Will Anti-Piracy Enforcement Curtail in the Near Future?

Here’s a thought that popped into my mind: with music getting cheaper and cheaper to consume (in lots of ways, free), will we see a decline in the attempted enforcement of anti-piracy laws? For instance, say you’re a label owner, and ten years ago there’s a blog posting your music online for free. The assumption is that each download was a potential $15-20 loss, because that was what a CD retailed for. When doing a cost-benefit analysis, it was worth paying a lawyer probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the offenders taken down. Fast-forward a bit to where the net loss is less (potentially ~$10), and unless it’s a rather large site, you don’t hear a lot about pirate blogs being taken down.

So now that Spotify, Rdio, Mog, Pandora, and all these other services are suddenly free and opened up while revenue streams from them are down, are we likely to see a decline in the enforcement of anti-piracy laws because of the cost-benefit swing? If I were a record label boss, I would look at that as a waste of money.

In fact, could a pirate blog of mid-level popularity posting your album for free download actually be more of a benefit to you now than legal services like Spotify? Arguably, yes. On those services, you’re one of a few million, and the royalty rates (at least as an independent artist) aren’t going to net you more than a couple bucks. The supposed exposure you’d get from it would be limited (the indirect sales of concert tickets, merch, etc.) because of the sheer amount of artists there. On a pirate blog frequented by rabid consumers of music, you don’t get any direct money for the downloads there either, but you get a larger audience, and that audience is already whittled down to the exact people who would be much more likely to go to your show.

Just as with the question of whether it’d be worth it for a label to hire a lawyer to go after a pirate blog, the dynamic of how much a pirate blog would hurt or benefit an artist has shifted thanks to the current state of music consumption. I think it will continue to change as well, but not quite along the same path. If I had to make a prediction for a year from now, I think the major labels will back off from the free streaming idea a bit, and only make singles and some tracks from an album available, instead of the whole album.