13 November 2014

Spotify is still music piracy.

The new wave of media is to never own or rent anything. Stream whatever we want from wherever we want. Sure, depending on the media type and the location, your options will vary, but the consumer pays a nominal fee and can get instant access to a nice library of material without specifically paying for that viewing. Perfection!

For movies this scenario works relatively well. The studios that paid the bucks to film those shows and they get to dictate what they get paid for your 90 minutes of pleasure. If they believe they are getting screwed they can pull their line-up from Amazon or Netflix. For new movies, they are only available at the box office and flicks just released on plastic coasters will be limited to rental options where they can more specifically collect their fortunes.

This scenario is far more problematic when it comes to music. With a service like Pandora where they are creating custom radio stations the issue is less messy because if you want to hear Shake It Off twice in a row you will need to buy it from the iTunes store. Products like Spotify, Beats and the upcoming Google entry make this far more messy because a good portion of those customers will never buy the song. From their perspective, they paid their $5 to $10 a month and that is all they will ever pay for music.

That is the greatest deal ever for the consumer pocketbook but terrible for the artists who receive next to nothing while their work is available at your audio whim. Essentially, by never actually buying the music you are, from the perspective of the artist, stealing their product. Again - not a problem if you actually buy your favorite tunes but the vast majority of the customers of these new services are rarely doing that. Many consumers would just turn to piracy if it were not for streaming. Since the musician gets paid in pocket lint from streaming royalties, there is no difference in their mind if you pirate the song or stream it.

Consumers are justified in saying "It's legal, unlike piracy. I am just buying what the recording industry is allowing, so there is nothing wrong with that." True. Much like paying for access to a BitTorrent feed, we certainly are paying for free access to any music we like. The RIAA is currently living with this deal because they get to keep nearly all of the money made. Artists are getting wise to it and those with leverage (Taylor Swift) are pulling their works from certain streaming services.

The question for consumers is whether we want to be an enabler to a system that essentially forces artists to go on tour to make any money from their creation. Just because we do not label streaming as "piracy" does not mean it is not exactly that. We are stealing the work of artists by paying the recording industry for access to the "legal" Pirate Bay. What an amazing deal.