Music piracy as a market correction

For years, advocates of strict enforcement of intellectual property law on the Internet and elsewhere have said the single largest detriment to the music and film industry is piracy: namely, the unauthorized downloading of music, movies and other pieces of entertainment, mostly for free.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, millions in revenue are lost to piracy every year. Of course, piracy is but one aspect of the growing decentralization of entertainment. Sites like Spotify and Bandcamp have further weakened the RIAA’s hold on music production and a multitude of video aggregators allow independent filmmakers to post their work and gain large audiences.

As much as it’s highly likely the RIAA is exaggerating to curry favor with the public on the issue of piracy, there are artists and bands whose ability to profit off their art has been harmed by the practice.

British heavy metal band Iron Maiden might have been one of those bands.

Instead, as Andy Patrizio, journalist at Citeworld, reports: “In the case of Iron Maiden, still a top-drawing band in the U.S. and Europe after 30 years, it noted a surge in traffic in South America. Also, it saw that Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Chile were among the top 10 countries with the most Iron Maiden Twitter followers. There was also a huge amount of BitTorrent traffic in South America, particularly in Brazil.”

BitTorrent is an open-source protocol for downloading large files, such as rock videos, from the Internet. Open source means the code is available for anyone to modify and redistribute.

“Rather than send in the lawyers, Maiden sent itself in. ... The result was massive sellouts,” Patrizio wrote.

The Sao Paulo show alone grossed $2.58 million.

So, rather than perpetuate a stagnant business model, Iron Maiden actually catered to the people doing most of the “stealing” of their music. Instead of losing money, they actually made a profit off T-shirt and CD sales at physical shows, which also sold out and made millions.

Iron Maiden isn’t the only band to cater to the torrent users and streamers. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in October that alternative artist Moby not only released his new album, “Innocents,” via BitTorrent — he released the masters to each individual instrument track, allowing fans to remix and recreate his music in unique ways. He joined music and culture magazine Vice, metal/hip-hop group Linkin Park and hip-hop band Death Grips on the roster for a new initiative by BitTorrent to bring artists closer to their fans — and reshape their image in the process — called “BitTorrent Bundles.”

So, what does this mean in the context of the ongoing intellectual property war?

In short, it signifies that piracy — far from an aberrant act practiced by a few brazen rule-breakers looking to shortchange honest artists and the people who own them — is in fact a much-needed market correction in an environment that has long favored oligopolies over independence and decentralization.

What’s known as piracy is only a few steps removed from the DIY activities of punk bands and indie artists who eschew major record labels and professional distribution models in favor of touring, merchandise sales, vinyl, tape and CD sharing, and posting their work on the Internet for their friends to see.

Hopefully, we’ll see more of this as the war rages on.

Trevor Hultner, an independent journalist, retail salesman and Internet content creator, wrote this commentary for the market anarchist think tank Center for a Stateless Society. You can find him on Twitter at @illicitpopsicle.

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