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Editorial: “Notice-and-notice” process not going to work

As you’ve likely read (in this article), or perhaps experienced yourself, Canadian Internet Service Providers are now required to pass on notices from copyright holders that an IP address they administer (i.e. yours) is suspected of copyright infringement (i.e. downloading something illegally).

When it comes to stopping piracy, there are many ways to deal with it effectively, and then there are the measures governments and “copyright holders” push for.

Let’s be clear here, when I say “copyright holders,” the now ubiquitous term for the corporations that lobby governments to crack down on piracy, I’m not talking about all record labels, I’m not talking about most artists, I’m not even really talking about content producers.

I’m talking about the few major record labels, television stations, Hollywood film studios, and textbook distributors who have the resources to push for this kind of thing.

No sensible artist would see a university student downloading their album as a bad thing. In fact, many bands I’ve seen live have told their fans to do exactly that.

I don’t think independent labels would be so forthcoming with a similar recommendation, but I’ll bet that they aren’t about to push for any crackdowns anytime soon.

Most indie artists figure the more people who listen to their music, the better it is for them. The more people who listen to their music, the more who will come see them live, and the more who will buy their merchandise, whether at shows or from the band’s online store.

Furthermore, it makes it more likely that they’ll buy the band’s future releases.

A 2013 study by the European Commission titled “Digital Music Consumption on the Internet: Evidence from Clickstream Data” indicates support for those beliefs.

Two interesting things they found were that “the vast majority of the music that is consumed illegally… would not have been legally purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available”, and that “clicks on legal purchase websites would have been 2% lower in the absence of illegal downloading websites.”

In other words, when people have the opportunity to experience new things they wouldn’t otherwise get to experience, there’s a good chance that will result in more purchases.

Case-in-point: I once illegally downloaded the album Causers of This by the band Toro y Moi (come get me, Carpark Records).

As a result, I discovered my favourite band, and now I make a point to exclusively pay for their music and attend their shows whenever possible.

Not only that, I now also support similar artists like Neon Indian and Washed Out whenever I can.

You bet Carpark Records itself receives some support. After all, if they signed Toro y Moi, it’s reasonable to assume they have some other great bands on the label as well (they sure do, by the way).

You see, this is precisely why I, and most people I know, download media: to experience new things, to find new favourites.

I don’t need to tell anyone reading this that students don’t have a lot of money to their names. We can’t afford to buy all the music we think we might want to listen to, or go to the movies every time there’s a new film.

And yet, everyone I know loves to own (legally) their favourite music, movies, and TV shows—usually on physical media as well. They love supporting the artists they like.

This is why the “notice-and-notice” system will probably not be effective at curbing piracy. All it’s going to do is scare people who just wanted to listen to an album or see what some popular show is all about. A real pirate will be able to clearly see through the facade of these notices.

Really, it’s a way of protecting profits for companies who can’t fathom doing things differently than they were done 20 years ago, or who want to do things with minimal risk.

No doubt, it’s risky to tell people “go home and download our music,” hoping the music itself will inspire people to support your band.

I’d imagine it wouldn’t work as well for a major label anyway. They sort of require unsustainably high profits to do things they way they want to do them. They also require little competition, and a significant upper hand.

Unfortunately, free downloads are a great way for independent musicians to get ahead.

What we really need are intellectual property laws that protect both the copyright holders (here I mean all of them, not just the major ones), and individuals who are downloading things entirely for themselves as a way of experiencing something new.

Obviously there are people out there who use illegal downloading as a way to profit off of other people’s hard work. That needs to be addressed and eradicated.

But it shouldn’t be done in a way that conflates those people with those of us who heard that Toro y Moi is a good band and wanted to see for ourselves what they were all about.

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