Music Wants To Be Free

Pirates (distributors and consumers) often invoke Stewart Brands’ iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to justify piracy. In a recent discussion with a friend, I argued that Brand used this powerful phrase to suggest that information should be easily available to everybody, not that it should be available free of cost. My friend’s counter-argument was that in India’s context, availability was truly an issue. He told me about how he ended up buying a pirated DVD because the original was not available. He did buy the official DVD when it was eventually released but it was evident that he didn’t really feel obliged to.

While I advocate purchase of legal music, I am unable to find fault with people who are driven to pirated goods in cases like this. I can totally relate with them.

  1. Some time ago I wrote about being unable to get hold of Raghu Dixit’s album. I haven’t listened to his music since then – poor quality internet streams are not my cup of tea.
  2. I ended up buying the music for the Tamil movie, Vinnathaandi Varuvaya, on the iTunes US store, because it was neither available in any physical store in Bangalore (I tried three different ones), nor in any internet store (I tried about a dozen). What was even more shocking? The music label that has the rights, Sony Music, does not even have an India site. Really Sony?! Is that how important the India market is to you? Because of your supply issues, I ended up paying for this album double of what it should have cost me in India. This for an album that had to be one of your bestsellers in 2010.

I know there are other people (like this) who jump through hoops to get legal music.

Music companies – get your act together. Stop whining about piracy and start making your content easily available to paying customers:

  1. Improve your supply of CDs as well as digital music. Even the pirates are doing better than you.
  2. Leverage the long tail. Stop focusing on only the ‘big hits’. The cost of digitizing and distributing music is incremental. Make everything available for download, even, scratch that, specially, the non-hits.
  3. Do a Hulu. Join together and make it easier for people to buy digital music. Google India has done a great job of aggregating streamed music. You can do the same for downloadable music. Don’t make us hop through all your websites to find music.
  4. Develop an India-specific distribution strategy with variable pricing. Don’t forget the bottom of the pyramid. Flood the market with the music equivalent of shampoo sachets – low bit-rate music on pen drives or phone chips. Peg it at a price point that makes downloading/distributing pirated music not worth the hassle.

Make “Music wants to be free” your motto. Or, watch musicians and movie producers bypass you and start self-publishing as you become irrelevant. Worse, watch pirates destroy your industry.

5 thoughts on “Music Wants To Be Free

    1. Param Post author

      Another instance of marketing (or at least social media marketing) not complemented by other aspects of business! What’s their message? Please buy are stuff even though we make it very difficult for you to buy it! 🙂

  1. PS

    Its equally illegal to make copies of books/printed material. Or to take pics of Mona Lisa or the Taj. Or to record a live concert on your phone. Or to take pics of celebrities.

    We create media (music, movies and even software) so that it can be digitally spread easily. But then we want to thwart that so that it’s actually tough to access it. Building an ecosystem for an easy management of digital content is the responsibility of the people who have a stake in making money from the media.

    To borrow a term – with great power comes great responsibility. I’m not advocating illegal copying. But I think that we should make it easier for people who want to get access to media legally and THEN make it illegal to copy.

    I would however agree that any such act for personal happiness is OK, but the same for corporate gain should be illegal even now.

    1. Param Post author

      1. If anything is illegal – we shouldn’t be doing it – even if we don’t think the law is right. People use the “disagree with law” argument to do something illegal only when they think they won’t get caught or if they think the implication of getting caught is minor. We can’t pick and choose the laws we will follow and those we won’t.
      2. Aren’t personal happiness and corporate gain two sides of the same coin? Let there be no mistake – pirates are allowing free downloads for gains (ad revenues). Now would you say that it’s wrong for the pirate to allow illegal downloads because it is for gain but OK for the general public to download from pirates because they’re only using it for personal happiness. I don’t think so.

  2. Pingback: Why People Don’t Talk About Pirate Consumers | Mavrix

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