As the first half of this semester draws to an end, and we all wrap up our compulsory blogging and prepare for the next hurdles of our MA course, I was surprised at not hearing a single word about the dark side of blogging. And I don’t mean blogging done by people who are insane, racist, paedophiles or anything that is morally wrong but who can still spout their sick ideas upon the free and big internet, but those blogs that hardly contain a single sentence. They don’t need long discourses, stands and ideas which those millions of bloggers throw onto the net everyday, and they don’t need followers who want to read about their thoughts, frustrations and desperate need for mental connection all over the world. They post music up, for free, and although they generally don’t spread foul ideas, mental sickness or any kind of material to corrupt the youth, most authorities in the world would like to see them vanish from the internet first without any discussion. We’re entering a dark side of blogging, which involves music piracy, fear, taboos, but most of all complete confusion whether it must be stopped or actually benefits both artists and listeners. Maybe you’re the kind of worry-free iTunes shopper who wants to stay clear of any illegal online business and not even think about getting involved in anything that harms you and your computer. And taking no risks here is fine, perfectly understandable, but I suggest you leave this blog alone and skip to the next one. For those who want to get a closer look in the supposedly shady world op MP3 blogging, here are some thoughts, facts, and ideas…
Music piracy of all ages
If we say that most MP3 blogging concerns illegal online activity, and that most of these blogs post up music which is legally protected by copyright laws, we must return again to the matter of music piracy. Although many people are actually getting very tired of the subject and rather just pay for the, let’s be honest, comfortable ways of buying music online and getting it straight on an iPod without any hassle or fear, music piracy is still around despite these comforts. The digitization of music, books, and films has proven that the right marketing must be applied to successfully make a profit. In the last years of the twentieth century it became clear that the internet proved to be a fire hazard going way beyond the white label market of CD’s and photocopied books.
Burning a CD into one’s home was a novelty, and the days of taping CD’s of friends on cassettes and copying films with VCR’s with its accompanying terrible quality were just on the way out, something which makes us cry with laughter now when scrolling through our iTunes libraries and buying full Blu-Ray downloads to be watched on our plasma’s the same night. Some might argue that it is exactly the streamlining of online music and video through the right outlets that put a stop to many people downloading illegal material because buying it involves less hassle and since it’s legitimate we don’t have to fear material harming our computers like viruses and spyware. But the truth really, is that copyright holders all over the world are still struggling like never before to enforce legal action upon any form of online piracy, where both provider and user shall be held responsible for their conscious decision of breaking the law and rob hardworking artists from their daily bread.
So where do these uncaring, risk taking, selfish online thieves come from and what makes them tick? Is it so hard to pay some small amount of money for a download where the maker worked his fingers to the bone for and put his blood, sweat, and tears into? As we all know, there hasn’t been a single pinpoint in time to show more for this than the emergence of Napster, today more than ten years ago. Download and install a program, get a user name, share some stuff you have and boom; download anything, from anyone, in any quality, until your capacity is reached. Free. These P2P programs took over from the first websites just blatantly posting copyrighted MP3 material on their websites, a way of which the spreaders could easily be caught by tracing their IP address (which mostly resulted in shutting down the website). P2P programs proved to be more difficult; the maintainers of the networks claimed to hold no responsibility for the material being shared, so only the users could be targeted which were protected by their privacy rights. After a lot of trouble Napster was forced to reorganize itself so copyrighted material couldn’t be shared anymore, but in the meantime numerous new P2P programs emerged, of which many are still being used today.
Despite the survival of the P2P programs, it certainly isn’t used as much no more as when Napster ruled the scene. Fear began to sneak in when certain users of P2P programs were caught and got charged enormous fines, often for only downloading a single copyrighted album instead of holding tens of thousands of songs. Torrents proved to be more useful; files were disseminated over a network in clusters, so the holder of the file (In Torrentian called a ‘seeder’) couldn’t be held responsible for spreading illegal material since he didn’t distribute the whole file. A smart system, but these days holders of torrent sites (like the Pirate Bay) are being handled firm by intellectual property holders as well. Many find the world of torrents also a lot more shady and harmful than P2P sharing (concerning viruses and spyware, common around sites with sex ads which torrent sites often adorn themselves with).
And then there were the music blogs…
Whether you are a in favour or against music piracy, there are actually very little spreaders of the phenomenon claiming they got involved in it for the money not giving a damn about musicians losing money. On the contrary, in most cases they are avid music lovers who see the spreading of the music they love as a holy mission. So if they love the music so much, why do they spread it around for free and let their beloved artists miss out on the little money they’re entitled to after all the hard work they put in making their music? At this point we actually come at some divide. But before discussing this ideology, what is an MP3 blog exactly and how does it differ from a normal blog?
The idea is in big lines the same; everyone can put up a blog and start blogging. With a normal blog text and images are used, with MP3 blogs a bit more; put up an image of the cover of a musical work, provide a track list and provide a link to the place where to download it. And as everyday people write blogs, MP3 bloggers (also called ‘audiobloggers’) post up one or several works for people to download. They all stay online and can be searched back for by months, even years. As long as the links still work, of course.
Speaking of these links, where is the music hosted? The answer is simple; file hosting sites such as Megaupload, Rapidshare and Hotfile are simple, initially free services where one can upload virtually anything and let anyone download it. Host, uploader and downloader seem, just as in the Napster scenario, untouchable; privacy rights and not holding responsibility for uploaded material still proves to work ten years after the Napster scenario. Thus clicking the download link on an MP3 blog goes to one of these kinds of sites, where after a short wait (presuming the downloader is a free user and doesn’t have a ‘premium’ account) a compressed file with mostly a not too suggestive name containing the music can be downloaded.
To go back to the ‘divide’ I was talking about earlier, there are MP3 blogs where the latest hits from the album charts are all uploaded everyday in huge quantities. Mostly these sites use Google ads or similar applications to make a profit from the visitors, and since the material they provide is commercial, a great amount of visitors can be anticipated. These MP3 blogs are mainly focussed on profit, not music. Most of these sites are hosted and/or put up in countries where infringers of copyright material are hard to get caught and brought to trial, if at all possible. Sites like these, offering the latest albums from the likes of Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, can indeed be put under the shady, sex-ad adorned side op MP3 blogging. They’re focussed on profit making by providing the best selling music in favour of money and not music. Some even defend that the best selling music is already profitable so putting it up illegally isn’t hurting it, but they are forgetting that the bloggers themselves don’t care about the music; as long as it sells it gets posted. Whatever the music is.
A big danger in stereotyping audioblogging is claiming that they all are like the example I provided above, whilst the truth is that the opposite is true. Believe it or not, but most MP3 blogs online today (which, in reality, is because they are not trying to be like the profit makers) are interested solely in bringing music to the people that is rare, hard to find, upcoming, and forgotten. They have a mission in what they do, not staying in the shades of anonymity but be the master and provider of their blog to a troop of like-minded downloaders who adore him or her and the mission they seem to perpetuate. Also, they help the bloggers with bringing in their own input of likewise music to the blog and become part of it. In this way, an audioblog can create a strong community supporting its cause, and can help it against authorities trying to get it offline.
For instance (providing an example from my own research which for its own sake I will let the name remain anonymous), an audioblog dedicated to underground hip-hop music is not just putting up any hip-hop album it get its hands on; it is actively avoiding the big selling music from the charts and is trying to bring music from the unexposed artists, or releases from vinyl, rare mix tapes and limited edition material which is long out of circulation to the blog. Why? Because the people who want it, but can’t buy it, can still get it and spread its sound. And what most people don’t know, but is branded by the blog as quality, can be tasted. Releases like that mostly don’t provide a download link to a file hosting site, but also a link to a store where the album can be bought. In this light, these blogs claim to do the very opposite of copyright infringement; they support the artist, ironically by providing their music for free in good faith that the true fan discovers instead of profits, and buys the album after hearing the illegally downloaded material. To make the story even a bit more peculiar, artists themselves have started supporting these sites, claiming that they actually helped them increase their profits and more importantly, get exposure in the music scene, a task which many big press and radio outlets such as MTV seemed to have abandoned in favour of money.
Piracy = piracy
The problem of this whole phenomenon, is once again that authorities have little interest in disseminating the problem of the ‘divide’ I have tried to schematize; no matter what you think that legitimizes your cause, MP3 bloggers are still supporting piracy and are therefore trespassing the law. It is a common problem in law enforcement where people can benefit from illegal activity without hurting or profiting from other people, but which is hard to separate from the profiteers who are solely interested in personal gain. Therefore, the discourse I tried to outline above is not a pro or against statement concerning audio piracy, but trying to make you think about that there’s more to audio piracy than some shady people using commercial music and the usual gambling and sex ads to make a buck. MP3 blogs can be used as a means to make people remember ‘forgotten’ music, to expose artists making quality music but still trying to find the right audience, two things which can only benefit both artist and listener. We are learned now to avoid the shades of the net where piracy resides with its malware and viruses, but it is this view of piracy that also keeps the position of the major record labels firmly in place without concern to the initial artists. It is this view that made artists to just provide their album for free online, if only to make a stance to the sterility and one-way profit making sites like iTunes who could be compared to the ‘real’ dark bloggers; posting music up which is commercial to profit for a buck, where the benefit goes largely to them and the label instead of the artist. It pushed many artists, like Prince and Radiohead, to change strategies of bringing their music to the fans, just to make a stance.
But before wrapping up, let’s not forget the downloaders who just download anything and don’t bring a single penny back to the artists, whether they are small or big. It is this kind of people who are also responsible for keeping piracy in a pure light of negativity; they do have the money to support the music they love, but rather spend their money on what can’t be downloaded for free. Because it does matter when a love for music is there but no money, just as when the music has been tried but appeared to be not worth the money, making the matter subjective from the downloader’s point of view. This gives the downloader an important issue to think about; what is the music you download worth to you? Or even better; are you worth it to commit piracy if you are too reluctant to reciprocate in any way?
Either way, I hope to have shed some light into the darkness. No biggie.
Goldstone, Andrew. ‘MP3 Blogs. A Silver Bullet for the Music Industry or a Smoking Gun for Copyright Infringement?’. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=930270
And not a reference, but a nonetheless interesting site where you can read about what established artists think about music piracy: Pirate Verbatim