Who’s making money from music piracy?

I'm not defending Stalinist Russia, but you have to admit it was a gift to future generations of graphic designers.

I'm not defending Stalinist Russia, but you have to admit it was a gift to future generations of graphic designers.

Gadget culture/consumer fetish pornography blog Gizmodo recently ran a fun piece about second-degree murder and six other crimes less expensive than pirating music. Obviously, you can’t go to jail for music piracy, and Gizmodo’s estimation that a year in prison is equivalent to a fine of about $50,000—the US median household income—ignores the intangible costs of spending that year married to a man named Eightball. Still, they’ve got a point. The recent finding against Jammie Thomas-Rasset—a single mother of four who shared 24 songs on Kazaa, and now has to pay Sony and other record labels $1.92 million—is laughably excessive. As usual, by “laughable,” I mean “horrifying.” I mean, come on—the woman’s name is “Jammie.” How is she not going to do whatever it takes to get the new Chamillionaire?* It turns out, though, that RIAA lawyers didn’t even have to prove Jammie downloaded any music. She almost certainly did, but the finding in the case ultimately rested on the 24 songs she had in her “Shared” folder. Whether she got them honestly or not, by making those songs available to others for download through Kazaa, Jammie violated copyright law—to the tune of $80,000 per song.

In order to make that much money via legal downloads on iTunes, the plaintiffs in the case would have to sell roughly 114,000 songs. While it’s unlikely that Jammie Thomas-Rasset is ever going to come up with that two million dollars, suing her for violating music copyrights is a much more profitable activity, from a balance sheet perspective, than recording and distributing music. That’s the genius revelation behind the business model at Digiprotect, a company that buys the rights to distribute movies in retail stores, then puts those movies on file sharing networks and sues the people who download them. Digiprotect’s intellectual property purchases expressly stipulate the right to seed those properties on Kazaa, BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file sharing networks, for the purposes of gathering defendants in copyright lawsuits. “We get the legal rights from the companies to distribute these movies to stores, and with these rights we can sue illegal downloaders,” says company spokesman Thomas Hein. “Then we take legal action in every country possible, concentrating on the places where such action will be profitable.”

Digiprotect casts itself as a righteous crusader in the war against internet piracy, and like the RIAA they present their enormous settlements and civil case awards as deterrents to the broader practice of illegal file sharing. Looking at their business practices, though, it’s hard not to see such lawsuits as a for-profit enterprise. No matter what your stance on the ethics of downloading music from the internet, two million dollars for letting other people copy your 24 songs is an excessive fine. The problem is, intellectual property laws were drafted with corporate entities in mind. They were designed to prevent Warner Brothers from making millions of dollars by producing animated films about Marky Mouse, and the fines they levy are calibrated to deter on the corporate scale. When applied to private citizens who do not profit from their infringements, they are, from a moral standpoint, simply excessive.

The next few years are going to see profound change in the structure of either copyright laws or the music industry—probably both. Back when not-for-profit copyright violation meant dubbing your copy of the Top Gun soundtrack for your girlfriend, the law simply was not enforced on private citizens. Thanks to the internet, citizen copyright violation can now happen on a scale large enough to threaten corporate entities, and that gives them an incentive to demand a sort of enforcement that lawmakers never intended. It’s important to remember that the individual copyright violator does not profit from his file sharing, despite whatever damage he contributes to. To hold him liable for $22,500 per song is to ignore the scale of his motives, and to create a motive for corporations to encourage the violation of laws enacted to protect them. When Sony can make more money suing downloaders than selling songs, something needs to change.

* In the course of looking up the proper spelling of “Chamillionaire,” I discovered that he is CEO of Chamilitary Entertainment. Let’s hope that after he’s successfully executed his chamilitary coup, he’ll do something about the chamillions of Americans who don’t have access to quality health care, instead of getting sidetracked by straw man issues like illegal chamimigration.

Combat! blog is free. Why not share it?
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Reddit


  1. If it sucks don’t pay for it and certainly don’t listen to it. If you like it, buy it and enjoy it. Why is this so hard for people to do?

    Yes the fines are ridiculous and outrageous, so are our drug laws, do either of these things prevent drug use or music piracy? Probably only for some very small group of people who are actually afraid that they will have the wrath of the RIAA come down upon them. So how do you make this change? Is it worth it for you to go to jail or get a gigantic and outrageous fine to make it change?

    Henry David Thoreau advocated civil disobedience as a means to change unjust laws. One of the main points of practice of civil disobedience is that you have to be willing to go to jail and face the consequences of your actions to prove a point. I don’t think anyone is willing to do that for cheaper music and certainly not you Dan.

    If I want something, I’m willing to pay for it. I’m even willing to pay more than it’s probably worth for it as long as it isn’t excessive. Music is not excessively over-priced. You can even just get the singles you want for a buck a pop on iTunes. There, now you’ve rewarded the people/artists who helped you get what you appreciate and want.

  2. Chamimigration is incredibly satisfying to say. Also, I think I find the Digiprotect’s honesty about his company’s predatory and unethical mission statement refreshing.

  3. I’ll start by admitting that I’m a huge internet pirate. Arrr. Though you get fined $1.92 mil for 24 songs, once you hit 50 you get a free eye patch! Arrr.

    Though illegal downloading is just that, buying music through the industry is almost as unfair to the artists. A tiny fraction of the cost of each CD sold or each track downloaded from iTunes actually goes to the artist.

    Strike back! Buy albums directly from the artists! They get much more of the money that way.

    In the meantime, learn how to encrypt your IP.

  4. Hi, for Search engine optimization genuine contents are in fact required, if you just make a copy and paste then you can not rated in search engines.

Leave a Comment.