Filesharing is a very controversial topic. Both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claims that billions of dollars is lost every year to illegal filesharing. The RIAA estimates that only 37 percent of music acquired by U.S. consumers in 2009 was paid for, and that U.S. internet users consume between $7 billion and $20 billion of ‘digitally pirated recorded music’ each year. In the past decade, music sales in the U.S. have declined from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion.

First of all, the claims proposed by these statistics are disingenuous, for several reasons. First of all, they count each song illegally downloaded as a missed sale. That assumes that everyone that pirated a song would have bought had it not been available illegally. This is wrong to assume. As a ‘pirate’ (to use the recording industry’s pejorative term), I have downloaded a vast amount of music that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise. I’ve discovered artists, songs, albums and genres that I wouldn’t have been able to if I were required to buy it all. For many of those artists I have gone to concerts, bought merchandise, and spread the word about them on social media. I wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise. Second, another contributing factor to the decline of music sales is the ability to find the music for free online legally. Ever hear of Youtube? Spotify? Pandora? Rdio? Why buy the music when you can listen to it for free legally? Adopting these services and sacrificing that revenue was the recording industry’s choice, and they are blaming us for it. They’re trying to double dip. Third, I do not trust the recording industry’s statistics when they have been shown to be extortionists, liars, and thieves many times in the past. They’ve attempted to sue grandmothers into oblivion over alleged illegal downloads, many of which didn’t have the capability to illegally download the content in the first place.

My favorite artist is Pretty Lights. He is an extremely talented and popular musician/producer that has been releasing his music for free through his website since 2005. He sells out stadiums and festivals around the world, routinely playing to crowds of over 100,000 at Bonnaroo and Coachella every year. He wouldn’t have been able to do that if he had gone with the traditional retail model and sold his music like everyone else. By lowering the barrier to entry, he enabled anyone and everyone with an internet connection to download his music as they pleased. He makes his money through touring and selling merchandise. By giving his music away for free, he made himself more money. Despite giving away his music for free, people still choose to pay for his music (myself included). His last album, A Color Map of the Sun peaked at 24 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Illegal downloading is a problem for the record industry, that is true. It is a problem because they are too stubborn to change their antiquated business practices. The internet changed everything. Old business models do not work anymore. The recording industry needs to find a new, better business model. It is extremely luddite and hypocritical for them to complain about shrinking revenues when they have fought against the internet every step of the way. They need to adapt, or die.