Freddie Matthews writes from London: At a time when the recession continues to hit the general public, illegal download activity costs the music industry about £500 million in lost revenue per year. Surely this figure is arbitrary, as there’s an assumption that all illegal downloaders would have bought a particular album had piracy not been an option. It’s like the £10 note lying in the street that you picked up. Would you have spent £10 had you not found it in the first place? Of course you wouldn’t have but it was available for free, so why the hell not?
As a musician I have always believed in copyright. How else can an artist make money (we know there ‘are’ many other ways) but the point is that Joe Public doesn’t care about the copyright laws. Most people want everything, or at least as much as they can, of anything and everything, for free.
Illegal downloading isn’t seen as the huge issue that it should be. For example Platinum-selling singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is unflustered by the reported mass piracy of his debut album, called ‘+’, despite it being illegally downloaded eight times for every legitimate purchase. In monetary terms that’s unbelievable and means he’s earning one eighth of his potential revenue.
This information became apparent from a recent BBC interview with Ed at BBC Radio 1′s Hackney Weekend in June, Ed said, ‘I sell a lot of tickets’, after his performance at the event. He has a very good point, as concert ticket sales are one of the most recent avenues for moneymaking in the music industry. There was a time when it was all about album sales but now streaming and music available via social media sites remove the need to physically get to the local record store to get hold of the album you dreamt about since hearing the single on Top of The Pops.
Touring is now what album sales used to be. You can’t illegally download the thrill of watching your favourite band, or artist, in concert playing live. It’s the emperor’s new clothes. In order to sell out a tour, first an artist must have the popularity and that now comes from not only record sales but also a hugely successful social media and internet presence. The more downloads you get, whether they’re legal or illegal, the more fans an artist will get. Full stop.
Ed Sheeran isn’t stupid and makes some very good points. ‘I’ve sold 1.2 million albums and nine million people have my record in England which is quite a nice feeling’. Yes, it must be a great feeling but eight million of those people have obtained Ed’s album illegally. However his next point is the key to it all. ‘I’m still selling albums but I’m selling tickets at the same time. My gig tickets are like £18 and my albums £8 so … it’s all relative’.
Ed Sheeran has also recently underlined the fact that he is at ease with illegal downloaders and tweeted, ‘eternal love for anyone that owns a copy of ‘+’ however you got hold of it, legal or illegal, thank you for enjoying it’. In all honesty, he has to be seen to feel like this. I mean what else could he actually say? ‘Would all the thieving b******ds who stole my album report to the nearest police station while I get back in line in the dole queue?’ Somehow I don’t think so. Even the media just reporting a story like this is generating more and more publicity for him and this can only be a win, win situation.
These quotes have come to light as a new file-sharing report has named Ed Sheeran the most downloaded artist across 459 UK cities in 2012. The singer-songwriter is at peace with the eight million people who have illegally obtained his album.
Why can’t musicians be paid for what they do, just like everyone else and what makes the illegal downloaders think it’s OK to steal music when they know very well that it’s still theft?
So far in 2012 illegal file-sharing has topped 33 million albums and 10 million singles and poor little ginger haired Ed Sheeran, with his tiny acoustic guitar, is the most illegally downloaded artist with album +. These figures are also geographically dependent and the city with the highest levels of piracy, based on downloads per person, is Manchester. Are Mancunians really ‘that’ tight?
The UK came second in the worldwide chart of illegal downloads in the first six months of 2012 with 43,263,582. A figure only surpassed by the US with 96,681,133. This really isn’t good for the UK considering we are about one fortieth of the size of the US download market. Despite this we’re not far off half the volume of illegal download activity. It’s actually quite embarrassing.
For the first time there now is evidence that blocking Pirate Bay had little effect on illegal downloading. It is also clear however that availability of streaming services like Spotify does reduce this activity as people have greater access to music they want via legitimate means.
We’re crying out for a solution but no company has stepped up and addressed this age long problem. Someone somewhere needs to create immersive and innovative packages of content for real music fans. It’s so simple yet still so elusive.