Well, it’s World Talk Like a Pirate Day and so here I am, talking as though I were a pirate.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Ben, that’s not the traditional piratic vernacular. Far from it!”
I know, I know. The truth, though, is that I am a pirate. And not the nice, amusing, seafaring kind. Oh no. I am that most awful of things.
A record pirate.
Allow me to explain. Although these days I have a job with a decent income, and purchase all my albums (as records are now called) legally, either in hard copy or online, there was a day, OH MY FRIENDS it hurts to admit, when I succumbed to the lure of record piracy.
I’m not talking about “napsters” or “Limewires” or whatever kids are getting their shit-quality rips with skips and DJ talk from these days. No, friends, in my youth we had a more insidious, less trackable method of illegal sharing.
They were called ninety minute cassettes.
And as a youth, a large percentage of my collection of albums consisted of hissing, taped versions of the albums of my friends. Truncated, sometimes, to fit the forty-five minute sides and thus allow two albums per tape; I still have albums where I don’t recognise one of the songs because it had to be ommitted for space considerations.
And the moral cost of this? How much money did I do these hard-working artists out of by my thoughtless, childhood actions?
Well, curiously, I thought I’d do a bit of an experiment. I went through the albums I have bought, paid for, legally and at full price, this year, and calculated the number of albums I have purchased where the first album I ever acquired from that artist was done so piratically. The sum total? Thirty five.
Yes, that’s right, thirty five.
That’s thirty five albums I have bought, at full price, this year, that I would in all likelihood never have bought if I had not, as a spotted twelve-year-old, been introduced to a crappy tdk tape illegally thieving their work.
Some of these artists are artists that I have followed for twenty years. Bands like Concrete Blonde, The Cure, New Order, Robert Pollard/Guided by Voices, all got their start on my stereo via illegal taped copies.
How much money did they lose out on due to this piracy? Well, the truth is, as a teenager my funds were limited. Buying three or four albums at Christmas or on a birthday with money from my parents, and maybe a couple in between, was about the limit of my budget. And most of that money was going on the sort of crap that twelve year olds love. Like Bon Jovi and Phil Collins. So while a couple of these artists may, in theory, have missed out on the fifteen bucks that a legal cassette was worth, most probably would not have been any better off.
The flip side, of course, is how much money did these artists *get* through this piracy? Now I know, you’re shaking your head in consternation, gentle reader, saying “But Ben, everybody loses through piracy. It’s a known fact as it is on the start of videos.”
But look at hit this way. While my first ever Cure album was pirated, I have gone on to legally buy their entire collection. And I’m now buying the freakin’ deluxe editions of their early albums! That’s hundreds of dollars’ worth of sales all because of that first lost fifteen bucks. The same goes for the other artists I mentioned above. While I might have taped occasional works in those early days, the vast majority of their oevre I now own as legit, paid-up copies.
And as I said at the start, there are thirty five albums that I have bought *this year alone* that, in all likelihood, I would not have bought had I not been introduced via shady illegitimate copies to those artists. That’s about seven hundred bucks’ worth of bona fide album sales.
I’m not saying that piracy isn’t a problem. But I think it’s worth noting that good can come out of it too.
And by prosecuting those people, like the unemployed and single mums, as has happened in the US, who are unlikely to be large-scale consumers, but who download music that they like, the industry is likely to be saving itself very little in the present, and doing itself out of thousands of dollars’ worth of future sales.