Verbum Ultimum: Why You Should Pay for Music

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/21/16 5:12pm

On April 20, the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network hosted a panel on the digital rights of artists. The panelists agreed that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we think about the value that content creators provide.

Music piracy continues to be an issue in the United States. Roughly 20 million Americans uses peer-to-peer sharing systems to acquire music. There are indications that music piracy is on the decline in the face of relatively low-cost streaming options such as Spotify and Apple Music, but the idea that lies at the heart of the act — that creative content is not worth paying for — remains troubling.

Sometimes this notion, especially when applied to well-known, wealthy artists, manifests itself as a perceived victimless crime. What is a minor loss in sales to an artist worth millions of dollars? We roll our eyes when we see an artist like Taylor Swift refuse to put her music on Spotify and get in legal battles with Apple. For every artist who isn’t making millions, however, this idea quickly falls apart.

The internet has massively lowered the barriers to entry for musical pursuits but has grossly decreased the feasibility of making a livelihood from these pursuits. Anyone can use a variety of music platforms, like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, to upload their music. No producers. No recording studio. Just a musician and a laptop. By refusing to pay for content, we reduce the breadth of content available to us. The number of people classified as “Musicians and Songwriters” has dropped by 22 percent since 2002. Fewer musicians will enter an industry if there is little possibility of financial stability. This limits the perspectives available to consumers and perpetuates a lack of diverse representation in artistic fields. Entering the field may be easier, but staying in the game proves impossible for many.

If you enjoy a song, you have given it value and should be willing, circumstance permitting, to pay for that value. By pirating music, or any other form of content, you are depriving someone of their livelihood while still benefiting from their effort. It’s hard to imagine another circumstance in which this wouldn’t be met with widespread public outrage, but in the world of creative content, it seems par for the course.

As college students, we are perhaps the generation most immersed in the culture of online piracy, but it is within our means to be able to turn the tide. Content creators, like most producers, deserve to be compensated. They provide value, and there is an argument to be made for pay-what-you-want, or more ideally pay-what-you-can, systems, such as that employed by Radiohead for their album “In Rainbows” (2007). But it is predicated on appreciating the value that we gain from creative content and accepting the price we should pay.

In these schemes, you decide the value of the creative content. According to market research firm comScore 38 percent of donwloaders paid, while 62 percent did not making the average price paid $2.26 per download. Radiohead called this research “wholly inaccurate,”and later information from collecting society MCPS-PRS and internet metrics firm BigChampagne, estimated over 400,000 copies of the album were downloaded on its release day alone. The band made more digital income on that album than all their other albums combined, according to lead singer Thom Yorke. This success can be attributed to the quality of the album itself and the band’s popularity. It seems unlikely that smaller groups could pull off something similar, and in fact, the band did not want this to be a model for other groups. Rather, it highlights the questions that digital streaming has brought up and points to the larger need to find new business models.

As college journalists, we feel strongly that we must elevate the status of creative content in our collective imaginations. People, especially young people, do not take creative content seriously. They consume without realizing that people have to provide the content they take for granted. There is someone behind the music you torrent from The Pirate Bay. There are writers, producers and actors behind the television show you watch on, and a photographer behind the photos you take off of Google Images without giving any credit. We understand that some people simply cannot afford to purchase all of this content, but we should all try to shake of this cultural complacency that accepts what is essentially theft. Short story: pay for the next song you download.

The editorial board consists of the editor-in-chief, the executive editors, the publisher and an opinion editor.

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