Music Industry Hit with Cyber Attacks

If it’s not declining recorded music sales or disappointing ticket sales attacking the industry, it’s cyber criminals trying to sabotage industry websites.  Both the music and film industries were targeted by “pro-piracy” hackers who object to increased efforts to stop illegal filesharing.  The cyber attacks have been focused on DDoS, or distributed denial of service attacks, which are designed to flood a website with connection requests, effectively forcing it offline.

Operation Payback, as it is called by those spreading the word on the 4Chan imageboard, has already affected the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. (A later attack on BPI, UK’s music industry association failed.) What are they “paying back”?  Those taking part in the attacks say that they are responding to news that the creative industries had OK’d DDoS attacks on websites suspected of hosting pirated material.  Aiplex, an Indian software firm, has supposedly been hired by the music and film industries to launch these attacks.

A 4Chan post reads, “Aiplex, the bastard hired gun that DDoS’d [The Pirate Bay] is already down! Now we have our lasers primed, but what do we target now?  We target the bastard group that has thus far led this charge against out Web sites, like The Pirate Bay.  We target!”  And further, “We have the manpower, we have the botnets, it’s time we do to them what they keep doing to us.”

Aiplex confirmed that their site was targeted and was forced offline for about a day and a half.

In addition to the sites mentioned, a “despise” law firm full of anti-piracy attorneys, was targeted.  ACS:Law was voted on by 4Chan users as the next target and the site went offline.  When trying to navigate to their site, you’ll get an error message.  ACS:Law’s Andrew Crossley says that Operation Payback is “typical rubbish from pirates.”  To which Payback responded with another DDoS attack.

While DDoS attacks are illegal, those sympathetic to piracy can download software which can target a specific web address and inundate it with connection requests.  Sites are now employing stronger protection against these types of attacks – once they’re back online.

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Does Filing Sharing Really Hurt Artists?

While many regard illegal, free file-sharing as an unalienable right (maybe filed under our right to the pursuit of happiness), the fact remains that copyrights are in place for a reason.  While it is hard to dredge up sympathy for the huge beast that is the music industry and their money-woes, it is easier to see how taking files without paying hurts artists, particularly those outside the mainstream and those who are just beginning their careers.  In fact, this is most often the factor that turns illegal downloaders into law-abiding iTunes or Amazon consumers.  But has file-sharing really hurt artists, even with the large incidence of piracy?  A new study from Norway says no.

The study, which was the master thesis of Anders Sørbo and Richard Bjerkøe, students of the Norwegian School of Management, looked at the revenue collected by the Norwegian music industry from 1999-2009 to determine the impact of file-sharing and digitization.  We have heard that the music industry lost billions in recent years because of illegal downloading.  Mr. Sørbo and Mr. Bjerkøe, however, found that total industry revenue grew by half a billion Norwegian kroner (which is about US $86 million) in this ten year span.  Corrected for inflation, this comes out to a mere 4 percent increase.  But interesting, revenue for artists saw an increase of 114 percent.  In 2009, this revenue totaled about 255 million kronor (US$41.62 million).  A decade – and plenty of digitization later – this grew to 545 million kronor (US$88.94) last year.

Ok, well, there are 28 percent more artists in Norway.  That still equals an average 66 percent greater revenue stream than ten years ago, which would seem to indicate that despite lamentations of losing money, the music industry is faring fairly well in the digital age.

According to TorrentFreak, “The study refutes some of the most common misconceptions about the music industry in the digital age.  Musicians are making more money than ever before.  It is true that the revenues from record sales are dwindling, but that can be just as easily attributed to iTunes as the Pirate Bay.”

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“Unadulterated Piracy” in the US and On College Campuses

A few months after Joe Biden called digital piracy a huge threat to the country, US Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, called for tougher measures to combat illegal use of music online.  “This isn’t just an issue of right and wrong.  This is a fundamental issue of America’s economic competitiveness…We are trying to figure out how we shut out the pirates, while preserving the internet as an avenue for commerce for music and for other creative industries.”

Not everyone, even those in the music industry, agree with Secretary Locke.  TechDirt writer  Mike Masnick writes, “Locke conveniently ignores the fact that if you look beyond recorded music, overall spending on music and music related products has gone way up and, more importantly, much more of that money goes directly to artists, rather than to the middlemen.”

While there is disagreement about the extent to which piracy is “ruining” the US economy, there is no doubt that most artists would like to be paid for their work.  The University of Arkansas is taking the matter into their own hands with tough new policies related to digital piracy.  A student caught downloading or otherwise using music illegally can lose his internet privileges, have his student accounts frozen, and he may earn a referral to local law enforcement agencies.

Fear has broken some students of their piracy habits.  Lilian Cai says, “Where I come from Internet piracy is completely normal.  China is the same way; everyone does it, and nobody cares.  But since I have come here, I have not downloaded a single song.  It’s just so, so risky.”

Others have stopped downloading illegally because of concern for artists, particularly up-and-coming or independent artists.  A University of Arkansas junior said she used to download pirated songs all the time because “When all your friends do it, it doesn’t really even feel like stealing.”  Now she has changed her tune.  “A lot of the bands I listen to now are Christian bands, and by stealing music I hurt their profit.  It’s better, then, if I buy music.”

Some, though, believe that piracy isn’t as damaging as Secretary Locke and others portray it, arguing that many musicians get tremendous exposure on sources like YouTube.  Justin Bieber, for instance, shot to incredible teen-star fame after his homemade videos were posted online. Without illegal downloading, would Justin Bieber consistently be one of the biggest trending topics?

Who’s right?  The battle of digital piracy and public perceptions continues.

Piracy Affects Sheet Music Sales as Well as Recorded Music

Songwriter Jason Robert  Brown embarked on a piracy experiment recently; Brown went on a music “trading” site and entered his name into the search box.  He got back some 4000 hits – indicated that 4000 pieces of his work were being given away, downloaded, and used without his permission – and without compensation.  Brown, whom the New York Times calls “a leading member of the new generation of composers who embody high hopes for the American musical,” was surprised to find that sheet music was a fairly hot commodity on the pirate scene and he went out in search of those who were downloading his work illegally.

He found Acting Girl, a member at one of these file sharing sites, with whom he began a correspondence of sorts.  He wrote to her, and to about 400 other people who were trading his songs  without permission:

“Hey there!  Can I get you to stop trading my stuff?  It’s totally not cool with me.  Write me if you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you about this.




“Acting Girl” wrote back, wondering who he was because she’d never traded with him.  She thought a mistake had been made, but when Brown wrote that he was actually THE Jason Brown, she didn’t believe him. “Let me get this straight.  You expect me to believe that you are Jason Robert Brown.  THE Jason Robert Brown.  And that you have taken the time to go onto random websites and create an account just to message people not to trade your sheet music?  I don’t mean to be rude, but can you see how I have a bit of trouble believing that?

After several exchanges, she changes from disbelief into the firm belief that Brown is a “jerk” and is not supporting others in the theater community by letting “starving artists” have his music for free.  It’s quite an entertaining back-and-forth, but it does highlight a big issue with sheet music piracy, and piracy in all genres.  People do not think it is wrong.  Period. Like Acting Girl, they think that if it’s out there, they are entitled to it.

Brown did get his fair share of support from those who do see that taking music online, while easy, isn’t necessarily legal, and while you can certainly do it, it doesn’t mean that you should.  He also got more than his share from those who thought he was an obsolete jerk.  It’s a tough battle to fight, and overcoming public perception of illegal use remains a big stumbling block for artists, publishers, and songwriters.

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UK Music Industry Rebounding

After five years of dismal sales and much blaming of online pirates for the demise of the modern music industry, there is a glimmer of hope – at least in the UK.  In 2009, the UK music business experienced a 4.7 percent increase in revenue, which translates to £3.9 billion, or $US 6.2 billion dollars.  An impressive gain, to be sure.  What is behind the increase?

Two major factors combined to make 2009 a successful year, despite a downward trend and despite gloomy forecasts.

  • Sales of recorded music and concert tickets grew 4.8 percent (to $4.6 billion/£2.9 billion)
  • Business-to-business revenue, which includes royalty collections, licensing deals, advertising, and sponsorship increased 4.4 percent (to $1.5 billion/ £967)

PRS Music’s chief economist, Will Page, says, “Strong growth in international licensing revenues, a robust live music industry, and signs of stabilisation in the recorded sector have helped produce these impressive results.  Underpinning this is a drive by the industry to develop new sources of income from the online market.”

According to the Guardian, summer festivals in the UK have also helped sales; revenues from festivals grew by 9.4 percent.  The UK is hoping to learn from the mistakes of the US music industry, where lackluster concert ticket sales for even big-name acts are the norm.  This sector of the US music industry fell 17 percent from the previous year.  Page says, “The live party is not over, but it is starting to cool down.  The good news is that the live sector is already innovating in ways that are as impressive as the digital sector.”

These figures show an increase from 2008 to 2009.  2010’s numbers appear to be stagnating, but as Page points out, “Flat is the new up.”

It is interesting to note that UK’s increase in live music revenue is due largely to big-name acts.  In fact, according to some sources, about 40 pubs close each week, slowly erasing the forum in which new bands gain experience and a following.  This, too, is a pattern we’ve seen in the US, as many venues opt to forgo live music because of licensing concerns.

Needed to keep gains from 2009 from evaporating, according to Page, is more collaboration among those in the industry, as well as the development of new ways to harness the power of digital music, including social media.’s Anti-Piracy Protection

Music and film piracy have been issues practically since the inception of both mediums.  While certainly nothing new, the internet has allowed both forms, particularly music, to thrive.  Illegal downloading has cost the industry billions of dollars and has become quite a divisive issue among musicians and their fans. has developed a solution that allows the tagging and tracking of every piece of digital music.  It then combs file sharing sites and can flag copyright violations.

Producer, composer, and DJ, Rich Mowatt says:

“Having been a professional producer and label manager for 15 years I’ve concluded that the industry has now hit a critical tipping point – labels, producers and stores must adapt or die. Producers’ incomes have been hit incredibly hard by piracy, and there has not been a cost effective way of tackling this until now. Professional leakers can now be highlighted and file sharing group members can be individually detected. This system has a real chance of making a difference for thousands of music producers and labels around the world.”


So, how does AudioLock work?  It tags music, and even when a particular track has been transferred to different formats, AudioLock can recognize it.  The tagging is so effective that it can decode a piece that was played from a speaker and recorded using a microphone.  The sophistication allows for producers, promoters, musicians, labels, and others with proprietary rights to make sure their copyrights are being protected.  If one of your protected tracks has been tagged by AudioLock and found at a file sharing site or elsewhere, you will receive notification of who sent the track, when it was sent, and the IP address and physical location from where it was sent.  This gives you evidence of copyright infringement because every copy is unique.  The person infringing also gets notice that he has violated your rights.

AudioLock presents a real, cost-effective system for routing out pirates.  At present, many labels use third-party companies or hire staff to comb the internet for instances where their content is being offered illegally.  This presents a huge savings to companies, and it makes the technology accessible to more people, such as the artists themselves.  AudioLock CEO Ben Rush had strong words for those who think music piracy is a victim-less crime and that illegal downloading is a right:

“People saying that music should be free as all producers make money from live performance are deluded.  There are thousands of music producers who don’t perform live and therefore would never see any income from their work.  Stopping the flow of money to people like this would simply stop the large variety of quality music we all currently enjoy. AudioLock.NET is the answer to this providing affordable tracking and protection previously only available to large labels.”

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RIAA 2; Joel Tennebaum 0

Recently, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Piracy hurts.”  It certainly is hurting Joel Tenenbaum’s wallet.  This Boston University graduate student has made quite a name for himself in his struggle against the RIAA, or their struggle against him, as it may be.  About a year ago, a federal jury ordered that Tenenbaum pay the recording industry an incredible $675,000 for illegally downloading 30 songs when he was an undergrad.  The astonishing figure ignited a firestorm of protest, and just this week, another judge cut the fine to a tenth of the original figure.

Joel Tenenbaum was informed by the RIAA that he had infringed upon copyright protections by filesharing about five years ago.  This was when digital music was in its infancy, and he tried to claim that since legal download sites weren’t available then, he should not be held liable.  This defense was not accepted because the judge in his original case said he could have switched to a paid service when one became available.  The $675,000 fine imposed by the jury in that case seems downright paltry compared to the $4.5 million the RIAA originally demanded.

Of the original judgment, Tenenbaum had this to say:  “I believe a $675k judgment is not a just outcome.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built faulty levees which put a city underwater during [Hurricane] Katrina.  They were ordered to pay $700k to a dozen homeowners. I shared music that was available for 99 cents. Something is wrong here.”

US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner apparently agreed, at least somewhat.  She wrote in her decision, “The jury’s award in this case also appears egregious in light of the damages typically imposed on restaurants, bars, and other businesses that play copyrighted songs in their establishments without first acquiring the appropriate licenses.  I cannot conceive of any plausible rationale for the discrepancy between the level of damages imposed in pubic-performance cases and the damages awarded in this case.  The disparity strongly suggests that the jury’s $675,000 award is arbitrary and grossly excessive.”

Gertner ordered that the fine be reduced 90 percent to a mere $67,500.  According to the Huffington Post, she added that even this figure seemed to her to be “harsh” and more than she would have awarded herself (the fine was left to a jury to decide).

Tenenbaum reacted to the news by saying, “I don’t have $70,000, and $2000 per song still seems ridiculous in light of the fact that you can buy them for 99 cents on iTunes.”  His defense added, “We feel vindicated that judge Gertner agreed that $675,000 was an unconstitutional award. But it is only a step along the way toward recognizing the abusiveness of the RIAA’s litigation campaign. The next step is to demonstrate that Joel was denied a fair jury trial when Judge Gertner told the jury in her instructions that it could award an unconstitutionally excessive amount.”

The battle continues.

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Piracy Hurts

“Piracy hurts, it hurts our economy.  It hurts our health and safety.  We need to protect our citizens from unsafe products (such as) counterfeit pharmaceuticals.”  And pesky illegal music downloads. VP Joe Biden said this (aside from the “pesky illegal music downloads” part) as he released a 61-page plan to combat piracy of music, films, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and other goods.  Biden announced that increased vigilance would be given to protecting intellectual property and to challenging countries that are notorious for harboring pirates or not doing enough to stop piracy (that’s you, China).

Biden had stronger words on the subject:  “Piracy is theft, clean and simple, it’s smash and grab.  Theft in every culture should be punished and intellectual property is no different…Whether we are talking about fake Kevlar vests…or a bolt that fails on an airplane engine, we cannot afford to purchase fake goods…Perhaps our greatest export…is America’s creative impulse…and criminals are working every day, every day to steal it.”

The plan calls for a “crack down” on pirated material here at home and was developed with input by the Departments of Justice, State, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as the White House and the US Trade Representative’s Office.  The plan outlined over thirty recommendations to help combat piracy, including establishing an interagency committee whose job it would be to fight counterfeit drugs and medical devices.  New positions, including 50 new FBI agents, will work towards this goal, as well as going after rogue websites.  The plan also calls to “increase the number of criminal enforcement actions” against those who violate intellectual property rights.

The US plan also called out China specifically: almost eighty percent of seized fake goods come from China, said a US Customs and Border Protection report.  Coordinator of the intellectual property task force, Victoria Espinel, said, “We will initiate a comprehensive review of current efforts in support of US businesses that have difficult enforcing their intellectual property rights in overseas markets, with a particular focus on China.”

The plan was well-received by those in the entertainment industry, especially the hard-hit music industry.  MPAA president Bob Pisano said, “This plan is an important step forward in combating intellectual property theft and protecting the millions of jobs and businesses that rely so heavily on copyrights, patents and trademarks and help drive the American economy.”

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Can’t Stop Piracy

Music piracy is rampant all over the world; in some countries, over ninety-five percent of music downloaded is done so illegally.  A 2008 study found that the average teenager’s iPod had over 800 illegal tracks.  From the UK’s Digital Economy Bill to highly publicized court battles in the US, every corner of the world is dealing with this issue, and the music industry blames illegal downloading for a sharp drop in revenue.  How do you stop piracy?  You can’t, says Universal Music Group International vice president of digital music, Francis Keeling.

According to the BBC, Mr. Keeling made his remarks at the Great Escape music convention in Brighton, England.  “Are you going to stop piracy?  No you’re not.”  While this may seem self-evident to many of us, it generally runs counter to what most music execs will say.  His aim is not to stop piracy, an objective which he says “is just not going to succeed,” but to “make it socially unacceptable.”  Right now, piracy is one of the only crimes that law-abiding, straight-and-narrow people do not feel bad for engaging in.  Many people either don’t know what is illegal or what constitutes fair use, and many more do not care. Keeling says, “We’ve got markets like Spain and Italy, where [people say] ‘You buy music?  What are you doing buying music when you can get it for free?’”

It is this attitude that the music industry has to combat, and they can’t do that until they provide an easy and inexpensive option for consumers who no longer what CDs.  Keeling foresees a subscription-based model.  “Spotifiy,” he says, “has been a big success.  It works off this freemium model, which was always a big jump for us – to let consumers access music for free, and get them off pirate services, with the aim of getting them up the ladder…”  The paying, legal ladder.

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50 Cent Gives His Two Cents

Rapper 50 Cent sounded off against piracy this week, saying that the struggling music business isn’t dying, it’s just adapting to new technology.  Various artists have taken a stand against piracy, including Lilly Allen, though no one really knows what her stance is at any given time, Keith Urban, who thought piracy was ok until his record company set his straight, and Bono, who received a bit of backlash from those who think he’s too rich to say anything against piracy.  50 Cent is the celebrity of the week in music piracy.  Here’s what he has to say:

I don’t think the music business is dying. I think we’re just experiencing technology and we just have to pass new laws, eventually, to change how music is being distributed. There’s no lack of interest in great material, I don’t see people ‘not’ going to the nightclub or enjoying themselves when the song comes on. It’s just about re-developing what the music business is. It’s easier to download a song that’s three minutes long, probably about three or four seconds for you to download it, it’s easier to steal.”

He’s right about that.  The music industry has been reluctant to all-out embrace the digital music world because instead of making people pay $20 for a CD with only two songs they like, people can purchase those two songs for $2 or so and be done with it.  But as far as being easier to steal than to purchase it legitimately:  many people indicate that they would just as soon download a song legally if it were as easy.  Meaning that the music industry maybe ought to stop cranking out overpriced CDs and focus on how people want to access music.  According to 50 Cent,

“…effective laws won’t happen until it [piracy] starts to damage film. When you got your blockbuster film doing $120 million in a weekend and then that blockbuster film that they spent $120 million comes out and nobody goes to see but everybody watched it because they could pull it off their computer and see it on HD at home on a theatre. They’ll change those laws.”

The music industry loses billions of dollars annually to piracy; this year, they have seen mixed improvement, including increases in digital sales.  And Susan Boyle almost single handedly revived the UK’s music scene with her global chart-topping album.  CD sales, not surprisingly, continue to decline as it becomes more obvious people want easily-accessible tunes.

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