunes, not to the singers and so on. At least I think that's the case as far as intent is concerned.

I don't want stand on the side of piracy, I just think 'piracy' is dangerously misinterpreted term and we should build our system by redefining the terms first.

Steam was mentioned multiple times, the direct access to the albums of JoCo also was mentioned - that's the real stuff that should interest us, because that's, well... the first glimpse of what's to come. In a medium of free dissemination of information there's no other way.

And while I may be warried for the collateral damage and unnecessary casualties of the paradigm shift in the so called "Entertainment Industry", I'm not really worried about the long term future. Attempts, such as SOPA and PIPA and similar, will hurt many people, but will hurt the overall cilture as much as, well... let's say it seems to me as futile as an attempt to make the air smell of roses only over one country, but not over the rest of the world.

P.S. OK, last words - extreem freedom vs. extreme control? (I hate extreems, but things are what they are). I DO KNOW that people are esentially good and given the opoortunity they do the right thing. The same applies to piracy.
With a good incentive you can turn extreme freedom to a prosperous relationship.
But once you give extreme control, you can never get it back without paying severe costs. And doing that would be plain stupid.
So - freedom.
P.S.S. OK, last last words - the MegaUpload being taken down is... to put it gently - arrogant overkill. The cure for common cold is not an amputation. All the more when the diagnose is still debatable. Such acts must be discouoraged!

Jay says

"Mr. Coulton, I have never purchased your music before, but after reading this I immediately purchased Artificial Heart (with two clicks at Amazon). Bravo."

Sucker! :-)

Ilca says

Higher price -> less people affords it -> more piracy
Lower price -> more people affords it -> less piracy

That's a simple rule of market that a lot of people seem to forget. Of course, there are other factors, but this is the main source of variability.

liza says

i live in asia and a lot of the stuff that i want to read, view or listen to don't get here. i tried buying online but my country is not acceptable to american or european retailers so i am left with no other option but to download illegally (or wait until someone travels there and even then i can't watch movies because of the region) and i had the money to pay but the powers that be deemed my money not good enough so in effect, it is the music/film/book industry themselves that pushes piracy to otherwise law abiding citizens.

RobinH says

Well said!

And as a user of MegaUpLoad who used it to send files with lots of boring photos and video of industrial equipment to customers (because they were too large to be emailed), and video (that I shot) of steam locomotives for my train-mad nephews...thanks for mentioning us legal users who now have to find another option.

stage1 says

@ Squirrel

"The United States can not pass a law that is effective outside its borders. Likewise, the US can not pass a law that makes things illegal if they are performed outside the US, and they can’t take down websites that arent in the US."

R U American, by any chance?! America does this all the time. How? Simple. It leans on people. It has a supposedly bi-lateral fast track extradition treaty with the UK, for example. Using this treaty, the US LEA (any of them) can pick up the phone and have a UK citizen dragged off the street and sent to the US, and don't have to provide any evidence that a crime was committed. It may even be that they did something that isn't even a crime in the UK. No matter. The treaty has never been ratified by the US congress, so it currently operates in one direction only. And will continue to do so, no doubt.

It operates like this against anything it doesn't like, all over the world. It regularly gets foreign porn sites it doesn't like taken down, just by leaning on the government concerned.

TravisZ says

The MegaUpLoad situation reminds me a lot of when entertainment industry got up in arms about VCRs and how they were going to cause a lot of piracy. If I remember correctly, the Supreme Court ruled that the lawful uses out-weighed the unlawful ones.

stenar says

"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it." This is an exact quote of Steve Jobs.

charlotte says

My main problem with piracy, specifically music piracy, is the indirect effect it ultimately has (or will have) on the music industry. Because people are not buying the music that it costs record companies to record and produce, record companies have less money. This means record companies are gradually becoming less likely to take risks on interesting and new artists/bands and, instead, just taking the commercial mainstream stuff that is almost guaranteed to sell. So, music piracy will most likely impede the growth of many new bands in the future. And that sucks.
And as well as that, the fact that music is becoming a thing that is thought of by many as "free", it could totally change the way music is appreciated. Instead of buying an album and getting your moneys worth by listening to it closely and enjoying it wholly, people will download songs here or there all the time, and won't feel the need to give them much attention. Music won't be special anymore because it'll be so easily accessible.

Rob W says

Love your comments. I’m not a great writer so I will attempt to get the point across. Though I agree that the internet should be free and unhindered by government and laws, IP rights are getting trampled. IP rights that are digitally created and transferred are at the highest risk. The internet isn’t free. (A-D-D Moment - shoot its not free because you pay a monthly fee to access it unless you Wifi it at the local hot spot – which the store your in does to attract business thereby you are actually paying for it through the purchase of coffee or whatnot ) Granted business models are becoming archaic and need to be overhauled when it comes to the music industry…but when a “label” spends tens of thousands to millions of dollars to make that IP record and the artists who wrote that IP doesn’t pay outright for the production of that IP if stolen (pirated for those who can’t call themselves thieves)… who loses? Not the artist. The real loser - the producer of the IP for mass consumption. So the people who work at that the music label, computer software company, or -pick a product brainchilded by joe shmo, loses their jobs or lifesavings when the sales of that IP product doesn’t come in. Was there a study on that? Yep. It’s called the unemployment line. The music world over the past 8 years has “let go” thousands of employees due to lost sales or decreased sales . Shoot with iTunes lowering the cost of singles from $3.99 to .99 and albums from $16.99 to $9.99 that alone hurt. Then there was Napster and now Spotify. The Spotify service is underwritten by advertising thereby allowing Spotify to pay royalty rights to the label that made the IP product and the artist. (granted its .0000000001 cent per play) See here’s my take on music and all IP rights (computer software, graphics, games, movies, pictures, animations) – Just because the mode of distribution has changed doesn’t give people the right to steal. If I walked into any store and removed any article out of that store without paying and get caught…its called theft. Star Wars, Metallica, ACDC, APPLE , and Microsoft keep VERY tight hold on their IP.
On the web we poo poo it and say that’s ok…your just pirating. May I give you a modern analogy?
Joe Paterno was seen as one of the greatest football coaches but due to him not reporting a repeating child molester to the cops his legacy is tarnished. Whether he reported it to the factuality or not is irrelevant. That is another debate entirely. His character and ethics weren’t high enough. What are we saying about our culture when we say to each other steal away. Its nothing . You won’t get caught and better off it hurts no-one. Joe didn’t hurt anyone. In fact there wasn’t a technical study on the effects of him hurting anyone. He wasn’t the molester. But now he’s on the trial of public opinion even after he’s dead for another man’s crimes. Aren’t we saying the same thing when we O.K. internet theft? Better yet do it ourselves? Now for those of us who give degrees on the severity of crimes I say hold up. Anyone hurting another person is hurting that persons freedom. In a true free society the abridgement of someone else freedoms is totally wrong. Murder, molestation, theft, assault..the list goes on. In other words a crime is a crime.
Now for music in general let me weigh in on the new business model. Labels can’t continue the present course of business without 360 degree deals. Artists found out the easy way – on the backs of the theft and the industry getting screwed. See when the music is given away free the people go see them in concert and pay $30-250 dollars a ticket to go see. Then drop $20-100 on a shirt at the concert. Shoot there’s even concession sharing. The artist got paid and never cared about the album sales as that money wasn’t “attainable” so the outward appearance is always coming from the artist that it’s ok to steal the music because you’ll come see me at my shows. The labels didn’t tap into that. They do now. You’ll start seeing and hearing more 360 deals. The labels are chalking that up to marketing costs. They even “leak” out a song now and then for the “pirates” before an album release. Or better yet product 2 albums one acoustic and the other the fully produced one and give the acoustic one for free when you purchase the other one..until they both are pirated. You’ll also start seeing less and less music from them as the control gets tighter and tighter.
Lets talk about art… If I sat down in a dentist chair and had a cavity filled with gold, got up after a splendid job from this craftsman and told him, “Thanks! I appreciate your artistic work on my jaw but I’m entitled to this.” Then walked out of his/her office and didn’t pay, you’d think I was crazy. Intellectual property and hard work in our world needs to be paid for or the plumber, the secretary, the car mechanic and the musician doesn’t have a chance. The internet doesn’t nor shouldn’t give us the right to steal. It gives us the right to FREELY exchange ideas. That means your own ideas to someone else without getting it stolen. If you want to share it do that. But others aren’t entitled to the right to “share” it for you. Jonathan, artists were commissioned. The artwork that adorns the chapels in Rome were paid for. The statues were paid for. How doesn’t matter, what matters is the artists were paid. Even Mozart was paid by the King. Handels “Messiah” was commissioned and given to the King who STOOD when he heard it. Jonathan help people understand that just because you want something doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have it. Work for it. Earn money and pay for it honestly. Give it as a gift if you own it but to tell people it’s ok to skirt the honest way to get something challenges me to say is the character of our society that degraded that we will even say that it is ok to do something we know is wrong because it feels good? When we agree that we have an “entitlement right” to steal at others expense means we will eventually go backwards in our society. We aren’t there yet thank the maker but lets not flirt with it either and chalk it up to –its ok to be a Pirate.

Dalroc says

I agree that charging money for art is in direct conflict with human history, but keeps in line with what we know about human nature. Museums, Libraries, Galleries, and other centers of culture and learning charge entrance fees all the time, yet we didn't protest those because we could see that the institution charging the money NEEDED that money to stay open.
Modern music labels do need an income to continue doing their job, but how much that amount is and how much higher their profits are are the difference we need to account for.

Evan says

@RobW I'm not going to bother getting into an intellectual debate about this, but I will point out the thing in your argument that I am certain is false -- you're still completely ignoring the fact that most pirates would not be willing to buy the products regardless and thus the sales aren't THAT affected, and the pirates that WOULD have bought the product are probably still going to buy it. It's not taking away sales because those sales would've never existed.
And really, considering the sheer amount of people that would pirate an album but wouldn't buy it, it's good advertising. It creates legitimate fans that would come to shows and buy actual albums and support the artists regardless. It's as Jonathan said, MAKE GOOD STUFF, AND PEOPLE WILL BUY IT. The only people bothered by piracy are the ones that are trying to make money by mass-producing complete and utter shit that no one would've bought anyway.

also I'm getting increasingly more and more annoyed with people that regard piracy as theft whereas one person getting an album and letting his friends copy it ISN'T theft, and then pirating books is theft (i.e. a bunch of people reading one purchased copy of a book) but libraries somehow aren't.
Just because it's digital doesn't make it a crime.

Richard says

It seems that much of the comments on this thread share a common thought. Media distributers need to find some other means of monetizing the distribution of their artist's works. 15 years ago the public generally accepted the fact that $15 - $20 for a CD was justified by the enourmous costs of mass producing the CD and packaging as well as the production and mastering costs involved in recording the original work. Today much of the duplication costs that a record label would normally spend on reproduction and distribution are irrelevent with the advent of digital distribution and P2P file sharing. Since most musicians make the bulk of their returns from concert and merchandise sales, this only serves to increase thier revenue due to the wider exposure they get from a freely distributed recording of their work. The record companies should take this into consideration and perhaps rethink their CD production estimates to account for the increase in digital distribution channels.

I may even go so far as to say that the iTunes model is quickly becomming obsolete with services like Spotify allowing ad supported on demand streaming providing the instant gratification we expect from a free and open internet and the royalty fees music companies expect. When the cassette recorder came out the RIAA negotiated with manufacturers (after a lengthy court battle) to collect a small fee from every recorder that was supposed to help defray the costs of battling copyright infringement. I don't agree that the same sort of fees should be imposed on internet access or the hardware that supports file sharing, but it means that the recording industry was at least open to monetizing the distribution channels in creative ways even if they didn't have control over them.

The same sort of things could be done with the motion picture / TV broadcast industries and will only get easier as bandwidth increases and broadband connections become more and more commonplace. We've already seen the game industry move to a more centralized digitial distribution model with one-time or subscription based payment options. So there are certainly ways of offering content with distributive control without resorting to draconian methods or poorly written legislation.

The bottom line is, the entertainment industry as a whole need to take another look at their core distribution models and figure out ways of monetizing the introduction of content and not the distribution of it.

Samuel "Iron Curtain" Abram says

To those like @Rob W and @charlotte who claim that piracy will be the death of us all, I give you bandcamp:

Go here:

A few months ago, we began tracking the starting point of every sale that happens on Bandcamp. In the course of looking at the data (which we’re using to help us plan out what to do next), we’ve noticed something awesome: every day, fans are buying music that they specifically set out to get for free.

For example, just this morning someone paid $10 for an album after Googling “lelia broussard torrent.” A bit later, a fan plunked down $17 after searching for “murder by death, skeletons in the closet, mediafire.” Then a $15 sale came in from the search “maimouna youssef the blooming hulkshare.” Then a fan made a $12 purchase after clicking a link on music torrent tracker What.CD. Then someone spent $10 after following a link on The Pirate Bay, next to the plea “They sell their album as a download on their website. You can even choose your format (mp3, ogg, flac, etc). Cmon, support this awesome band!”

Also here:

On Bandcamp, albums outsell tracks 2 to 1. Put another way, 66% of paid downloads on Bandcamp are for albums, compared to only about 6% for the greater Nielsen-reporting world. So why the disparity between what we’re seeing, and what iTunes and Amazon are experiencing?

Bandcamp sets their site up similarly to how Jonathan Coulton's music store site is set up: You can stream the album from start to finish, the artist has control over cost (such as set price, free, or name your price with any minimum, including $0), the artist also has control over licensing (i.e. Creative Commons licensing, such as the BY-NC 3.0 CC license JoCo has for all his work (so nobody is actually "pirating" his work)) and you can download the song or album in any format you wish, including lossless ones like FLAC or Apple Lossless. Also, the money goes directly to the artist; bandcamp just adds 15% of a purchase to an accumulated balance and if a purchase is less than or equal to the balance, Bandcamp takes the amount of the purchase. Which I find extremely fair.

In other words, if you give people an attractive alternative like bandcamp, people will buy music. The facts don't bear out your fears, it turns out.

mcwhite says

Big record companies are fighting to prove that their still relevant. The problem is that they're using the same formulas to try and churn out major stars and they're getting upset when no one's interested in buying the crap they produce.

With the advancement of technology, smaller bands can put out songs they recorded on their own without needing the financial backing and support that comes with being signed to a label. Look at all the bands that started on MySpace and are experiencing success and gaining popularity.

The comedian Louis CK decided to produce a DVD/show on his own instead of using a major distribution company and offer it for sale on his website for $5. You can read the whole experiment and the results (last update he hit $1 MILLION in sales) here:
Other people have taken the same approach and had success, such as Radiohead. These successes are examples of the Jobs' quote in effect. Two popular artists put out a quality product, made it easily accessible to the public, and made the price point low enough that people would choose to purchase it directly from them instead of jumping through the hoops to pirate it.

John McMaster says

Does this make contracts obsolete? The owners of megaupload had a contract with their users that clearly outlined the users responsibility. It the same as a contract between a recording company and an artist or a contract between a resellers and a recording company. If I open a store and start selling duplicated copies of a dvd I was under contract to sell only legal copies should the recording company be arrested for not ensuring that illegal copies were not being sold.

Megaupload provided shelf space and gave the users of that shelf space a strict contract to abide by and now the entertainment business wants to charge them for someone else's crimes.

Every day record companies 'knowingly' allow 'others' to make money from artists copyright protected work and large amounts of money change hands. The artist has little say in the matter as they signed their rights away in the small print within a 'promise of fame' front loaded CONTRACT!

What this does show us is just how much money these entertainment companies make while they plead poverty to the starving artists who are told that: "It all went back into promotions". And yet nobody is ever arrested in such a dramatic fashion or charge with such stupid crimes as money laundering to hide the real facts.

A fair trial is what is needed here and a lot of 'entertainment business' crimes should be brought to the surface as evidence to teach the entertainment industry that the spoils of deceit are not their exclusive property and that from now on they may have to SHARE!

Kange says

if i dont like 13 songs on your 14 song album, why would i pay 14 bucks for it, when you made the music available in individual songs where i can pay only a dollar instead for that single song..? thats where your loss of sales are goin...

Millie says

What about artists' rights to cover the costs of the work they create and make a decent income from it? I support the idea of freedom on the internet (within reason) - but don't take away artists' freedom to choose whether they make an income or not?

I accept you can make and distribute music for next to nothing but what about films? You need a shed load of money up front to even attempt to make one - and if you can't make that money back, how are you going to keep on making films?

Lastly, the internet is not currently a totally free and open place - and quite rightly. We want and expect the authorities to police it when it comes to child porn for instance or people grooming children online. Sites and social networks set up for these purposes are taken down straight away. It's easy for the authorities to find them (without taking down a whole load of legit sites) and remove them - and makes the web a better place to be. Copyright theft is illegal and unfair - so what's the problem with taking down sites that endorse or enable this activity?

Ilverin says

Music is already being given away in China: Piracy is not a threat

This came about because of piracy. "Western" music studios had been unable to gain ground against competition and piracy, so they decided to GIVE their music away in a partnership with google.

The internet is a very efficient way to transmit information, such as music. It doesn't cost google very much money to give away the music. In fact, theoretically, every Chinese person could download from

The payment for the music comes in the form of advertisements on google's website.

If the RIAA and associated music studios have already decided to give away music in China, what does that say about the threat piracy? With piracy, there is no victim. Numbers being thrown around include $500 billion, but the Swiss government conducted a study suggesting that piracy did not affect entertainment spending. New pirates spent the same amount of money on entertainment as they did before they pirated.

The "content industry" (which does not represent ALL content, especially with the advent of the internet) raised the same arguments against the VCR and the DVR. Their arguments now are no more true than they are then. Leave the internet alone. We need to at least consider following the Swiss government and decriminalizing piracy.

Terry says

I respectfully disagree with charlotte:

"This means record companies are gradually becoming less likely to take risks on interesting and new artists/bands and, instead, just taking the commercial mainstream stuff that is almost guaranteed to sell."

Over the past 40 years, record companies haven't taken many risks anyway. They may sign an interesting band, but usually they give them a meager advance and very little support. If they just happened to have a breakout hit, they'd get more support... but something like 80% of the bands getting signed each year get dropped after 1 record. At least that's how it was in the 80s and 90s. They've always made their money on "safe" bets.


"So, music piracy will most likely impede the growth of many new bands in the future. And that sucks."

I think the exact opposite is possible, and very likely. So often in the past, a band's goal was to "make it", which meant get a record contract from a major label. Of course, getting signed was just one hurdle. As I pointed out before, unless they went Gold and had a huge hit, they were probably going to be dropped... and they still owed the record company their advance. So it's a longshot to "make it" even after you've been signed.

Now, a good band can see real profits using only the internet. You can get great sounding recordings at an almost nothing price, and sell your goods at many cheap or free sites. The difference is, you may not make the national scene... but there are MANY musicians who make a good living at music, and aren't known outside of their region. Plus, there are countless wonderful bands who DO get nationally known BECAUSE of the way memes spread on the internet. All that, and you're not in debt to a record company.

And financially, if you self-produce and distribute your album... you get almost all of that back to you. Sell 10,000 copies at $10? You make almost $100k! Sell that many for a major label, and you're a horrible disappointment. Plus, while it's just conjecture, I imagine people are less likely to pirate music from smaller bands... because they seem more "real". If I see the bass player at the corner cafe all the time, I'd personally feel bad torrenting his band's last album. Lady Gaga? Not so much.

"And as well as that, the fact that music is becoming a thing that is thought of by many as “free”, it could totally change the way music is appreciated. Instead of buying an album and getting your moneys worth by listening to it closely and enjoying it wholly, people will download songs here or there all the time, and won’t feel the need to give them much attention. Music won’t be special anymore because it’ll be so easily accessible."

Oh contraire. Music is part of the human soul, and will always be special. This kind of argument has been made at least since recorded music began, and possibly before. When 78s became popular, musicians fretted that music was now a commodity, and no one would go see a musician playing live. And remember, these were single song albums... so it's kind of coming full circle. Of course, that didn't happen...

People will always love music. And there will always be certain people who obsess over music, no matter what form factor it comes in.

Fritz says

The Megaupload case is about more than simply piracy. Megaupload was making serious money from the encouragement and financial reward from illegal distribution of high value intellectual property not owned by them for their internet customers. This is nothing more than grand larceny and the profiteering associated with grand larceny on a massive scale. It is quite apparent that the principal intent of this company was to profit from other people's work and hopefully minimize or hide that fact to the general public and law enforcement. Stealing is always stealing whether it's intellectual property or something from the grocery store. There is no difference. It's simply theft. Whatever one associates morally with the crime of theft is entirely individual, but suffice to say that law enforcement has legislated penal laws to deal with this type of behavior. Megaupload could have done the right thing and worked with content providers but they chose to conspire for selfish and self serving interests. All you need to do is look at the license plates on their luxury vehicles to know who they truly are.

Elihu Aran says

I'm sorry JoCo. I did infringe on your copyright a few times for a few of the not-free songs you have. I did so years and years ago to see what this Coulton guy was all about, musically.

I had just finished Portal, and had heard your name thrown about here and there, but never really looked for your stuff. Then I heard Still Alive. After that, I downloaded all the free songs on your Songs page, and listened to the others.

As the years passed, I took a liking to some of the songs that required money, which I pirated. I then resolved that when I got money, I'd throw it at your face and then some, and buy all the albums on the Songs page.

Then more time passed, and I had a job, and I continued to steal. Then Artificial Heart came out. I promptly bought Level 4 because of that complete works of JoCo thingamabob that was described. The T-shirts also helped, too. I will now be buying all of your future albums, even if you "sell out" or "go mainstream" or whatever those hipsters are talking about.

Thank you JoCo for changing me from my pirate ways.

Richard says

The only reason MegaUpload was targeted in my opinion was because of the ease with which other sites could scrape thier download links. MegaUpload was providing a file storage and sharing service with the expressed intent that the files shared did not constitute a vilation of any local or international law. They complied as quickly as possible to DMCA takedown notices, after determining the legitimacy of the notice, but their service was so easy to use/abuse that as soon as one set of content was taken down, it was put right back up again under a new user.

This is a clear case of shooting the messenger. The real persons liable for the infringement, if any, are not MegaUpload but the users that abused the service against MegaUpload's EULA. I have a feeling though that those at MegaUpload didn't simply want to roll over for the RIAA/MPAA every time they complained about somthing without offering proof, so the associations decided to whine to a higher authority.

Erik says

I'm a bit late to the party on this discussion, but I'd like to point out something interesting about the literature on this topic.

About a year ago, I did a master's thesis on estimating how much revenue is lost due to piracy. I found the academic literature on this has more or less failed to properly design a study that estimates the relationship between piracy and revenue loss. Your results are more or less determined by how you design your study.

Also interestingly, you'll notice that the anti piracy rhetoric today is roughly the same as it was 8-10 years ago. This is especially problematic as works published in the early 2000's appear to show significantly more negative impacts of piracy than those published since 2007 or so. In effect, it appears as if the increased knowledge about piracy, alternative methods of purchasing, and general culture of supporting artists may be having a large effect that wasn't there just a decade ago.

The internet makes it easier to pirate content, but it also brings us closer to the artists that make that content. Most Alice Cooper fans probably never said to themselves: "I like Alice Cooper and I want him to do well, so I'll buy his album." But people say that all the time about current artists like JoCo.

Is it a net positive? Maybe, maybe not. But I suspect the effect is much smaller than many anti-piracy advocates like to argue. And, when you divide that net loss (if it indeed exists) by the actual success rate that any legislation would have in stopping piracy (which I guarantee you is far lower than 100%), the actual impact that a company can have on reclaiming revenue "lost" to piracy is probably minimal. On the other hand, forming a better bond with your customers seems to indisputably help you make more money.

(Apologies for not citing any of the studies referenced. I no longer have JSTOR access to find these articles... which leads into a separate rant entirely)

Scott says

There a several reasons why I became a Level 4 participant. The part of this essay explaining your opinion on how the music biz should work is one of those reasons.

Rock on.

Josh says

But think of all the poor people who lose money when you pirate something! The poor, poor, incredibly rich already people! Rupert "arsehole event horizon" Murdoch, et al.

I like to think that anyone with enough cultural taste is going to have at least some morals when downloading music whose creators genuinely deserve to get paid for what they do (you, for instance), and so wouldn't pirate stuff like that. I know I don't pirate music unless I actually like it. Or I pirate it and buy it later. Frankly, most "musicians" these days don't deserve to be paid.

Aeshir says

>I believe in copyright. I benefit from it. I don’t want it to go away. I love that we have laws
>and people to enforce them. But if I had to give up one thing, if I had to choose between
>copyright and the wild west, semi-lawless, innovation-fest that is the internet? I’ll take
>the internet every time.

Been saying this for years.

Great post, Jonathan.

Don says

I for one have never pirated or illegally downloaded anything from the Internet. But, when I was younger, I would tape music from friends' collections. We'd make mix tapes for each other. Because I taped They Might Be Giants's first album, I became a lifelong fan, buying almost all subsequent albums when they came out, going to shows, buying t-shirts. Also, my fandom of R.E.M., Echo and the Bunnymen, the Smiths, and others was encouraged by trading songs. To me, while there are flagrant abuses, some piracy is an extension of that for this generation. But, for others like me who are still uncomfortable with the idea, there are now so many myriad sources of discovery. For example, without Thing a Week, or a free promotional copy of The Areas Of My Expertise, I would have never heard of this young up-and-comer, Johnny Coco, I think? Something like that. There are new music blogs, free singles, preview tracks, and so on. And, still, friends' recommendations. So, while I can see where people are coming from, and essentially did the same in my youth (with hissy, hissy copies) I still don't pirate.

Tripp Hudgins says

Wisdom wants to be free...liberated, shared, honored. I have a Jesusy perspective on this, but as a professional musician (and who has many musician friends) I agree with Jonathan. Policing creative content actually smothers creativity. Do we need to care for one another, honor one another's creativity...sure. But we may need to reconsider our copyright laws as they presently stand.

Christopher Martin says

::follows link from friend on G+::

::first thought... oooh, new albumn... purchases::

second thought:

Why is the music industry like running for president? For some reason the independents seem to be the ones getting it right, and nobody listens to them :-(

Christopher Martin says

Oh, and addendum...

Pirated some of your music fairly early on when I first heard about you. Purchased all of it (including what I'd already pirated) later... and as mentioned in my previous post, still purchasing away.

JimmerSD says

I agree with your perspective here Jonathan.

I don't think is is reasonable for a business to assign an arbitrary value to an item based on prices they were able to demand when they had complete monopoly control of the market.

And then when the market changes to break their distribution monopoly, to assert that they are somehow losing money because people, who never would have bought their products in the first place at onerously inflated prices, still aren't buying their products.

Yeah, the whole concept sounds just as stupid when I read it out loud.

This has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with control. The content distribution industry has lost the ability to control the entire market and like petulant children are holding their collective breath until they get their way.

The old adage applies here "Adapt or die".

The internet was successful at deflecting SOPA/PIPA now they have to turn their attention to ACTA.

Hellcat says

Once again, Joco you are teh awesome!

Rob says

I'd like to point out that I am in a very strange minority by today's standards.

At least I think I am. It's hard to tell. I may be in a silent majority that I've instantly excluded myself from by speaking about it.

Basically, I don't own a credit card and piracy has made me spend more money on music than I did before internet piracy existed.

I'm 30. When I was about 14, I was buying music tapes. They were touch and go and I spent my money quite frugally.

I initially bought "safe music".

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the one risky album that I bought that really made me love music and I bought it because a friend of mine had recorded a few of the Smashing Pumpkins' songs from the radio.


And I was hooked on them.

Due to damage and lending without return, I've actually bought that album on tape and CD about seven times.

As the internet got more and more widespread I listened to more and more songs from bands that I would never have heard of otherwise and that's where I found some of my favourite music.

I found out that I had a passionate love for Bob Dylan's music when I found his lesser known songs and B-sides and soon bought his collection.

The internet is also where I found bands and singers that I otherwise would have never heard of, like Blinktwice4y, Katie Micucci, OK GO, Songstowearpantsto, Mustard, Ronald Jenkees, and, of course, Jonathan Coulton.

My point is that, for every x amount of music that I listen to on Youtube or download illegally, I buy y amount of music that I like based on what I've heard.

If I listen to fifty free songs to find a band that I like, it doesn't mean that the industry has lost out on fifty songs (x) worth of money. It means that they've gained some money that they wouldn't have otherwise on y.

On a side-note, I'm quite drunk right now and I apologize for any inconsistencies. I should also shamefully admit that I've never bought any of your music because I've never had a chance to without a credit card.

If you come to Galway in Ireland then I'll go to your show and buy your CD.

I will also force my friends to go through persuasion and Ak-47s.


Michael says

I too used Megaupload for sending files between friends, and during my spate of Half-Life 2 modding we all used it to swap files (updates to our WIP mod, funny videos, design document updates, etc.) because it was convenient and well-suited to the purpose.

Josh says

I didn't use MegaUpload, but I have used other sites in the past. I've downloaded music and movies, both legally and illegally; and I'll admit, I've probably done more of the latter than the former.

But that has also led me to discovering new artists, games, etc. I've spent thousands of dollars on CDs, t-shirts, concerts, apparel, and other things put out by people whose work I discovered by downloading some songs for free over the internet. I'd say I've probably spent more money on things I would've never known about had I not had the ability to first experience them for free. Things that I may have overlooked in a store due to their cost have opened their experience up to me, helping me realize that this person (or these persons) are deserving of my hard-earned money.

I discovered two of my favorite bands by downloading some of their songs; I've seen them in concert every time they've come around. I've bought their entire CD collections, over 20+ years of material from each group.

At this point, I feel like if I continue, I'll just repeat myself over and over. I do want to say that while I have spend a lot of money on things that I originally came across for free, I am not saying that I did nothing wrong. But this is the kind of complication that starts to come up. It's like killing somebody to save your (or someone else's) life. That doesn't make killing in and of itself right, but in context, that is the right thing to do if there are no other means by which to stop the attacker. I shouldn't have downloaded that music for free, but it has led me to spend more money on things than I would have otherwise.

DiscountDeity says

I think part of the problem is that the industry has bloated to a point that it involves lots of employees and investors who are made redundant by the internet.

40 years ago, if you made a record, you went to a professional studio, used a producer and an engineer or two, then a factory had to make copies of the album, people had to design and produce packaging, people had to distribute it, and people had to sell the records in shops. Once videos came along, film makers and camera crew and whatnot became a part of the mix.

Now, almost anyone can record at home, put it online themselves, make it available for download, make their own video, and basically run the show themselves. Musicians have varying degrees of success with this, but professional production, distribution, packaging, and brick-and-mortar sales are ll pretty mch irrelevant, and will only become mores in the years ahead.

The industry is not trying to protect artists. Artists can look out for themselves. The industry is looking out for all the people who don't make music, but used to have a job getting it from the artist to you. Now, I feel for these people; they're mostly, I'm sure, honest folks who just need a living. It's sad that the internet is making their job redundant. But that does not justify the crippling of the internet.

Karmakin says

The problem is a lack of understanding on how the micro and the macro markets fit together. A good easy way to look at it is that there's X dollars for entertainment in our society, more or less, and it's going to be spent one way or the other. As such, even if you could eliminate piracy tomorrow, it doesn't increase X one bit. And as increasing X seems to be the motive behind all this anti-piracy stuff, it simply doesn't make sense.

Now, piracy CAN theoretically hurt on a micro level. Say for example if music is easier to pirate than say a movie (which is generally true), then it might encourage people to pay for their movies and to pirate their music. However, I think this effect is way overblown. The music industry at large about a decade ago made a decision to treat their products like interchangeable, disposable widgets as that's what they thought would make them the most money. Turns out that we want the strong cultural emotional ties and that we don't want disposable widgets.

Go figure.

To be honest, where the music industry went wrong is killing the brand-new webradio market with entirely unfair standard licensing fees. The fact that we all don't have Wi-Fi webradio receivers in our house, quite frankly is the biggest blunder they could have possibly made. A much much bigger factor than piracy.

Piracy is simply not a problem. It may be, one day, if everybody decides en masse to stop spending their entertainment dollars. But right now? Not even close.

Ottavia says

Excellently put!

Medusa says

Interesting article, I'm curios about your music now.
Couple of observations from an IT guy:

1 - Computers manipulate, duplicate, and transmit arbitrary data in more-or-less arbitrary ways. You can't really stop copying without either convincing every human being on the planet to play along, or denying everyone the ability to use a computer unsupervised. That's what SOPA et al. really amounts to: Does "I own a copyright" mean "I get to supervise everyone on the planet?"

2 - Whether artists can make a really good living even in the face of piracy is an empirical question. I haven't done the research, but I would like to note that Lady Gaga, U2, Janis Joplin et. all don't actually own any copyrights. Sony and Warner and their ilk do, and their business was not creating anything. It was distribution. Distribution is going to be free, from now until computers go away. Does it really make sense to try and enforce a distribution monopoly across the entire planet, at the costs noted above? Is it really impossible to imagine that if you had a millions fans who desperately wanted more of your work, you could turn that into a six-figure income without all this overhead? (The Kardashians seem to be doing just fine without producing anything even remotely creative or valuable.) What do profits look like for artists who *actually retain their copyrights*?


Oh pleeezzzzeee.. give it a break.

The business of entertainment itself is filled with rampant piracy so who are we trying to kid?

Take the music and movie industry for example, when a song is produced first the song's lyrics must be thought out or inspired as an idea which is subsequently penned on paper or in the movie industry's case as an original idea leading to an actual movie script to be written which is the only true or genuine intellectual work of it's kind that exists.

Once the original or authentic idea is thought or penned a musical lyric, note or a movie into an actual script everything massed produced after that fact amounts to nothing more than a copy, a backup or massed produced copies of copies legally sanctioned for commercial entertainment industry which circumvents the fact that what they are selling is an actual copy based on an original idea and at that a mass produced copy.. . this is the truest form of real piracy slating for masses or produced as backups to be sold in stores worldwide yet the industry would have one believe that their copies are genuine works which they are selling when in reality the genuine script, lyric or original is safely stored and well out of harms way while the public gets the legally sanctioned copy which is still and will never amount to anything more than a copy and this my friends is the double standard... legally sanctioned piracy at its finest.

It is this form of piracy which is most prevalent and which has a stranglehold on the business world and which truly dominates worldwide rather than small fry's such as the "Megaupload" scandal or others as the big bad wolf would have you believe that it he whom is being victimized by crying rape while it continues to rape the unsuspecting public of their hard earned money.

When "Mel Gibson In The Passion Of Christ" ran away in the first week crying all the way to the bank with over 300 million not counting the final tally it made after the smoke cleared did it hurt the industry or Mel that a select amount of people shared and viewed the movie in their homes as opposed to really making money off of it "NO".

Even those whom supposedly illegally did make money off of it, did it really hurt sales "NO" or at least not from the apparent calculated grosses being reported, the truth is the industry itself is the biggest pirate out their duping the public at large with mostly garbage and pointing the finger when their junk does fly off the shelves but when big hits or genuinely decent stuff is produced they bank pretty damn well regardless of the people whom share files or of the so called piracy by those segments of small fry's out their whom might be making a buck of their own.

The biggest pirate is the commercial industry itself who rapes the public at large with everything from junk to genuinely good productions charging excessive prices or has anyone not really noticed the cost of going to a movie theater lately let alone the prices on all those supposedly legal copies being sold at large or in stores worldwide.

The double standard is absolutely horrendous and stinks to high hell which isn't to say that "Megaupload" is a saint especially if some of the charges are true but even this number and all of the would be's like "Megaupload" amount to little unto or before the vast coffers & deep pockets of those whom maintain a true stranglehold on the industry with their legally sanctioned piracy which is still piracy by any other name while being no better as they still rape the public and in a far more damaging manner than any of the would be's.

I could care less about "Megaupload" nor the would be's like them as this is not about any of them but the truth is we are living in a world where the strong consume the weak which is clearly the case here as the industry cries rape while in duplicity doing the same and far worse as its onslaught and stranglehold grows ever encompassing.

Uncle Sam and the constitution itself has long been replaced with wolves, crooks and corruption having grown beyond itself and ever reaching constantly under the guise of the constitution in what well surpasses boundries and large business giants follow the in the same pattern of corruption so my heart isn't exactly bleeding for the industry in as much as as do not condone piracy in any form.. there are far greater evils out there already among our midst and the double standard is simply disgusting from any standpoint.

The small fry's would best be suited to adapt to the ever growing reach of intrusive if not invasive forces while learning from it and creating new venue's to counter the abuse of unwarranted power and greed before all the things which most hold dear yet take for granted are finally stripped from under us all.

Dr. Comics says

This may be the first nuanced and thoughtful thing I've heard said about the Megaupload issue. Well done, sir! Somewhere between the MPAA and the Pirate Party, there has to be some sanity.

"It's going to be the future soon." - me, ripping off some guy whose music I found online.

P.S. Just bought Artificial Heart, and I'm listening to it right now. :)

Felipe says

Pirates ? I believe pirates are those vicious guys that surprise you, rob everything, set your boat on fire and just go away. At a criminal level pirates are worst then nazis.
I don't like to be called pirate because a share some culture in my community.

So, this hole anti-piracy, megaupload think is a stunt. It's not for me and you, is for the media, and for the regular Joe. It's a way to create a context to justify laws and regulations that has the only objective to protect money of big corporations.

I completely agree with the post author, but I also think that he, and almost everybody, is missing the point.

The real concern is about how the corporations rule the world, how they can protect their money manipulating government and law, and above all, how they can manufacture consent among everybody and make a illusion of a democratic process.

That's not the case just for the internet/piracy matter. That's true too for health care, environment issues and everything that matters.

Iay says

Why is copyright piracy such a big issue? Seriously Microsoft, Apple, Netflix and Steam are some of the most profitable business on the face of the earth and getting richer by the second. I understand the need to have IP rights and monetary reward for artists and supporting staff but it seems like this is more profit margins for business's.

I'm not an American but you can see that economically this is not the biggest issue facing the USA or even the rest of the world. When company's focus on profits rather than a viable and sustanable business model two things happen, one, competition steps in and does it better and cheaper than you. In the case of digital IP people have worked out how to get it for free, but the problem also exists in your manufacturing, administrative and commercial creativity. India and China are taking more of your jobs than digital piracy.

The second thing that happens is that your customers get disenchanted and look for other options, again free digital material is a better option than paying for it. People still buy candy from petrol stations at a higher price than a supermarket, why? because the convience it offers justifies the purchase. Online it is a level playing field. Joco even your site offers your songs cheaper than Itunes by $0.69 for something you are only charging a dollar for! Does Itunes really do anything amazing to justify that extra $0.69?

Anyway US Government and big business you won't and can't win this fight. And the way you are trying to win means you should not. Be adaptive and be useful and worthwhile and people will come back. Cry moan and put people in courts and see how well that goes for you.

By the way Joco big fan, bought the Best Concern Ever and will probably buy Artificial heart soon. Thanks for a stage to ramble and good luck to you!

vxicepickxv says

The music industry, in terms of major production labels is going to die a horrible, horrible death. The sooner the better. It is up to folks like us to find the modern individuals and bands who are the best, and promte them, and make sure their stuff gets sold.

I will admit to pirating a few things here and there. It's stuff that isn't available anymore, through any legal means. Old albums that had individual runs in the thousands, and wasn't ever released in a new format, old shows that haven't been run in ages, nor ever released to a new medium.

I have also used Megaupload before. It's a great site for leaving things like mods for games up, because the server profits are all from advertisements. Can anyone else think of a better place to put 5GB of Oblivion mods for easy access?

Sophia, NOT Loren! says

I have a cassette tape, well-worn but still working, with Linda Ronstadt's "Heart Like A Wheel" on side A and Rita Coolidge's "Anytime... Anywhere" on side B.

The tape was dubbed from each album's LP, quite a few years ago, by my dad and his brother -- my dad passed along the tape to me because I enjoyed the music so much. Thing is, he and my uncle used to copy a whole lot of albums like that -- because as teenagers, they could afford to pool their allowance money and buy a single LP and a blank cassette, but they wouldn't have been able to cash in for two records. Besides -- how would they listen to the music during their regular two- and three-hour drives down the highway? Anyway, specifically because they knew they could easily "pirate" the album, they spent money to purchase it.

I tracked down and bought a vinyl copy of "Anytime... Anywhere" not long ago, because I love the sound of the record, and because I wanted to own an original copy of the music I so often play. At the time, it hadn't been released on CD (although later it was put out with another album) and I bought the record so that I could take the Line Out from my turntable and feed it to my PC -- to make a copy of the music I spent money on, because that meant sticking a handful of mp3s on a portable media player and listening while I walk or ride public transit. Specifically because I knew I could "pirate" the album, I spent money on it.

I had a copy of the album that I ripped from vinyl stored on MegaUpload. I kept it there because I was worried after having a couple of hard drives crash and losing lots of irreplaceable data, and it seemed like a decent enough place to store something that has a whole lot of sentimental value to me, and would mean some time-consuming work to replace. That album sat next to a few video tutorials I had created, little instructional bits about how to accomplish certain tasks in a handful of different software programs.

So -- yeah, I was using MU to "host illegal content." I suppose it's possible that someone out there downloaded some music from a 1970's female singer-songwriter, what with the web spiders crawling filehosting sites and harvesting links. And maybe someone also grabbed one or more of my awkward, fumbling attempts at teaching someone how to use computer programs. If someone did snag that copy of Coolidge's album, I wouldn't be surprised; she made good music, but at least when I was trying to hunt it down, that particular good music was damn hard to buy.

If you make good stuff, but you don't make it easy to buy... people are going to copy it instead. Even if you make your good stuff easy to buy, some people will copy it anyway; when my dad and my uncle bought their copies of those albums, they were easy to buy. Today's music industry would claim that they "lost a sale" of each of those albums, that they lost money because someone has a full copy of the album without buying it for every person (in this limited example) who did spend their cash on it. Problem is, it doesn't work that way. Still, almost 40 years later, I'm doing the same thing as my parents' generation... except apparently now it's criminal.

DC Wornock says

First copyrights should expire after 7 years. Long term copyrights that last much longer than the life time of the artist or writer serve little if any benefit to the artist or creator and is harmful to society.

Someone wanted to make a follow-up movie of "Roman Holiday." I was after Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) was Queen and the Joe Bradley (Joe Bradley) was a big time reporter in New York and their son and daughter met and fell in love. Because I expecially like Audrey Hepburn and loved the move"Roman Holiday," I would have paid to have seen that movie. However, because of copyright issues the movie was never made. The long term copyright didn't benefit anyone and harmed society by preventing a movie that I and many other would have paid to have seen.

I don't know how much copyright issues have to do with the MegaUpload case but to a great extent it is about government control of the internet. Mainstream media and the government are one and the same. The government lies to the public and uses mainstream media to tell their lies. The internet reveals some of the government lies and powerful people in control of the government hate that. Therefore, the want to control the media.

MegaUpload did nothing wrong. They never advertised and sold copyright material. I remember going on line and looking for movies to watch at MegaUpload and didn't find any. Therefore, if available, they were not easy to find. The entire case against MegaUpload is a pack of lies so the government can have more excuses to control the internet to prevent the truth about their lies.

zander says

A fan of mine sent me more than 60 classic jazz albums he ripped via MegaUpload. I wanted to be delighted but I was appalled and he was stripping the archives bare as the site was corralled....thievery is stealing no matter how cool the shit you steal is!

animatrinity says

there's one thing that i keep asking people, and all i get in return are blank stares: who needs more money; the rich people making the album, or the poor people buying the album. i think, instead of panicking about unevolved rules, we should all take a minute, and collectively look up the word 'incentive'. i'm not paying my favourite musicians to be greedy, so what's my incentive for buying their album again? stop being assholes, and make something worth buying.

i haven't even heard of you before, but just because you said some of the things i've been saying, i'm going to buy your album... someday... whenever i can afford it. even if i don't like it.

greedy rich people forget about poor people way too often.

Kjetil Kjernsmo says

Actually, protection of material rights from art is a human right, it is in Article 27 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

However, note that doesn't mean there is only one way, the exclusive right to make copies, to protect those rights. That's in my opinion the greatest flaw of todays intellectual property regime. It is in everyone's interest that copies flow freely, but that payment information should follow. So, you're right, it is not clear that piracy really deprives artists, except for certain unfortunate cases, of their material rights.

Also note Article 27 (1), which says that

"Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."

This right of the people is infringed on a grand scale. We have no right anymore to participate in cultural life, we have no right to enjoy arts, and scientific advancements never progress outside of the lab (as a scientists, this worries me every day).

Victor says

I don't pirate music.. You see I would rather not listen to most of the whiny little bitches that create it. My friends are the same. I do not mind from time to time paying for a musicians works or efforts.. and I believe we are are entitled to be paid for our labors. At the same time I see many more musicians and other artists or would be artists living near poverty while the bulk of the monies go to an elite few.. Suits and Stars.. It's all crap.. as is most of what they create.

I certainly value both contemporary music from country to industrial rock.. and classical pieces produced well... classically. I played and studying privately for 15 years. Not to perform for cash but for my own development and enjoyment. I have always believed there are a great deal more talented people in the arts than the concentrated effluva disgorged by Hollywood, Nashville or any other mega media center..

Seen them performing in small town plays and ensembles at coffee houses in some bigger cities. Without the coke and narcissism.. it is a pleasure to enjoy people just being people.

Maybe that's the trick... we all just vote with out feet and wallets.. seek out the unknown talents of this world the unwashed.. who like our selves bear little resemblance to Lady Ga Ga or the next big PR Creation and drop $5 in their guitar case as we walk by.


Eric says

In this, as in most discussions about "piracy" there is no discussion at all about the underlying fairness of the copyright laws. What seems to be forgotten is that there used to be a concept of the public domain. The original idea of copyright, like patents, was to give the creator of intellectual property exclusive rights to it -- but for a limited period of time. After a reasonable period of time - originally something like ten years - the content passed into the public domain, where people could freely access and use it for whatever purpose they desired. All intellectual property created with government funding was in the public domain from the beginning, based on the valid principle that if taxpayers paid for it the taxpayers own it. When the creator of the content died it passed into the public domain automatically.

What's wrong with this picture? Media corporations have lobbied successfully over the years to steadily increase the time of copyright until today any intellectual property is essentially owned in perpetuity by the copyright owners. If it was written after 1920, copyrights can be renewed indefinitely. Government now happily participates in the copyright and patent mess, selling taxpayer-funded innovations to private corporations for their exclusive exploitation and gain.

I would argue that the first step in combating "piracy" is to restore fair use, limit copyright periods, and rein in government and the media corporations so that the creation and distribution of art - and the monetary arrangements related to that - begin to flow in an unfettered manner and artists and consumers can make their own arrangements for how they pay and get paid for their work. An unfettered Internet is key to this model.

The next step would be to reconsider what piracy is. For most of history, one artist using and expanding upon the work of another has been a standard way they learn and create. My favorite example is a Bach organ sonata that is actually a transcription and reworking of a Vivaldi double violin concerto. This one I know about because I have heard (and own legitimately purchased recordings of) and love both versions. Under today's laws and ethos, Bach would be a pirate and a plagiarist! Yet this was common practice all the way through the nineteenth century. Everyone did it, everyone knew about it and expected it, no one thought that the composer or painter or whatever was doing anything wrong - or was less of an artist because of it. I could cite hundreds if not thousands of examples but that would be totally boring. How is digital sampling in the creation of a new recording all that different?

"Piracy" will continue as long as the complex, burdensome, unfair and crippling copyright laws remain in effect. I would suggest that we reconsider the whole environment, and try to create something fair to artists and all content creators that allows just compensation to those who create and breaks the stranglehold of the current giant media companies on the process.

Nick says

What is free and fair? To simple words. Why does the monetary note have the highest value in our world? It seems that all can be solved easily if our current financial structure was more humane. It's cold and unfeeling. Maybe it's time for a real r(evol)ution wherein real is a way of being. All in this world are tired of the treadmill. Yes you too. We have been bred and manipulated to see what is before us. A better world awaits where fairness and freedom is first and foremost. I am different and I care. Success is a feeling of being understood and acknowledged. A note is just a barter of what we can't produce ourselves.
Arguing complexities is a diversion. It's really really simple. Change and change will follow.
I disagree. I believe all these global company's are controlling and corrupting our world, especially the entertainment industry. We've lost control to these entities that sit behind our finger puppet governments. We are but popcorn, popping one kernel at a time.

Erin says

Bravo! I am now going to go over to your music portion and buy the songs that I listen to all the time for free on your website. Am I doing this because I want to be a good citizen? No, I'm a crummy citizen. Am I doing it because I care about your well-being? No, I don't know you from Adam. I'm doing it because you make a damn good product and I don't have convenient internet access every time I want to listen. I could try to steal the songs elsewhere, but you make it SO much easier to just buy them, and I know I'll get a high quality version from your site.

So there you have it. Make a good product and make it easy to buy, and you don't need all the red tape.

David Maggard says

One of the biggest problems I have with the RIAA types is that they always portray themselves as fighting for the artist, the poor poor artists, when it is really the labels that are pushing for these laws. I would have a lot more respect for them and their position if they were just honest about it. I think a lot of the industries worry over the internet is that execs are worried that if Joe Shmoe can share an album over the net with 1000s of people with virtually no cost then the artists will realize it as well and their days as the middlemen making money of the artists work will be over. They claim that every song is a loss of the amount the song would have cost, but how many pirates have more songs and/or movies then they could have ever afforded? Would the pirates have taken to robbing banks just to buy all the same music they just had to have??? Of course not, my bet is that, like me, virtually any music/movie they would have bought w/o piracy they still buy, and likely many buy more because it is no longer a gamble because they know they like it because they can try it before they buy. I believe that artists and those that do work are entitled to compensation, but the anti-piracy laws that we are seeing are similar in logic to castrating all men to combat rape, it may work to a degree, but the consequences are far worse than those that we are trying to avoid.

Tim says

Regardless of political affiliation... if you were in the Republican primaries right now you'd get a lot of votes.

Tim says

PS I have to think that services like Spotify/Rdio are hurting musician's incomes a lot more than piracy ever will.
PPS As a consumer I love Rdio
PPPS As a musician I kinda hate it

Thomas Weatherly says

I like your craziness. I am a poet and agree that intellectual property rights are important, but I would not get bent if someone quoted my work with attribution. If they profited I'd sue them in civil court. IP rights do not belong in criminal court in most cases; although the corporate stealing should be a crime.

I do not steal.
I depend on lots of freeware computer software for which sometimes the authors ask for donations. If I find a program that is useful and good, I donate to the creator. I feel that I should pay the creator something, what they suggest, and it's usually well below the program's worth.

I like to buy music directly from the music makers. I can get it autographed. I've become friends with the members of some of my favorite bands. I know that my money, all of it, goes to the band or writer or composer.

There is no need for creators of art to go to industry, except for booking agents maybe, because they can sell their work from a web site.

marcyt says

I'd never heard of Megaupload until this thing got reported in the news, so I can't comment on it specifically, but I suggest that the government should call a meeting of artists from different media (as opposed to the owners of big media companies) and ask them their opinions. It's not for me or any user to decide, but if you're ok with it and other artists are ok with it, then let the illegal downloading, etc continue.

Nathaniel says

I hate piracy with a passion, and I take pride in knowing that everything I have ever downloaded was legal, but that being said... I consume a lot of music via youtube or other free sites (thankfully most are legal now) or I wouldn't be able to listen to much at all. I've gone to concerts for artists from whom I couldn't afford to buy a cd until after I had seen them live, which is crazy. I don't think piracy is the big problem the media makes it out to be, but I certainly believe it's wrong. However, I agree fully with your viewpoint, Jonathan. Anti-piracy plans should be about making it easier for consumers to purchase things, not bashing them over the head repeatedly because they think 18 dollars is too much to pay for an album. 100% of the money I've spent on music in the past 2 years has been on artists who sell their albums for cheap (less than 10 dollars) or give away their music for free and ask for donations. As a musician myself, I want to release music this way if I ever start sharing things good enough for people to decide it's worth money.

Anton says

My wife is very fond of east asian "dramas" (live-action soap operas) which are non-existant here in Sweden. There is no other way for her to consume this other than downloading or streaming these fansubbed (yes, fans take time to translate without any monetary gain) series.
But to be honest, this is pirating.
There was a discussion on the radio a few years ago about an now 70-year old Spannish immigrant who had found out that she could find old Spannish tango on the 'net. This was music only available on very expensive vinyl collections.
The interviewer on the radio asked two anti-piracing advocates about this, one of them said that she wasn't really the target, but the other was furious that she downloaded this music. That is not for sale unless second hand. Where there is no creator that can get paid.

Angelbane says

Well to be honest anyone that supports the shutdown of Megaupload, or any site like it, I take issue with.

I purchased tickets for the they might be giants show that you are opening for, had you made this statement before i bought tickets ... I would not have and i will most certainly not give you ANY more money or support your music in anyway.

The problem is not piracy the problem is the music industry ... the industries attitude and behavior is the reason people do not purchase more music.

orkestrzhopa says

i don't get how angelbane up there got 'jonathan coulton is supporting the takedown of megaupload so i will not buy his music ever' from this post.

that having been said, i don't disagree with anything you wrote, especially in regards to music/other things that just aren't available in certain countries.
a whole lot of russian music, for example, isn't available for purchase online or as hard copies in any stores i know. the only way to get it is to either visit the country or scour the internet for downloads (which are also pretty rare), and damned if i'm going to go through all that effort in getting a visa and paying for plane tickets/lodging /and/ trying to find my way around, all just for one cd

Adamm says

Jonathan, I infringed on your copyright I think. I made a cover of "Nobody Loves You Like Me", and put it on YouTube. I didn't mean to do you any harm, (in fact I bought your entire AH album via iTunes, which is where I first heard that song). I was just trying to reach a girl that left me and I wanted to woo her back with my skills on the vocoder. I'm sorry. I didn't really seem to work anyways (it never does) Please don't send federal agents to my house.

Angelbane Fails at Reading Comprehension says

Angelbane: Are you an idiot? Did you even read the article, or did you skim it? He clearly states that he's against the shutdown. He also states that he puts Internet rights above his own Intellectual Property rights as a matter of principle.

You clearly can't read.

Most people don't respond to a well thought out opinion piece that mirrors their own opinion in a negative way.

Matt says

[b]"Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things"[/b]

Well said Jonathan. That's the quote that's going to stay with me. I grew up in the '70s and '80s (pre-Internet) and if I wanted to hear "niche music" I had to take a bus to New York City, go downtown and comb the record stores for music (or magazines, etc.) that I enjoyed.

The internet is a miracle.

Ollie says

Jonathan you are a hypocrit! I see that you are selling your music?
Why not just give it away as you are such an advocate for piracy.
Be sure to share your views with Ellen here



Niedec says

Wow. So we have one person that now thinks Jonathan is so against piracy that they are boycotting his music entirely, and another that thinks he is Piracy Santa Claus (or something).

Just a thought: maybe the entire purpose of measured, serious discussion is to AVOID pinning arguments as "pro-Team 1" or "pro-Team 2" and actually reach some logical consensus on an argument's merits alone.

Personally, I'm in a weird place with piracy, because I've always been a huge fan of the honor system, and that's how it seems to me: "take as much of my music as you want from the bucket, then pay what you think it is worth." But of course, that's sheer idealism, and I suppose that's the problem with the debate. As Jonathan pointed out, there's a distinct lack of data surrounding this, especially US-specific data, and it's a bit strange that we'd be creating new anti-piracy laws without these numbers in place. Sure, we have a handful of stats in support of each side, but mostly, I think it's still being decided as an ethical question.

Question for Mr. Coulton: do you know how much money you personally receive from each ticket at your concerts? I go to a lot of shows, but I rarely buy anything at the merch booth. I've always been curious how much I'm actually paying you.

Niedec says

Quick addendum:

Wish I had seen the length of some of the other posts people have made here. Haven't read through all of them, so I might just be parroting points from a two-week-old conversation. Oops.

RP says

Ollie: there is actually no hypocrisy in making something available for sale and then saying that some piracy is victimless and that what we do from now on should be determined by consensus of everyone in society. Could it be that Mr. Coulton here would like to give you the option to buy his product and would indeed be happy if you did so, but yet also thinks it isn't a huge tragedy if some people choose to "pirate" it because buying won't always be the best solution for all people? Seems like it to me. Seems like he is in fact saying that sales and piracy can co-exist.

Hypocrisy would be if he made this post which says, to radically over-simplify, "piracy is not big media's real problem" and then formed a task force to eliminate piracy called "Jonathan Coulton's task force to eliminate all piracy for all reasons, because it really is the worst thing ever (yes even worse than the bubonic plague) and definitely the media industry's biggest problem."

Ollie says

That would be hypocrisy in it's pure uncut straight from Wikipedia form.
What I was aiming at is more like double standards, than hypocrisy.
Piracy has never been victimless, it's just that the various institutions effected have accounted for it in their budget. It was at one time a stable amount of around 3% of revenue. No big deal. But if you recall, there was stil plenty of anti piracy campaigns, reason being is even though they except that some residual groups in society are unreasonable enough to justify piracy. If they didn't raise the awareness it would escalate into being the norm because everyone is doing it. As humans we tend to follow, we mimic the behavior around us.
Piracy use to be victimless, but it isn't now, it's unreasonable to say well it's ok for some to do it, you must apply the same principles to all. Piracy should be tolerated at a minimal level but in no way advocated.
Most of us are all in aggreance, it's theft, but where the grey area is, is who should be held accountable.

jochen knochen says

hi jonathan,
you are 100 % right with what you are saying, thanks

Joel P says

I agree wholeheartedly with you, but in answer to your request "If there is one, please point me to it" (a study showing that piracy causes economic losses to the entertainment industry), yesterday's New York Times piece, "The Perpetual War: Pirates and Creators", by Eduardo Porter, claims:

"Of course, not every pirated download displaces the sale of a book, album or movie. But when it comes to music, most economic studies have concluded that piracy accounts for the vast majority or even entirety of the sales decline."

NYT piece:

The study he links to:

I very much disagree with his piece but am not qualified to challenge the study (especially since it's paywalled and I will neither pay for nor torrent it), but I wanted to add it to the discussion here.

Adrian says

@Ollie Umm, Coulton does offer his music for free. Almost everything he writes is released under a Creative Commons license that allows everyone to, quote:
You are free:
to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
to Remix — to adapt the work

AND on his downloads page ( you can listen to every song *in its entirety* (not clipped previews) before buying. He offers his music to purchase out of convenience and happens to make money off of it, because most people prefer to pay for awesome music.

That's not hypocrisy, that's an adaptation to new social norms, which is precisely Coulton's argument.

RP says

Ollie: that's not even a double standard. I can summarize his statements and actions as "content creators don't have an unalienable right to get paid, but I do enjoy that fans have volunteered to pay."

That is just a statement with two semi related parts. A double standard is when you apply different standards to different groups that should be treated the same.

There its a difference between liking something and being legally or morally entitled to it. I would like a million dollars, but I have no right top demand that you give it me. Piracy is not theft precisely because it does not deny anyone of his or her property. To equate them is to equate your unwillingness to give me a million with stealing a million dollars from me.

Adrian says

FYI - Ellen Seidler, which @Ollie mentions above, *is* a hypocrite. Her movie, And Then Came Lola, was ripped off of the foreign film, Run Lola Run, only remade to be about lesbians. Yet she has the audacity to complain that Google AdWords is stealing her movie? This smells like satire, or a really cruel publicity scheme. The first thing I thought when I read that interview was the elephant-in-the-room question: "Have you ever thought of streaming your own movie through a website supported by AdWords?" Then she'd be the benefactor of all those pennies she's so vigilantly fought.

ajollynerd says

On an unrelated note: Where on Artificial Heart are the robots and monkeys? You claim that the market provides a place for artists to sell songs about robots and monkeys. I demand more robots and monkeys on the next album. Pretty please?

Craig says

I'm currently listening to a fascinating podcast that references this very blog post and talks about the issues with PIPA, SOPA and MegaUpload. Also one of the podcasters is a JoCo fan:

Media Pirate says

I pirate music, basically, because I'm lazy. I could start a rambling argument that the first people to play notes, the people who discovered these sounds, own them. Fact is, all the notes known have been played, all the chords. Words used in literature and songs exist in everyday speech before being used in art. Who owns words, or notes? Who owns the idea of teen love, an unfair society, darkness, happiness, revenge? Society. Art is merely the observation of its environment. So who owes who in that arraignment? That being said, I gladly lay down money to see my favorite artists in concert, I buy their t-shirts and what-nots. I give them money to allow them to continue doing what they love to do. But, if it is too difficult to give them that money, remember I'm lazy, I will just get it from a pirate site.

Skippy says

I like the take on piracy. Most will either rage for it (the internet) or rage against it (US government). I personally believe that piracy is a completely vicimless 'crime'. For intance, I go online and download an album by Kanye West or something. I didn't pay for that. So thanks to me, he's gonna have to make do with with a solid gold mansion and millions of dollars. Poor Kanye. The same goes to the film industry, with the addition that millions of people will see your movie in a cinema. So their argument is even less valid

Of course, not everyone is Kanye West or Warner Brothers. So, if, lets say, your first ever album gets passed around excessively on the internet, it's still a win. Now you have an internet fanbase. These fans will listen to your next album, perhaps some will do so illegally. Even so, you still have fans. They will come to our live shows, which can't be pirated, and, as JoCo said, they will slap $20 down at the merch table.

In short, any publicity is good publicity

smr says

"It harms everyone from struggling artists..."

I consider myself a struggling artist of sorts, but I'm sorry, it's the saturation of socially engineered content (made foremost to turn a buck) brought on by big companies who seek to industrialize expressive art mediums that cause me suffering.

smr says

I think you make a good point on how our actions as a whole define what we see as 'moral'. The large amount of piracy speaks volumes to the current climate of copyright law, and that it needs a total rewrite to take into account the rapid spread of information this age allows. For example, I believe the time it takes for a work to enter the public domain should be far shorter than it currently is.

Seriously, with the Internet it only takes a few months for the majority of the public to hear and make a decision of whether to support a song. And if you look at music sales charts, you can see they really taper off after a year or two. Unless, of course, some awesome YouTube video sparks up popularity again (Rick-roll anyone?), in which case the artist really doesn't deserve credit for that sudden spark in popularity - YouTube users do.

Alexander Ingvarsson says

I have never actually downloaded nor bought your music, but I have abused my Youtube rights :) Your songs are so good that when I first heard them I was tempted to downlaod them as they were not for sale in my country... Ir esisted the temptation though and waited through 2006 until they were on the good old radioblog.

About your discussion, Your views on Piracy mirror mine almost completely, which is odd. Everytime i mention my opinion to either party I get hissed and boo'd at :P

Sadly, I just think the world hates itself so much It is inclined to argue int he msot silliest fashion about the silliest things, and frankly, I don't care if someone who makes 13 million$ / year loses 1$ a year, especially if they are bad (cough* rap music *cough)

just my 2 cents

Louie says

Lets make a little calculation. Megaupload costed the copyright owners 500 Million dollars in a total over 5 years. Everyday Megaupload had 50 MILLION users and an overall 1 billion people user base. Now on the other hand we have the american goverment that have spend more than 2500 billion dollars over the last 5 years on military equipment. Now why do U.S.A buy military equipment? Well simply because that's the way they try keep peace in the world (except half the money goes to the war in Irak).

If U.S.A just spend 0,001% just small 0,001% of those money to pay the copyright owners we would be able to maintain freedom on the internet. These small 0,001% yearly would make 1 billion people happy around the world.
As i've always said -

The internet is our freedom.
Freedom cost.

William says

Content providers should be rewarded because not only do they deserve to be rewarded but it benefits society as a whole to give them the incentive to produce. On the other hand, copyright and patent law, which are basically earned monopolies, are extremely clumsy ways to reward them. Does anyone seriously believe Microsoft deserves all of the money it has gotten for Microsoft office? I mean, it took a pittance to develop those programs,they are puny, they have been around for decades, and Microsoft charges hundreds of dollars for them and hundreds of millions of copies have been bought-and Microsoft gets away with this because they are the "standard", initially became so through bait and switch, and for a very longtime practiced file incompatibility until the EU or someone forced them out of it. Given how many copies are sold of it, even windows itself, though a lot of work to make, reflects this ill-gotten profits model.

J Co points out that the music industries profit has gone down, but what about its output? Yes, Bill Gates should be rich, and I very much respect what he has done with his fortune visa ve charity, but from the perspective of trying to make our markets efficient, does he really deserve tens of billions of dollars for windows and office, or would he have contributed just as much to society for far less? Doesn't it cost jobs when you give one person way more incentive than they need at the expense of many other people who would've done more for that money?

The extremes highlight a generalism, which is that content providers are often overpaid, and I think this means a lot of piracy can happen before it really starts hurting us when it comes to the big names. The people who piracy really threatens to cut off the supply from are those on the margins. Those who are already rich quite often are overcompensated. So copyright law needs to tweaked before I could back fully effective enforcement even if there was a way to apply it without it doing a lot of collateral damage to things almost everyone agree are fair use. It needs to be more or less as was for the little guy, but it needs to take the big guys down some notches.

dropOut says

I see it as this. In a world where the corporations are still making billions, still aren't creating jobs and the unemployment rate continues to climb, does the government have a right to shut down websites that are keeping people employed?

I mean I don't know how many people it took to ran Megaupload, but I'm sure there was at least a 100 or so people who were just doing their job that caught in a vicious crossfire and now are unemployed. Piracy may be immoral, and I would be lying if I said I haven't engaged in it before, but is it really worth it for however much money they've estimated it to be worth, to destroy one of the few entities in the world that is almost infinite in it's job creating possibilities?

ProgFox says

You raise many valid points here Jonathan. For years and years Megaupload may have profited from illegal downloads and media usage, but has the american economy really suffered because of that? Is it really fair for the government to bitch about piracy when gas prices get so high that people have to take second and third jobs just to pay for gas to keep going to their eighteen areas of employment?

The fact of the matter is, not a single person from our generation has seen office. Every person who holds the power to make these kinds of decisions has NO clue what they're really talking about. Sure they may have studied, and clicked a couple of silly YouTube links, but have they REALLY seen what the internet does? The internet itself is a form of art, communication, sex, innovation, anything you can imagine the internet can somehow do and the only thing limiting that is the people who can put the content onto it.

Whats worse is thanks to ACTA, which has quite daringly circumvented democracy, is going to allow certain icky things from SOPA/PIPA to become international law. The citizens have no say, because big business is wearing their big-boy pants.

Don't get me wrong, piracy is indeed bad, but again its not entirely evil. Like most things in the world its a gray area. Like leeches in days past, people once believed they could cure illness and the pirates of the high bandwidth might be taking a large cut from big industry to give to those who could turn it into something truly unique and wonderful.

Max says

Users download movies illegally for the simple reasons that there aren't any user friendly videos platforms. Until Itunes came with their 99cents model, friendly interface etc. most users were downloading music illegally - just because there weren't any alternatives. In this is still the case today, what we need is a simple, user friendly and affordable platform. Whatever comes next, it certainly be legal, after,

NessMonster says

JoCo makes a number of good points. A couple of my own:

- I'm not sure that group consensus to do illegal things necessarily means that it's right to do so. The fact that most people speed while driving doesn't mean it's safer or more fuel-efficient to drive 80 or 90 instead of 55, it just means that most people put their own convenience or schedule ahead of their own (and others') safety. Which is why we still ticket people for speeding. Similarly, the fact that events have conspired to make it easy to take content without paying for it doesn't mean that people collectively have made a societal judgment that materially rewarding content creators isn't worth it, it just means that it's easier and more convenient for them not to pay, and they put their own pocketbook ahead of the artists' interests. Most of these people would probably object if their employers or the industry in which they work all of a sudden decided that it wasn't worth compensating them for flipping burgers or doing marketing. They expect to be paid for their efforts - why shouldn't artists be paid for theirs?

- That said, I agree with the comment about how it's unknowable whether there is the level of damage the government claims. I buy what I get online, and if there's a Website I frequent that has a tip jar, I use it. Then again, I'm at a point in my life where I have enough disposable income that I can afford to do such things. There may be people out there who are just starting out, who aren't able to do those things, but who will make up for it later when they are out of debt or employed or otherwise can afford to do so. You just don't know.

- I also agree with the point about making it easy for people to acquire things legally. I once bought a set of DVDs on eBay that was a bootleg of a complete TV series from the 1960s. This series has NEVER been released commercially, reportedly because two different companies own the rights and can't agree on how to split the money. This is stupid on any number of levels, mostly because the fans of this show, who were kids in the mid-1960s, will start dying out before it comes to market, if ever. If it were ever released commercially, believe me, I'd be first in line to buy it. But since it appears it will never become available, I have absolutely zero qualms about paying for somebody's set of episodes that they recorded off Canadian TV. So I think JoCo is spot on: make it worth paying for, and make it easy to buy it legally, and most people will buy it. There will always be those who won't, just as there will always be shoplifters. But I think most people will eventually be happy to compensate those who provide them with content they like.

Christoffer Viken says

Wait a second...
"And if you infringe on my copyright I’m going to send federal agents to your home and throw your computers IN THE GARBAGE." - Jonathan Coulton on his blog

So all I have to do really, is to pick my computer out of the garbage can?
By the way, I really want "Want You Gone" on iTunes. I didn't find it on my shopping spree half an hour ago.

Christoffer Viken says

NessMonster: "It just means that it’s easier and more convenient for them not to pay,"
In many cases the DRM actually makes it worse... It is easier and more convenient beyond the money. I'd pay for a DRM free version instead of a gratis (free as in free beer) DRMed one, no matter how legal the DRMed was.
Some things done by the industry punishes the honest consumers, but do nothing to the pirates. The hazzle of DRM is in a lot of cases the biggest inconvenience of buying "legal" copies. (the monetary one being negligible in comparison)
Yes, you have a point, but at the same time, who are we protecting? The industry or the artists.
I believe that Metallica appreciated me coming to *one* of their concerts a lot more than me buying all their CDs. And I'll ask JoCo: What would you enjoy the most, assuming I did actually do all of them. (give you most satisfaction as an artist)?
a) Me buying "Artificial Heart"
b) Me showing up at a concert
c) Me recognizing you at some arbitrary location, and telling you I love your music and ask if I can buy you a beer. (or something)

I'd love C the most, but if you have enough of a fan-base, B would be the most likely candidate. (I believe, but I am not sure that Metallica Loves engaged audiences, like those in Norway)

Christoffer Viken says

Sorry about this comment flood,
Piracy is more convenient than buying, in addition to the money, that is the problem. Look at Leo Laporte, he had to cap his tip-jar when he went to "I only take my money from donations, TWiT give me no salary". The problem is that good content is what matters in the modern days. In the nineties to early 2000's the amount of skin in your music video determined how popular you were. (yes I am indeed hinting towards a certain blonde) Now you have to be a good artist, unless you are backed by a label. We live in a world where Jon Stuart(!) is the most trusted newscaster.
But most of all you really need the engagement of your fans; if you appeal to fourteen year old girls, I have no idea what you should do in the internet world, sorry. But Jonathan should be able to make his living from his art, but I do not see a reason why anyone else should make their living from Jonathan's art, sure the studio owner should get paid, and so should the poor guy with the task to edit it, but I'd rather have them charge by the hour than a percentage.

The "piracy" problem is in many cases the middle men complaining, not the artists. Or lesser artists that believes the propaganda. I would never have bought any CoCo if I didn't hear the portal songs, but what really sold me was "Mandelbrot Set" on youtube. <3<3<3