Nothing in life is free, unless it’s on the internet. However, not everything you find online is actually free. This week there was an uproar online about file sharing facilitator BitTorrent.
BitTorrent is one of the biggest file sharing sites on the internet and has been the target of anti-piracy legislation for some time. Yes, you can find plenty of copyrighted material on BitTorrent, but you can also find files that are being shared freely by their creators.
One of those creators distributing freely through torrent sites is rock band Counting Crows. The band recently released four of its new songs from their most recent album, Underwater Sunshine, on BitTorrent free of charge.
Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz is optimistic about the use of file sharing sites to distribute his music. ““I can dwell on the negatives, but I don’t want to miss out on the fact that there’s 150 million people who I can give songs to,” he said in an interview with TorrentFreak. “You either treat it as just a money drain, like the record companies do. Or you can treat it as it actually is, which is a conduit, meaning it runs both ways.”
Duritz isn’t concerned that releasing his songs is going to hurt album sales. Some recent research from the North Carolina State University backs up his instincts. Economist Robert Hammond collected download statistics of albums and compared them to sales numbers. He found that file sharing actually benefits the sales of albums. According to TorrentFreak, “Hammond’s findings suggest that piracy itself acts as a form of advertising similar to radio play and media campaigns, where more downloads result in a moderate increase in sales.”
Utilizing this model can also help independent bands gain a wider audience. As Duritz says in an interview with CNET, “We’re trying to create a business model for a business that hasn’t existed yet: Independent bands doing well. For a new band, I highly recommend giving away the whole record.”
This worked well for artists like Pretty Lights, who distributed his whole album on BitTorrent. Millions of downloads put him on the top of the downloads list of Pirate Bay, the most popular torrent site in the world. This gained him enormous exposure to new listeners around the world. While his album sales didn’t jump, he is selling out concert arenas and bringing in revenue through merchandise and branding.
Despite the successes shown by independent artists in using the file sharing medium, there are still efforts to shut down torrent sites. A new Russian startup called “Pirate Pay” has recently received money from Microsoft to develop their software. The company has already been working with Disney and Sony to stop illegal downloading. The technology tricks BitTorrent clients into disconnecting from the download.
While companies have a right to distribute their content as they see fit, and I do believe that downloading copyrighted material is wrong, I think that an all-out attack on torrent sites is wrong. As we can see, file sharing sites are being used as a promotional tool by some artists. Sometimes, being able to sample an artist’s music will turn a curious consumer into a long-time superfan. File sharing as a tool to be used, rather than to be feared. As Duritz puts it, “As an artist it’s what you’ve been wanting to do all along, which is to get your music to people.”