Wednesday, 10 December 2014

10 FAQ's on Twitter

Every now and then, people on Twitter ask me some questions about digital piracy that I fail to answer for a multitude of reasons, but mostly as Tweeting gives me no pleasure at all; the restricted word limit is also a major barrier.

With that in mind, this blog entry aims to address some of the common queries so I can direct people here in the future instead.

'Digital piracy is a good thing': Is it? How are you quantifying that? Good for who? There's little hard evidence on the economics of it, but to claim it is good doesn't sound very sophisticated. Good for you, perhaps, getting free stuff. But good for everyone?

'I read somewhere that...': Whoa, whoa, stop there. Get the facts right. Don't rely on what some pro-piracy website said, spitting out propaganda. Nor should you rely on industry stuff on the other side. Do some hard research. Commit.

'Musicians are filthy rich, so...': Musicians' Union data shows most musicians make less than £20,000 a year. Most musicians are not rich. You just see the rich successful ones more often in the media. And it's these guys giving music away for 'free' (even though it's not - see below).

'Music is free, right?': No, it's not. It's everywhere, and paid for in various behind-the-scenes ways. Always. When bands give away music for free, they aren't really giving it away for free at all. Recorded music is expensive to produce to a high standard.

'Pirates spend more money on music legally': The research is not crystal clear on this, but it might very well be true. With music anyway, it looks like the anomaly is accounted for when you consider live music. But the live and recorded music sectors are completely independent. And this nugget won't help you in court if and when you are caught.

'It's the fault of the music industry, they deserve it...': This does not justify copyright infringement.

'If better legal services were available, I would pay for them': Then why don't you? There are hundreds of them. They have been around for a long time.

'But Breaking Bad/Record label profits/etc.': Great for them, but that's just one case study to match your beliefs. You're not looking at the bigger picture.

'If I download something and enjoy it, I will then go and buy it': You might believe that, and it might be right. But it's not true for everyone. See the poor box-office performance of movies that get leaked before they are released, for example.

'I don't care': Well, that's your prerogative. Good on you, for at least being honest.

In effect, all of these comments stem from looking at piracy through a distorted lens. Only research papers which match the beliefs of music pirates make their way into the public sphere. If you believe piracy is good, you can argue that point easily by looking here instead of there. Once you have a belief about anything, you're locked in.

Hearing something you don't want to hear or believe doesn't make it false.

The evidence that it harms the industries isn't particularly strong, so don't think I'm asserting an anti-piracy stance. I have in fact committed a lot of time campaigning about the weak methods used in research and that we have little real knowledge on what's what.

What I won't accept are the weak excuses to justify piracy. That's all they are. Excuses.

Piracy is easy, you get free stuff, and the chance of being caught is slim. That's it.

Don't forget that when you obtain copyrighted media illegally, someone somewhere is profiting from that. Illegally. Rightsholders are denied money they are legally and morally entitled to.

If you are happy to go see 'Fast and the Furious 12', or listen to Two/Three/Four Direction, then keep at it. Investment in new talent is down (BPI) because the return on investment has no guarantee anymore.

And it looks like the cost of live concert tickets keeps rising in response to music piracy, so if you like concerts, start saving up for 2015.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 5 December 2014

Measuring infringement of intellectual property rights

A regular fixture on this blog is a critical look at the methodologies used when researching digital piracy (see here, for example).

And so, I direct you to this recent 2014 report commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office in the UK.

It's very wide-reaching, and uncovers some critical observations on the conflicting methods used to research copyright infringement, including that: 'When one method is advocated, there is failure to acknowledge the weaknesses of the proposed method or the strengths of the alternative' (Collopy et al., 2014, p. 10).

The report contains an expansive literature review, considering government, industry, and academic research independently. The authors find that the bulk of the research reviewed did not report the methodology used in sufficient detail to really allow for scrutiny.

It's well worth a read, and acts as a welcome reminder that there's a need for a common language and streamlined methodology to really allow for comparisons between different studies; the report finds that even the interpretation of IP varies across different research.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Collopy, D., Bastian, V., Drye, T., Koempel, F., Lewis, D. and Jenner, P. (2014). Measuring Infringement of Intellectual Property Rights (2014/37). Retrieved from UK government website:

Thursday, 27 November 2014

How giving away music for free can be profitable: A Radiohead case study

This research article completely slipped past me, but then again, there's so much research out there that it is hard to keep on top of it all.

Some seven years on from Radiohead's pay-what-you-want model of distribution 7th album 'In Rainbows' for free online, academics are still investigating the practicalities of the so-called 'honesty-box' system for other artists.

In this recent article (which is free to download), authors assess that Radiohead earned greater revenues from giving away the album for free, exploring sales data on previous releases and making comparisons with other artists over a long period of time. Notably, the research also considers Nine Inch Nails and specifically 'The Slip', which is reassuring as for the longest time it appeared it was only me who considered Reznor's work in an academic context. I will take credit for getting the ball rolling, thank you very much.

Of interest, the research finds that Nine Inch Nails did not benefit in the same way as Radiohead when giving away The Slip in 2008, but it is important to note that this album is still available for free online, a full six years after it was released: Radiohead's 'In Rainbows' was only online for free for 3 months. The key difference here is that 'The Slip' was fully intended as a gift to fans; it was after all released but months after the album 'Ghosts I'-IV' (compare that to the six year gap between 'The Fragile' and 'With Teeth'). As noted in the paper, Radiohead received far more publicity as well - this is important.

To tie in with my recent posts, the core difference here is your existing audience. What works for one band does not necessarily work for another. Consider U2's recent move with Apple which I discussed recently; the authors of the paper in fact draw critical comparisons here in a recent article on the excellent resource The Conversation where they discuss the outcomes of the paper in the context of U2 and their deal with Apple, should you wish to ponder the bigger picture.

Tweets and treats @musicpiracyblog

Saturday, 22 November 2014

"No photos, please"

Some time ago, writing a review of Roger Waters' staging of 'The Wall', I discussed the then emerging trend for 'concert spoilers' wherein fans upload video footage to YouTube and the likes and effectively minimise the impact of the show for others. You can read it here.

It's still very much a big deal, where earlier this week at a Jack White gig in Glasgow, a well-dressed gentleman appeared on stage some 15 minutes before the performance and politely requested that fans did not take photos. The audience were fine with it. Mostly

What is worth mentioning, is that Jack White had a photographer take pictures of the action all night and the images are free to download from his website. And so, fans were able to enjoy the show without messing around with their phones trying to take a good photograph (and failing). I like this.

It's a gamble asking an audience not to take photos: a lot of people will take it as being perhaps too 'up-your-own-arse' as I would call it. Others would simply reflect on an artist making a sincere request that, even with pure intentions, fans do not ruin the impact of future performances for others. A lot of work can go into a live show, especially when there's novel aspects like visuals.

Who enjoys having key plot points in movies explained to them before they go to the cinema to see a new film?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Anatomy of a research article #2

In the second of this occasional series, I will be exploring a recent study I carried out with Professor Raymond MacDonald (The University of Edinburgh). The article, titled 'Predictive factors of music piracy: An exploration of personality using the HEXACO PI-R', was published in the journal Musicae Scientiae earlier this year and can be found here.

In short, the drive behind the article was to see if personality in any contributed towards an individuals propensity to favour music piracy. The results showed that this was indeed the case, with analysis suggesting people who do favour music piracy are more likely to be open, less likely to be conscientious and less likely to be honest. With regards to the latter trait, further analysis revealed that individuals favouring piracy were less fair (or more unfair, if you like).

But how does one achieve all of this? Let's briefly consider the research process of designing a survey methods research study.

Firstly, an appropriate piece of apparatus was chosen to measure personality, the HEXACO PI-R (Lee and Ashton, 2004). This instrument was chosen over rivals due to the inclusion of the 'H' scale which explores  honesty (of interest, given the research topic). Then, to avoid the limitations of self-report methodology which plagues much research on digital piracy ("How many songs have you illegally downloaded over the last 12 months" etc.), a scale was constructed to measure attitudes towards music piracy without actually using the loaded word of 'piracy' at all - attitudes have been shown as predictors of music piracy engagement in other research.

The new instrument to measure attitudes towards music piracy (AMP-12) was pre-tested (successfully) on a small sample of participants to check it's reliability in statistical terms; such analysis effectively confirms that the questionnaire items actually ask what they aim to ask (and helped weed out the ones which did not).

This leaves us with the right tools for the job (in a manner of speaking). Next, we need some willing participants to get some data.

Using a variety of recruitment sources, all largely under the umbrella of 'opportunity sampling', a large enough sample to meet the needs of the research was sought out and completed an online version of the questionnaire (there are practical advantages to online surveys over pen-and-paper including a greater likelihood of more honest responses). Once the desired sample size was gained, the dataset was collated (further to excluding some individuals who did not finish the survey or process the materials carefully - this is routine practice).


Hypothesis-testing was carried out using a Hierarchical regression and analyses produced the results outlined in the article, including finding preference for digital music and being 24 or younger as predictors of pro-piracy attitudes. Data analysis involves asking sophisticated statistical software some big questions; in this instance, SPSS was used. Ultimately, the tests chosen informed us that the chances of our findings occuring by chance were so small that we can readily assume they had not, and reflected our observations on personality. In other words, the analysis strongly suggests, to levels of what is known as statistical significance (a shorthand for being at least 95% confident), that the results were genuine, and that personality does guide the attitudes towards music piracy amongst the sample.

The process above is not far away from that of most studies using survey methodology, with broad questions like 'How can I measure this?' guiding the process. Given we are not blessed with physical scales like time, weight, etc. (like physical sciences), Social Scientists must develop appropriate instruments for measuring whatever it is they are measuring on any given study. No one study 'proves' anything, but if, over time, the same results keep coming up using different methods and different samples, then it can be readily assumed that we're onto something. To re-iterate, no one study proves anything - what it does do, is confirm or reject various hypotheses.

In this study, the decision to choose the HEXACO PI-R (Lee and Ashton, 2004) was supported, given the novel findings on honesty which would not have been generated if a different instrument was chosen. In other words, the hypothesis that personality was a predictor of attitudes towards music piracy was upheld. The assumption behind this was that personality guides much music-related behaviour such as preference for various genres, so why not how people listen to music?

The findings (see the article for the conclusions drawn) not only further the psychological underpinnings of music piracy engagement, but have policy implications. This is, or ought to be, the desired outcomes of any empirical research: 1) To make contributions to the scientific literature on a given topic to date and 2) Generate findings to the benefit of various stakeholders in the real world.

As Shermer (2011) explains, there is a need to teach how science works, rather than simply reporting merely on what is known from science. I agree.

While it's all very well for me to go into some detail on this research article, the thinking behind it is hard to articulate given there's a lack of understanding on the experimental method, hypothesis-testing etc. in the general public. I have made some effort to explain the research process as straightforwardly as possible, and will continue to to so in future blog entries on my other research articles to date which employ a broad range of methodology.

Feedback on the success or failure of my efforts above to describe the research process would be welcome, ahead of future entries in this series.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Brown, S.C. and MacDonald. R.A.R. (2014). Predictive factors of music piracy: An exploration of personality using the HEXACO PI-R. Musicae Scientae, 18(1), 53-64.

Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. New York: Times Books.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Nice review of one of my papers on research methods used in digital piracy research

Stumbled upon a link to my recent paper critiquing research methods into digital piracy here with the quite excellent summary:

"Brown reviews conventional approaches to studying online media piracy, arguing that most of these are limited to the economic issues raised by piracy, such as negative impact on sales for the media industries. Brown critiques the unreliable data these approaches adopt and suggests scholars need to think in terms of multiple piracies, not a monolithic piracy. Brown calls for alternative, qualitative forms of studying piracy, like interviews or focus groups, in order to get at the complex social forms that constitute and drive the online, unauthorized exchange of media"

Not sure who these guys are at the Carsey-Wolf Centre, but they have clearly read my article closely and I'm delighted to read such a well put-together summary.

The article in question discussed in a previous blog entry (when it was not yet published) is now published in the journal Convergence, which can be found here.

It's an important contribution to the literature if I can say so myself, in that encourages a more critical evaluation of research findings to date by scrutinising research methods used to study this often contentious research topic.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 30 October 2014

New e-book on digital music revolution

I haven't gotten round to reading in full yet, but there's a new e-book from music-tech writer Kyle Bylin available now over on digital publisher Leanpub. It's all about how digital startups and youth culture helped to redefine the music industry over the last few years.

It's more of a collection of essays (many originating as blog entries on Hypebot I believe) than a book per se, and it is on the short side; these things might or might not appeal to you. I direct you there as I did get a lot out of his last e-book (which was a collection of entries from different authors).

There's a free sample to download, which should get the ball rolling.

I should note, I plan on using Leanpub in the future. I will keep you all posted in due time.

Tweets and eats @musicpiracyblog