- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 01 August 2012 05:27, Updated 02 August 2012 05:01
For musician Sam Moody, the online era is great. Digital marketplaces that allow consumers to buy tracks via services such as iTunes or stream them using a service such as Spotify are a godsend for independent artists such as Adelaide-based Moody.
“It is easier to make more money now selling fewer records,” says Moody, who plays guitar in 16-piece jazz and funk band Goose.
“Anybody can get your music. You can see the accounting and get exact figures of how many tracks sold. You don’t need to ring record stores and say ‘How many have sold?’”
Music fans are taking to it, also. In a market that is standing still, digital sales are growing at the expense of physical product, that is, music recorded on vinyl, CD and other media. Digital sales, which made up 27.2 per cent of the industry total $384 million in 2010, rose to 36.7 per cent of the $383 million-market last year, figures from recording industry body the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) show. The arrival on Australian shores this year of streaming services, such as Spotify, is likely to hasten the growth of digital consumption.
But for all of Australia’s new-found enthusiasm for legal digital consumption, piracy remains a problem. Globally, one in four internet users are estimated to access unauthorised services each month. For every one song sold on Apple’s iTunes service in Australia, 20 are downloaded illegally, lobby group the Australian Content Industries Group (ACIG) says.
Recent history is dotted with high-profile attempts to prosecute pirates. Last year, a US court slammed a bid by US industry body the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to claim an “absurd” level of damages from LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service that had been ordered to stop permitting musical piracy in 2010.
RIAA had claimed $US150,000 each time one of 11,000 copyrighted songs was illegally downloaded but this would have meant “more money than the entire music industry has made since Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877,” a US district court judge ruled.
The two sides settled last May for a more realistic $US105 million. The longer-term solution to piracy is to make legal downloads as easy and as inexpensive as possible, says Moody, who is also Adelaide branch secretary of the Musicians’ Union of Australia.
“To stop piracy you need to make it more convenient to use the legitimate options, so that piracy is the inconvenient option,” he says.
The increase in digital services is a step in that direction. Indications to date are that easier legal downloading of music by streaming, rather than cannibalising the existing market of law-abiding paying buyers of music, is bringing one-time pirates out of the cold and into the realm of legal consumption.
The Los Angeles Times newspaper cites industry data showing digital track sales have risen, year-on-year, even as streamed tracks surge.
But the other side of the equation, finding a way to target and deter individual pirates who defy all incentives to the contrary and download music illegally, is proving harder to put into practice. The music industry and internet service providers (ISPs) have been unable to reach agreement on a way to do this.
“We want to work with ISPs to come out with an industry code about how we can actually find a way to educate consumers and also make it a little bit harder for them to do the wrong thing,” ARIA chief executive Dan Rosen says.
As with many things, the sticking point is who would pay for any such service. Content producers, represented by umbrella group ACIG and internet service providers, want to set up a trial under which the music industry would alert ISPs to the IP addresses of known pirates.
The music industry wants a system similar to what Rosen says exists in the US. Under this each party bears its own costs.
The ISPs, who say the costs of matching IP addresses (which identify an individual computer) to individual users and sending them messages – a process that would have to be done manually – is a cost that would fall squarely on their shoulders. They will have none of it.
“The costs need to be reimbursed by the rights holders,” says Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton. Both sides say that if these differences can be bridged, they could set up a trial within months.
While the recording and internet industries fight it out – the Attorney-General’s Department has been hosting meetings between the two sides since September last year – independent musicians such as Moody have their own problems to deal with. Digital music consumption is a boon to them but it brings its own challenges.
“Because it’s easier, there’s a different problem now,” he laughs. “Compared with 10 to 15 years ago, when there were 7000 new releases per year, now there are 80,000 and you’re just one of those. The issue is not the distribution but how do you find your audience and have them discover your music.”