Internet Piracy, SOPA, Megaupload, And What It Means To Millennials
- January 24th, 2012
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The past week had a huge impact on young, media-savvy Millennials, because of the war waging among Internet sites and the federal government. First, young people banded together with websites to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, and succeeded in at least postponing the Congressional votes on the bills. On the heels of celebrating a victory over Internet censorship, they saw Megaupload, a file hosting/sharing platform, get shut down and its operators charged and jailed.
Why does it matter to Millennials? They live their lives online, and file sharing has become a significant part of that — cyber lockers are as much a way for them to give a “mix tape” to a friend who lives overseas as they are a means to share work files with colleagues.
We’re not naïve though. Most Millennials are Internet pirates and use such sites to obtain music without paying. (For the purpose of this post, we’ll focus only on the music industry — movies and TV have their own separate issues.) Ypulse and other researchers have confirmed that most young adults have indeed pilfered music from the Web… But this isn’t a fight against intellectual property and copyright; in fact, more are paying for music than stealing it. So if they’re willing to pay, why are they stealing? In short, it’s in their DNA.
Aside from the fact that students are perpetually broke, Millennials want to try before they buy, whether that means listening to music before buying the album, getting their hands on a tech device before they make the investment, trying out power tools in store before bringing them home, or using a trial membership before signing a contract with a gym. They want to know, beyond a doubt, that they’re going to like what they’re getting. Particularly since the recession, they know that every dollar they spend is one less they’ll have for paying bills and buying groceries, so they need to know it’s not being wasted.
For a while, Spotify and Pandora seemed like the perfect answers to trying out music. But Pandora doesn’t let users listen to whole albums or create playlists to share. Spotify is limiting its free service to just 10 hours a month and has recently lost several artists over arguments they aren’t getting paid enough for allowing streaming of their music. What’s a Millennial music fan to do? If they can’t find the media services they want at a price they feel is fair, they’ll turn to illegal actions like file sharing. And when one file sharing site gets shut down, they’ll migrate to another. The way to put an end to the cycle is for record companies to work with fans to give them what they want rather than forcing them to buy what they wish to sell (ie, albums).
On the other end of the spectrum, we don’t need to ask why students are sharing — their lives are posted online; it’s how they keep in touch with friends. The fact is few are uploading scores of torrent files to P2P sites — they’re afraid to because they know it’s against the law. What they are doing is sharing an album or playlist with a friend, the same as they would in person, except now they’re doing so via sites like Dropbox. Rather than railing against such sharing, music companies could be taking advantage of it. As with mix tapes in the past, a shared playlist incites further investigation in to the artists it includes. Connecting that to social media can be a powerful tool — suddenly a fan can share a few songs with a friend, who can check out the profiles of the bands they like, become fans of that band themselves, and further share the music with other friends, building a base of passionate fans. And passionate fans support the artists they love. With money and sharing.