Week 2: Music Copyright and MP3 Piracy

Copyright has always been a sensitive issue in the creative industries generally and music industries specifically. Thousands of artists created new pieces of music every day, it is hard to control who gets the right to own the artwork and who does not. The need for music copyright law enforcement first started in early nineteenth century, when the European art economy heavily relied on international sells and prints of music sheets, thus require a law to ensure the published works are being licensed and protected from international infringement (Laing, 2004). However, according to Laing (2004), such law regulations are of national levels and appeared to be inadequate to international practices. Since then, the Copyright law has been changing drastically, to accommodate different interests and safeguard diverse aspects of the artists’ rights. Land addressed three main issues with the copyright enforcement: distribution fees, recording and radio industries copyright, international trade barriers; in this blog we will focus on the concerns surrounding digital music piracy.

The rise of new technology has in fact encouraged new methods of music piracy, distributing unauthorised songs via “song sheets, fake books, music photocopying, pirate radio, phonograph record piracy, tape piracy, album bootlegging, compact-disc piracy, and song sharing” (Kernfeld, 2011, p.2), merely by a simple click on the Internet. Millions of illegal downloads from several sites are operating every day, which makes it harder for musicians to protect their artwork. The problem continues as Kernfeld (2011) claimed that it is indeed a “repeated parttern”, where someone finds a loophole and begins to distribute materials without paying the artists, the “owners” will then fight over the control of the songs until a new song product will replace the existing one, then the fight continues (Kernfeld, 2011, p.3).

Since the introduction of MP3 downloads, it was believed that uncontrollable numbers of song piracy downloads has caused a significant amount of decrease in legitimate CD sales, and yet the copyright laws have difficulty managing these matters (Peitz and Waelbroeck, 2004, p.3). The Internet has then become an invisible platform to offer illegal ways of taking ownership to music without paying, through MP3 downloads (Lysonski and Durvasula, 2008). There have been extensions of law enforcement and lawsuits targeted to users of those music piracy, however, multiple websites are still able to offer free downloads of songs, causing the controversy of the music piracy, as they claimed that MP3 downloads “offer a new way for consumers to try new music, a typical experience good, in order to make more informed purchases, which could increase CD sales” (Peitz and Waelbroeck, 2004). However, in 2004, RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) claimed the 29 percent of music owned by listeners was through “burned CDs” (Lysonski and Durvasula, 2008, p.3). Needless to say, the issue of downloading illegal music materials continued until today, even though most music listeners realise that stealing art is unacceptable and dishonest, however, as long as they do not have to be directly responsible for it (thanks to the anonymous nature of the Internet), they will continue to do it.


Kernfeld, B. (2011) Pop Song Piracy: Disobedient Music Distribution Since 1929, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Laing, D. (2004) Chapter 4: Copyright, Politics and the International Music Industry, Music and Copyright second edition, Edinburgh University Press.

Lysonski, S. and Durvasula, S. (2008) Digital Piracy of MP3s: Consumer and Ethical Predispositions, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol 25, No 3.

Peitz, M. and Waelbroeck, P. (2004) The Effects of Internet Piracy on CD Sales: Cross-Section Evidence, CESifo Working Paper No. 1122, Category 9: Industrial Organisation.


2 thoughts on “Week 2: Music Copyright and MP3 Piracy

  1. The mp3 piracy/copyright debate is always an interesting one – I’d argue that by this point the damage has been done in the sense that several generations now have grown up with the notion that music is free, whether it was Limewire in 2005 or a random website today. It isn’t so much that these generations (including ours) think music is free, just that we can get it for free.
    Perhaps artists need to look at ways of encouraging audiences to pay for music? Offering mp3 downloads with a physical format has worked for a few artists, but with the rise of Spotify (and it’s free tier), it’s simply becoming infeasible to change the consumer attitudes of music audiences.


  2. There is a lot of content regarding the whole music copyright paradox, It’s quite worrying to think that more and more people each day are listening to music for free. However, i’d argue that this is down to the advancement of modern technology. It is clear that music formats have constantly been alternating in dominance and streaming is the next predator on this disruptive list. So you could look into where the industry is headed and how copyright issues will deal with the world of streaming services. Especially when some argue they are not getting paid enough for their music.


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