Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Irish record labels’ fascination with piracy

At a time when figures show that piracy is decreasing, the Irish labels continue their fight against the Jolly Roger in the courts

Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 09:56


Here we go again. The Irish subsidaries of the three remaining major labels are currently employing legal eagles to take on five broadband providers to stop the latter from allowing its users access Kickass Torrents. We have been here before many times before – back then, though, there were more major labels – and it really seems that we’ll be here again in the future if the formbook is any guide. The Irish record business has a bee in its bonnet about piracy and keeps banging on about it. They’re not the only ones, of course, but they’re the ones who seem to be more flaithulach when it comes to spending shareholders’ money on legal fees to deal with this.

At the same time as this story is winding its way through the news pages again, a piece in Forbes looked at the stats behind the industry’s paranoia about piracy. As Bobby Owinski points out, “music piracy was a real live problem at one point in the past, today it’s just a distant memory” and provides figures about the drop in P2P traffic to back up his view.

“Here’s the bottom line”, says Owinski, “people don’t pirate songs anymore because they don’t need to. They can get whatever they want for free online via YouTube or a streaming service like Spotify. Convenience has trumped pirating, which is exactly what’s happening in the video world with Netflix. It’s just way too easy to consume entertainment legally anymore, which makes pirating almost a non-factor.”

Yet the emphasis on piracy continues despite the fact, as Owinski points out, that there are a myriad of other reasons to explain the issues the industry tries to explain by concentrating on piracy. As far as the record industry is concerned, it’s those pesky pirates sticking their Jolly Rogers on their wares via various broadband providers who are responsible for the big drop in their companies’ revenue and their executives’ lifestyles. Not changes in how people consume music. Not changes in how much we’re prepared to pay for music. Not changes in people copping on that the vast majority of albums are not worth the money. Not changes such as realising that paying a tenner a month for a streaming service is better than spending up to twice that on a single CD. Instead, it’s all the pirates’ fault, the same pirates who are falling in number according to the stats.

In many ways, piracy is a handy bogeyman for the Irish record industry’s own procrastination and fear of change. Instead of concentrating on the failure to innovate as its business model changed and trying to do something about this, the labels here have continued to strike out at pirates. Instead of being creative or taking action as labels have done elsewhere, they chose the legal route every time.

This has meant an undue emphasis on stopping stuff rather than starting stuff. For instance, look at the lengthy delays to get legal, popular services like iTunes and Spotify going in Ireland when there were no such delays elsewhere. Much of this came down to intransigence and obstruction on the record industry side, who seemed to prefer spending days in court than engaging with those who wanted to do business.

Indeed, if you speak to those who have tried to do business with the Irish labels regarding streaming or any digital development, they’ll tell you about the many problems which always seemed to appear in an effort to hinder progress. But there are no such delays when it comes to dealing with pirates, despite the fact that these bogeymen are beginning to leave the pitch as more consumer-friendly services kick in (as opposed to the cumbersome solutions the industry tried to hoist on its customers, thus de-incentivising the market).

If you were really mischevious, you might suggest that all of this grandstanding has a lot to do with getting attention and keeping the focus on the small subsidaries and local offices. After all, the Irish record industry is a small beast in the larger scheme of things and something like legal action does get headlines abroad to justify all of this. Just a pity that it has to be so wrong-headed.