In his writing Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig examines the influence of piracy on the music industry and concludes that “not all piracy is wrong”. He defines piracy as an act that “robs the author of his profit” and argues that we tend to focus too much on the loss that piracy causes and ignore the benefits that it can bring to the industry.
Lessig raises peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing as a predominant example for piracy. While he condemns the uses of p2p sharing as substitutes for purchasing content, he also suggests three other categories in p2p users. These include: one, to sample music before purchasing; two, to get a copyrighted content that is no longer available in the stores; three, to acquire contents that are not copyrighted at all. Lessig clearly reminds us that we are ignoring these three categories of users have brought many benefits to the music industry.
Although Lessig focused mainly on p2p sharing, Youtube is not an exception. We, as viewers, can download the movie file from Youtube. Some tools even automatically convert the file into a MP3. In this way, Youtube is certainly a p2p sharing network because anything uploaded there can be downloaded to any viewer’s laptop.
To make Lessig’s argument more clear, I would like to introduce an anecdote that I experienced this past month. As the past blogging shows, I am a big fan of the Japanese Rock band B’z. I have their CDs, posters, advertisements, postcards, photo albums and even their band scores. However, it is difficult to track all of their works since their debut in 1988. More importantly, I cannot get their works easily anymore since I am out of Japan since 2006. Naturally, what I did was to start relying on Youtube or other video sharing sites to see B’z’s performances. Thanks to their fame in Japan, many of their music videos are uploaded. One day, I found a music video, “静かな雨” (Shizuka na Ame or ‘Quiet Rain’) which was shot when the vocalist Koshi Inaba was on his solo project. It was a total new discovery for me at the time since I did not know much about the band members’ solo works. The song was impressive so now I have the CD in my room and, ironically enough, the music video was deleted by the label for ‘violating the copyrights issue’.
When the labels worry about copyrights and piracy, they also lose their chances to advertise the artists’works to the three other categories of people that Lessig proposes. The CD I obtained was released on 2003 and is now barely found in any music stores in Japan. However, the CD was still sold only because the music video was uploaded on Youtube by the‘pirates’. The label may have not expected this to happen, but a college student who is thousands of kilometers away from Japan got the CD with the help of what they call ‘piracy’. If, as the music industry claims, p2p sharing is solely causing an economic damage my case would be an exact opposite of what they claim. Just as Lessig points out, ‘piracy’ can be beneficial and we are still underestimating the power of file sharing as an advertisement tool.