Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

John Bartus: Blog

Piracy – It’s Not Just on the High Seas / An open letter to music thieves

Posted on December 6, 2015 with 0 comments

Dear Music Lover,

As an independent local professional musician, I can’t put into words the gratitude that I feel for those who come out and listen to me perform music, both my songs and the covers of songs by other artists. And when you really show your appreciation by buying a CD (or downloading an album or track from iTunes or CD Baby), it’s the ultimate validation of what it is that I do. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The rest of this column is for people who aren’t loyal music fans. If you are the kind of person who rips CDs and shares the files all over the InterWebz, this is for you.

On behalf of all people who create recorded music, especially us independent local artists, I ask that you please don’t copy, burn, share, upload, redistribute, or otherwise steal copyrighted material and intellectual property. It’s just wrong, and it directly hurts those who do spend their time, money, and energy to create recorded music.

Most of us local artists aren’t affiliated with big record companies that have lots of funding. We spend our own money on the technology or studio time to record our music, and then spend more on graphic design, CD replication, and packaging. So when you trade or give away these songs to others for free, then fewer people will buy the CD from the artist. The same goes for sharing iTunes or MP3 files that were legally downloaded. It is stealing. The end result is that less and less new music is recorded and released, and local musicians find it more difficult to stay in business.

Some think that by sharing files that it helps their favorite musicians get “more exposure.” Many musicians, myself included, post songs for free download on their websites to do just that. But that’s their call, not anyone else’s. Giving away music for free does not result in more CD sales – it just takes hard-earned money away from musicians and recording artists.

Is it okay to go into a local restaurant, eat dinner, and walk out without paying so long as you promise to tell people how good the food was? Of course not! It’s stealing from the hard-working people who cook and serve the food, and the owners and managers who run the restaurant. Stealing music is the same thing – it’s just as wrong as running out on a restaurant or bar tab, stiffing the waiter or bartender, or shoplifting. And theft is not an acceptable way to “promote” music, period.

Bill Blue, a long-time Key West-based musician and blues artist, has seen songs from his latest CD turn up on free filesharing sites around the world, resulting in thousands of illegal downloads and multiple thousand$ in lost CD/download sales. I have seen some of my songs turn up on illegal filesharing sites as well.

Strangely enough, there are many people out there who have rationalized this kind of theft; they argue that intellectual property should just be freely distributed. Screw the artist or writer. With that kind of logic, why don’t they just go to the Louvre, grab the Mona Lisa from the wall, and take it home? Musical artists spend a lot of time crafting their songs in the studio, and all they usually ask is a mere $10-15 per CD, or $0.99 per download on iTunes. If you enjoy the music, don’t they deserve at least that much for their efforts?

Musicians usually don’t become musicians to get rich. They do it because of their love of the music and the ability to share it with people who enjoy it. Years are spent learning how to play an instrument, learning how to sing, learning how to perform in front of an audience, and learning how to record and produce their music. Recording and releasing a CD is a labor of love and a costly endeavor. If you truly love music, and want to help your favorite local independent artists, buy their CDs and legal downloads – and don’t share them in cyberspace. Just tell your friends where to get their own copies, and maybe your favorite artists will be able to keep releasing new music.