Piracy: Profit in the wrong places

I remember having a lot of conflicting thoughts when introduced to the world of music piracy. I was young and obviously didn’t have much money. Outside of what my parents bought for me, my music library was not as booming as I would have hoped.

Into my young brain enters the idea of music piracy. “Wait, it’s free? Download it just like that, huh? This seems too easy…”

Internet piracy: Not nearly as romantic as the name makes it seem.
Internet piracy: Not nearly as romantic as the name makes it seem.

It was too easy. That was the issue. That’s why it was and still is a looming problem in the music industry.

Somewhere down the line, my next train of thought became, “Who is running these sites, and why the hell are they doing it?”

Well, like anything else: profit. Revenue. In the U.S.A. (United States of Advertising), there’s money to be made virtually anywhere there’s an audience. In this case, the issue was not that these pirating sites were making a profit. The issue was that they were taking away someone else’s profit. Or seemingly so.

Some artists claim that it helps. Others simply want the revenue. Both understandable. Most likely, it’s circumstantial. Different bands are in different positions. Some need as much exposure as possible, others don’t.

Regardless, it was clearly an issue when non-musicians started obtaining real wealth by hosting pirating sites.

The advent of streaming

Within the last ten years, we’ve seen music streaming gaining speed; more so with each passing year. This was the first large piracy deterrent.

Remember me saying that the piracy route seemed easy? Streaming comes along, and “now we don’t even have to download anything?” Get an online connection and you’re good to go. What’s easier than that?

Regardless of the growing trend towards streaming, pirate sites still remained. Not dominant but still living. How? Well, again: profit. Thanks again to advertisements.

Even though piracy has been on the downward trend for some time, in 2017, we still see plenty of pirate sites. We still see a world of completely free music that exists on the web (as opposed to the outrageously high fees of streaming services…*).

By the looks of things however, 2018 might tell a different story.

*Sarcasm, obviously.

In comes Google

Google, the tech behemoth that (I’ll go ahead and assume) profits more off of free content than any other business in the world, may provide the final blow in eliminating music piracy.

A few months back, Google unveiled a new plan to join the Coalition for Better Ads and “build a better web for everyone.” The effects of this plan will begin in early 2018.

It’s a minor trickle down however. Google is not directly attacking pirating sites. This is an attack on disruptive ads. Google is adding a new ad blocker to their internet browser Chrome to “make a better web experience for everyone,” and so more people will use Chrome. Totally fair. Totally understandable.

Connecting the dots

I’ll ask you two questions that have the same answer:

Disruptive Ads
This screen is probably familiar to you.
  1. What kind of ads do web users hate the most?
  2. What kind of ads are on pirating websites?

The answer: Crappy ones. Disruptive ones. You know when you’re three windows deep and there’s a video ad playing louder than anything else on your computer, yet you can’t find the damn video? Of course you do — traumatic memories carry a great weight…

Those are the ads that are mostly on pirating sites. That’s because they’re the ones that generate the most revenue for site because they don’t follow standard ad guidelines for legitimate website (similar to how explicit ads are not allowed in the New York Times). And those are the ads that Google is trying to eliminate.

By eliminating pop-up and video ads, Google will also be eliminating the majority of revenue for pirating websites. Problem solved for musicians. Problem for piracy.

It’s hard to know whether this effort will be the death blow to piracy. One thing we do know is that people always seem to find a way on the internet. I won’t be surprised if music piracy finds a way around these ad blockers. Hell, maybe ad-makers will change their ways and continue to do business with pirating sites.

We don’t know. We can’t know. But we at least know that this is a step in the right direction.

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