Beat for Your Bucks

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WORDS Josephine Clark-Wroe

What is the real cost of illegally downloading music?

Limewire, Megaupload and torrents – I’m sure we all know of them and have used them too – but did you know that, according to a PwC report released in July this year, Australians have been outed as the worst culprits of illegal music downloading in the world? Music piracy in Australia is linked to the ‘Australia Tax’ and geo-locating schemes that are put in place by corporations and governments. Regardless, music piracy is damaging a local industry of creative talent which could otherwise be thriving.

Legislation schmegislation
The Australian Government has done very little to support and protect the creative industries and their contents, especially those released on the Internet. There is the traditional Copyright Act of 1968 and the Trade Mark Act of 1995. However, neither of these serve to minimise music piracy in Australia.

Copyright encourages people to create their own works, and in Australia you don’t even have to register for copyright or put copyright notice on a piece of work. This is because a work will be protected as soon as it is put in material form, such as being written down or recorded in some way.

There are severe penalties for music dealings that infringe the rights of anyone involved with creating, performing or producing that music. The main penalty is fines, which could cost the individual up to $60,500 and corporations up to $302,500 and/or up to five years of imprisonment. Police can also issue an on-the-spot fine of up to $1,320.

While these are some pretty hefty fines, it is obvious that legislation isn’t deterring anybody. Music Rights Australia believes that consumer education and awareness is more likely to have a positive impact on behaviour.

Who is Music Rights Australia?

Music Rights Australia is an organisation that protects the creative interests of artists within the Australian music community. To do this they use educational initiatives, government lobbying and the protection of artists’ copyright.

They represent over 70,000 songwriters, composers, music publishers and record labels and seek to improve the awareness of intellectual property rights among music fans and the Australian community.

[quote]Rihanna’s album Unapologetic was 49 per cent more expensive to buy from iTunes in Australia than in the US…[/quote]

What is the ‘Australia Tax’?

Earlier this year, the term ‘Australia Tax’ briefly held media spotlight, but many of us may still not understand what it means. In simpleton terms, the ‘Australia Tax’ labels the issue of Australian consumers paying more for software and hardware products, including (and especially) music. Choice (a non-for-profit consumer advisory group) produced a survey in 2012 which revealed that music products in Australia sell for a median 50 per cent more than their US counterparts. For example, Rihanna’s album Unapologetic was 49 per cent more expensive to buy from iTunes in Australia than in the US.

Technology giant Apple defended the higher prices that Australian consumers are paying at a federal parliamentary committee in March this year. Apple representative Tony King stated: “Apple must consider differences between countries in product costs, freight charges, local sales taxes, levies, import duties, channel economics, competition and local laws regarding advertised prices.”

Committee chairman Nick Champion discussed how Australian consumers are frustrated that they have to pay more simply because they live here. He also noted that there is no shipping cost for majority of these purchases, which makes the higher costs even more concerning.

But how do companies know where you are?

Geo-location of course. Geo-location identifies a real-world geographic location of a mobile phone or Internet-connected computer terminal. Through cookies and your device’s registered location, websites can identify the location of consumers and then adjust prices accordingly. Choice’s head of campaigns Matt Levey states that the current system is “a form of protectionism imposed by private businesses”. Many say that our government should ban geo-locating, but no action has been taken on the matter.

Is illegal downloading really causing any harm?

Rihanna’s net worth is $72 million and has sold 25 million albums worldwide, so surely downloading a few of her songs can’t be that bad, right?

Maybe Rihanna will be alright, but music piracy is harming our local music industry. We have a thriving and unique array of talent here in Australia and while music piracy can sometimes bring a lot of new fans to their music, selling their music is how they make a living. Illegal music downloading negatively impacts local industry and the individual artists’ ability to be rewarded for their hard work.

Trying to make a living as a musician is tough enough as it is, without having to try to compete with music piracy. The music industry has shrunk in the last six years by 30 per cent globally and 27 per cent in Australia. When you illegally download music from the big artists, it is the emerging artists at the bottom who pay the price. Nick O’Byrne from AIR blog states: “In the long term, if we do not have a sustainable recording industry then music of a high quality will simply not get released because there is no return on investment.”

People can claim that the middle man (record labels) has been ripping us off for years, but labels play a crucial role in the success of artists. They invest close to 30 per cent of their revenue in developing and marketing new artists. For example, the returns on larger acts such as Powderfinger enables Aussie labels to find and nurture acts such as Midnight Oil and INXS (who didn’t make it big with their first albums). Try to imagine an Australia without INXS!

So what can you do?

We’re university students, we aren’t made of money, so what can we do? To begin with, visit this website. It lists places to buy music, places to subscribe to listen to music and places to listen to songs of your choice for FREE. And it’s all LEGAL.

Spotify is a good example of this. A commercial music streaming service providing Digital Rights Management protected music, Spotify had 10 million users as of September 2010, with about 2.5 million of those being paying users. Music can be synced to all other devices, such as tablets and mobiles and there is a six-month free trial period.

A premium account, which includes ALL music and ALL devices, is $11.99 a month, which is half the price of your average CD, which might contain 16 songs from one artist if you’re lucky.

If we continue to download music illegally at the rate we currently are, more and more artists will remain undiscovered and we will be left with either higher prices or an extremely narrow choice of music. An Australia without illegal music downloads is possible; it would support our local music industry and mean we won’t miss out on anything.