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Should we Fight or Embrace Illegal Downloads?

By Kira Goldring
 unsplash : Jon Tyson
*Updated 2021
In the digital world, it’s all too easy to attain free media without batting an eye. In fact, despite the prevalence of legal streaming options, more than one-third of music listeners around the world acquire music illegally. In fact, more than 130 billion visits were made to piracy websites in 2020. Downloading songs, movies, shows and books off the internet has become so normal that many forget it’s actually illegal. So, if the majority does it, does that make it okay? Or should we attempt to curb the trend of illegal downloading?
Here are three reasons to embrace illegal downloads, and three reasons to fight against them.


Piracy is the new black


Illegal downloading benefit artists

There is evidence that content creators can actually benefit from piracy. For an actor or a musician, exposure is everything. Success is generally measured by a song or clip having “gone viral,” and accessibility to said media – i.e. through illegal downloading sites – is a key component of making that happen. A few years ago, the EU withheld a study that found that piracy had less of an impact on sales than originally thought. It found that copyright infringement of music, books, and video games in Europe didn’t necessarily detract from sales; in this vein, musicians at least generally don’t expect their tracks to be bought. After building their brand, musicians’ incomes are instead rooted in merchandise and live performances. Additionally, revenue from the music streaming industry is sharply increasing each year, underscoring the fact that a new economy, defined by new norms, has emerged, and it’s here to stay.


Let the data speak

Product development has adapted to the demands of the digital world, and piracy helps make that happen. The data collected from illegal downloading sites is used inform decisions about which television shows and music are worthwhile investments. Giving away various media for free is now considered a successful marketing strategy; going off the philosophy that piracy builds demand, the proof is in the numbers: Movies that are most pirated tend to be the highest-grossing in the box office, and in general, the movie industry flourished once illegal file-sharing came into play.


It gives access to everyone

Cliche or not, art can change lives – but it needs to reach enough people in order to do so. Illegal downloading sites allow people without regular access to expensive music, books and film to join the art world. At this point, many are unwilling – or unable – to pay exorbitant movie theater ticket prices while also spending nearly the equivalent on concession stand snack prices, or purchase hardcover books for the same reason; piracy sites provide everyone equal opportunity to benefit from the songs, movies and books that can have a life-altering effect. Not to mention, during the height of the pandemic, film and TV piracy flourished around the world during global lockdowns, allowing people some relief and escape from the stressful and scary pandemic.


Piracy is unacceptable 


Protect the artists

Piracy causes actors, writers and musicians to lose out big time in revenue. Perhaps prominent production labels can afford to take the financial hit, but smaller labels and independent artists can suffer big time. A report found that in 2010 alone, 1.2 billion songs were downloaded illegally. In 2018, revenue losses in the music industry due to music piracy totaled $9.8 billion. It’s not only the artists that are cheated; research indicates that video theft results in a $29.2 billion loss in revenue for the U.S. economy per annum and is responsible for the loss of between 230,000-500,000 jobs in the U.S.


No excuse

There are too many cheap alternatives to illegal downloading to continue perpetuating the activity. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are less than $10 a month and give easy access to the most popular TV shows and movies. Amazon Kindle books are usually less than $10, with a one-time purchase of a device that can support e-books. Spotify, grants access to millions of songs and podcasts – for less than it costs to go out to dinner. With all the affordable options available, there’s no reason to accept illegal downloads as a viable option.


Breaking the law

There’s a keyword that makes this issue a simple one: Illegal. Personal opinions shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to piracy. We’re a society that prides itself on having order, and part of that order is following the laws we’ve set up as a system through which to govern ourselves. Downloading illegally from the internet is a violation of copyright, and at its core – stealing. Currently, Unites States had the highest number of media piracy site visits, with about 12.5 billion visits to piracy sites in 2020. Has stealing really become so normalized that we’re willing to sit idly by and let it happen? Come on, world – we’re better than that.


Bottom line: Illegally downloading negatively impacts both our moral standards and the industries being stolen from, but piracy helps drive effective marketing campaigns – and may not be all that bad for artist revenue. Do you download your favorite shows and music, or do you have another way of engaging with media?

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