How Music Got Free (Part 3)


Piracy has plagued the music industry since its inception. In the context of copyright infringement, the term ‘pirate’ is more than 300 years old.

Yet as U.S author Stephen Witt makes clear in his book HOW MUSIC GOT FREE, the perfect storm of technological innovation that took place beginning in the mid nineties with the birth of the internet and later the mind-boggling advances in digital music compression methods along with the enabling of file-sharing and streaming, allowed for the plundering of an entire industry on an industrial scale never imagined as being possible before, by a generation of entitled teenagers and twenty-somethings that truly believed the idea of compensating artists for the music they created was unnecessary and the whole notion of copyright was an outdated legal concept from the 18th century.

Witt recounts how when Sony had its Walkman craze back in the 1980’s, the music industry sold tens of millions of tapes. Alongside the Discman craze that followed, the music industry also sold ten’s of millions of CD’s. So, doing the maths, the success of the MP3 player beginning from the late nineties should have also meant tens – no hundreds – of millions in sales of legally purchased MP3 songs and albums. The great problem was  it never did, principally because there existed (and still exist) multitudinous ways to illegally download the same items at no cost. Ten million iPods sold in stores should have meant ten billion songs sold through iTunes. Again, never happened. Legal digital downloads have grown since those first ‘free-for-all’ days of the late 90’s all-out attack on intellectual property rights and copyright, but nothing like what was needed to compensate the record companies amidst the death rattle of the compact disc which we have all been witnessing for the last few years.


At the heart of HOW MUSIC GOT FREE lies a bigger issue that reaches far beyond the boundaries of the music industry. It is the idea that the internet can and perhaps should function as a store of all human knowledge and experience that can be accessed by anyone for free, leading to a thriving public domain and rapidly increased rates of innovation for which all humankind is the beneficiary.

Seen this ‘bigger picture’ way, one can more readily accept the notion that in the quest for the development of knowledge and ideas for the greater good of society in general, individual industries may need to be sacrificed in order that others thrive. To this end, whether one sees the forced ‘liberation’ of the recording industry as the work of idealistic revolutionaries or racketeering criminals is entirely a matter of point of view.

In the meantime, Stephen Witt has written a forensically researched book that lays bare in compelling year by year detail what may be regarded as one of the greatest criminal conspiracies in the history of forever to subvert copyright and in the process bring down an industry.


Want more? I give you more.

Click here to view retro 2006 anti-piracy ad

Click here to view Bryan Brown 2017 anti-piracy ad

Click here to see how Stars are fighting back against music piracy

Click here to view a great debate on music piracy

Ps. Your first bonus read this week is a short story called COLD CALLING. Word of advice – you might want to have a stiff lemonade on hand for afterwards.



Pss. Your bonus bonus read this week is an article from THE GUARDIAN about the theft of 160 very rare and old books from an East London warehouse earlier this year. The crime to date remains unsolved. Thieves broke in through a roof skylight and avoided a security alarm system to make off with books dating back to the 15th century. Books stolen include original works from Leonardo DaVinci, Galileo and Isaac Newton.






3 thoughts on “How Music Got Free (Part 3)

  1. One problem with the ‘bigger picture’ concept is that sooner or later the consumer will run out of things to consume, because no-one would’ve been able to afford to make more content. This is where the ‘reality TV concept comes in, ie the consumer makes their own content. Which in turn becomes an ever diminishing circle.
    The ‘subscriber’ model works, but only on a small scale, as evidenced by the debacle that Patreon drew down upon themselves recently when they scaled up their fee structure.
    Not sure what the answer is … unless it is that a system can only get so big before it implodes, so the trick might be not to get that big (playing the long game) or go big fast and take the money and run.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As per my comment on the previous blog, we can see a similar dynamic in the book publishing industry. As with the music industry, where the gatekeepers where the record labels, the book industry had a gate keeper in the form of book publishers. Nowadays all manner of people can write and earn money from their writing. I even know someone who does, and he isn’t me. He doesn’t even use an editor, yet makes a steady income.

    I’ve read some books on the new self publishing wave. An interesting point to be made is that piracy can be viewed as positive. Many successful writers give away many free ebooks, and it brings in more money. The idea is to pitch the cost of an ebook at a level where the average person with a reasonable moral compass will think it is only right to pay for the book as $3 isn’t really that much. This may be happening with music as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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