I'm Sorry I Could Only Afford To Pirate Your Album

Hey there, indie artist. I just read your blog post about how you wish people wouldn’t pirate your music. Then I listened to the included free track which, evoking shades of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” mused about a future world where there were no more mean, nasty pirates. And I gotta say, I kind of feel bad. Not bad as in guilty, no. Bad as in I feel like a good friend just slapped me in the face.

I get it that you need to eat. I do too. That’s kind of why I pirate your stuff instead of paying you for it. That $9 I didn’t spend on your album went toward my lunch. Yeah, I know, $9 for lunch? It’s pretty ridiculous. The price of food is out of control these days, especially when you’re the underclass living in the most expensive part of the country.

It’s not like I’m on government assistance or anything. I don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because I’ve never been able to find work long enough to qualify. They don’t give you unemployment unless you work full-time, you know, and the world’s not exactly flush with full-time jobs for 4.0 GPA graduates with master’s degrees. Let alone people who didn’t make it through college. I’m lucky if I can find an odd job; forget part-time employment. But at least I’m not a parasite mooching off your tax dollars by taking welfare. I just mooch off of my family, who are postponing their well-deserved retirement to make sure I don’t die.

Now, I suppose I could sell my laptop (a gift), or my smartphone (saved up for it back when I could get minimum wage work), and replace them with less expensive devices with which to play your music. I’d then be able to afford to pay the asking price for your album. After that I’d continue to be stuck living paycheck-to-paycheck, with the added frustration of having a less capable piece of technology to distract myself from the anxiety of my existence.

See, that’s what I was actually doing by pirating your album. I love your music. It really speaks to me, it makes me smile, and it reminds me on days when I’m feeling hopeless that there’s still hope in the world. Or at least it did. Now when I listen to your (fantastic, revolutionary, groundbreaking) album, I just feel like you’re mad at me. Every soulful note, every groovy guitar lick, just has this added undercurrent of sarcasm and contempt to it. “Fine,” you’re saying to me, “I’ll play you some music, you dirty pirate.” With that one angry blog post, you ceased to be someone who could give me a fleeting moment of joy every day, and turned into yet another obnoxious voice putting me down for being a low-income “selfish parasite who doesn’t pull his own weight.”

Look, if it’s really that big a deal, I’ll send you ten bucks once I can spare some after paying for food, for gas, for my phone bill, for co-pays at the doctor, for my medication, and for any other emergency expenses that crop up from time to time. Though I’m probably just going to delete your album from my library since it just kind of bums me out to listen to it now. The point is, I don’t see how this situation has benefited either of us.

Maybe the reason you’re so frustrated with pirates is because you’re in a similar situation to mine. I’m sorry. I really don’t want to make you feel ripped off, or like I’m contributing to your problem. But there really isn’t that much I can do to help you. If I had some money to spare I would have given it to you without you even asking me for it; your music is just that good. And I like you. Well, liked you. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. I’m just disappointed, is all. And hurt. I’ll probably get over it eventually and get into your music again. You’re just so talented.

But hey, can I offer you some advice? Since clearly your business isn’t working out as well as you’d like, which is why you’re getting frustrated? If you’re trying to get more people to give you money, maybe don’t play the guilt trip angle. Especially because most of the people you’re making feel guilty are probably struggling, just like — well — everyone else on the planet right now. Just keep getting people to like you, and ask them to give what they can.

Come to think of it I could probably find, like, a dollar? Two dollars? I might be able to spare that much. Where’s your donation button? Do you have a Kickstarter I could give to? PayPal address? Bitcoin address? Can I Flattr you?

Anyway. You’re not a record label. I expect to be treated like dirt by record labels. You’re a cool person who I saw live on stage at a bar, and then we talked for a while after the show. So I thought maybe there was an understanding. I hope there still is.


  1. Caleb Lanik

    Thank you. This quite aptly sums up my feelings toward indie artists that I pirate. I make just over minimum wage, but since I’m still paying off having my appendix removed without insurance, I really can’t afford much of anything. I work a full time job, and continually work my ass off to keep in the same place. I nevertheless try to support the artists I like, when I have the money, I go see people in concert, or buy a t shirt from the website. And when I can’t, I hope they’ll still take the fact that I listen as a compliment.

  2. Anonymous

    it’s this attitude of entitlement that so many artists seem to have. this attitude from the labels that seems to mean you have to buy something they are in control of rather than buy your dinner. media is important. artists are important. they are not, however, so important that everything else has to be given up in their favour. i appreciate that things need to be paid for but when you consider that wages for all the ordinary people have stayed the same or fallen for the last 4 years when prices for even the most basic of services, like heating, has dramatically increased, how are people supposed to pay the prices that are basically the same now as they were for media 4 years ago? why will the labels and studios not reduce prices to levels that are affordable? it is customers that should be asked about that, not other labels or artists. all they want is to get as much as possible as quickly as possible. that aint gonna happen for a long time to come. also, listening to customers would give more insight as to what they can and cant do, what they are prepared to do and not do. if the labels etc were to listen, instead of continuously dictating, then complaining when what they are dictating fails, perhaps a happy medium could be found? giving out bullshit information to gullible and willing politicians is no help either. being honest is drastically needed. suing and jailing people or even forcing companies and web sites to relocate is both childish and stupid. how things are atm is helping no one!!

    1. Anonymous

      “all [artists/labels] want is to get as much as possible as quickly as possible”

      That line is absolutely fabulous 🙂
      You can also add “for free” to the list, even if the “as much”, “as quickly as possible” and “for free” have obviously not exactly the same meaning as in the opposite arguments against pirates.

      1. Anonymous

        i think what was meant was that they expect to produce perhaps 1 song that becomes a hit and gives them a millionaires lifestyle forever. most people that download stuff are quite prepared to pay for it provided it is reasonably priced. the things that get backs up are the horrendous prices to begin with, the lack of being able to do what you want with what you have bought (i dont know of anything else but media that prevents that), the refusal of ‘try before you buy’ or return if found to not be what you want and the increasing curbing of a 2nd hand market.

  3. E-mannen

    Really not having the cash and therefor pirating indie stuff?
    May seems like a valid reason, but I think those who are in the position to say so are a very minor part of those who pirate.
    I for sure can’t (and won’t) use that argument.

  4. Ilja

    It’s a question of priorities, really. Which is more important to me as an artist; getting heard or getting paid? It’s fine if you, for any reason, can’t or won’t pay me, as long as you enjoy my music. On the other hand, if my primary goal is to make money, and the artistry is just the means to make that money, why should I bother?

  5. harveyed

    All forms of artistry starts on amateur level, where a person or a group of people invest their time and money to try and become good at something – or just to have fun.

    The difference now from before is that now you can actually reach out directly and find fans online without the help of “labels”. There is a much more intimate relation between artist and fans nowadays than ever was before.

    As fans we need to realize that it is up to us to invest in the creation of culture if we want it to be done professionally. If it has a value to us to get more, file sharing creates a demand to invest money in the work by those creators. But focus has shifted from getting paid “per copy” of the old works and to being about investing for new creations.

    The work to create may still have a value to people – there just isn’t any value in the copies themselves. The copies however, can create a demand to pay for the service New Work. The future work may still have a value to me, and that chance is bigger the more good stuff that I can find that the person has done before.

    Paying for copies is simply… paying for old achievements.

  6. Anonymous

    now the UK has gone further into the realms of censorship (banning more web sites), the thing that they continuously condemn China etc for doing, how long before things are reversed, by which i mean, the whole internet is banned, black listed completely and we are told by govts and the entertainment industries what web sites we can go to? that’s the way we are headed!

  7. SoundnuoS

    Why is there anything inherently wrong with being paid for old achievements if those achievements are still considered valuable?
    How old should an achievement be before it becomes “too old”?

    The problem with this argument is that every record or movie becomes pirated practically the day it is released. Apparently, for some people, achievements have a very short shelf life.

    How is the New Work getting payed for when it becomes an old achievement as soon as it is released?

    And look at Sixto Rodriguez. The “Searching for Sugar Man” documentary has put him back in the limelight and his old 70’s studio albums (the only studio albums he has) have had major upswings in sales in 2012.
    Shouldn’t he have the right to benefit from those “old achievements”?

  8. flubaluba

    If someone creates music and does not have enough fans to make a living off it what do they do, do they demand those few fans they have make up the difference for those that are not interested, no, they close down their music generating business and do something else. If people are not prepared to pay for your creation it is probably that they do not have the money to do so or that what you create is not up to the standard of most people.
    I ma tired of hearing musicians that seem to think they deserve millions in the bank meanwhile everyone that downloads their music deletes it after listening because it is crap.
    If you cannot make money as a musician try something else with a steady income, don’t hate on the people that at least want to try your music out and may possibly become fans and buy merchandise from you or come to one of your concerts in the future.

  9. ByteMaster

    Should re-write it but focussing on an album recorded in 1976. Brand-new stuff generates opposition. Decades-old recordings are a lot harder to “rationalize” why you should STILL be paying an arm and a leg for.

  10. The bobmail troll

    It’s very hard to argue for this position of entitlement. First off, you have no moral right whatsoever to be entertained. You can make a moral argument that a man in need can steal a bread, a car, money, a textbook but you can’t argue that you should steal a ticket to the opera whenever you feel like going.

    Secondly, I recently read something from Ubisoft that claimed their game update server was hit by a massive number of requests that dwarfed the number of copies sold by a factor of 3-5x. They were claiming it was from piracy. This was for a top-end game, that required a 1000$+ PC to even load. So it seems many a pirate does indeed afford to be a honest sailor if he does not have the piracy route.

    The gist is that even if you accept the poverty argument for some people and some intellectual works, the bulk of piracy is well off westerners free-riding dubious entertainment. Just check the most downloaded torrents list and each torrent’s peers list.

    1. Aaeru

      There’s some misconceptions in your argument, http://falkvinge.net/2013/02/13/five-basic-misconceptions-about-the-copyright-monopoly-and-sharing-of-culture/
      ^ great read should check it out

  11. Russell

    Realistically if we weren’t all slaves to the capitalist machine, none of this would be an issue.

    Within the capitalist system I think the most liberating and scrupulous approach for artists is neither to leverage the existing, exploitative system by asserting intellectual property rights and seeking rent for them. That’s what artists do when they assert copyright and demand payment.

    The other alternative, just as wrong, is to appeal to the tyranny of the state by seeking government funding of your creative pursuits. To me that’s tantamount to extorting the public to pay for your indulgences. That’s where my experience lies, as a former pure research scientist (astrophysicist). I switched to a socially useful career which left me no time for life let alone research. Switching now to another socially useful career which will yield more time. Fingers crossed. The ultimate solution there is getting rid of capitalism but until that time, there are options available that are better than extortion.

  12. rick

    I’m sure Mr Green will feel differently when he risks his own money creating a film with value only to find it subsequently posted on pirate sites and blogs linking to cyberlocker sites, all of whom make money via advertising, affiliate sign ups or PPD’s.

    Any idea of a noble piracy cause has been trampled on by cash whores who upload purely to make money.

  13. Blue Jay

    I recently saw a video online talking about the copyright monopoly laws (such as the U.S. DMCA) being used for censorship of differing ideas. What caught my attention was a comment stating that this censorship is “a small price to pay to keep starving artists able to afford food.” I’ve seen that argument before, but what no one ever explains is how a “poor, starving artist” is supposed to be able to pay the legal fees to enforce their copyright and subsequently how one legal battle (that they could potentially lose) will give them enough money to continue.

    I fail to see how copyright monopolies benefit the “starving artists” when the only entities that could afford their legal fees for them are publishers that will often make them sign over their copyrights to them and end up in lengthy, expensive legal battles years down the line to reclaim them.

    Many artists, musicians, and so on that I’ve heard speak on this topic often come out opposed to these monopolies (or in favor of massively scaling them back, at the very least) after experiences with publishers. Many amateurs I’ve spoken to often fall into the trap I’ve mentioned above, thinking that simply holding a copyright on something will guarantee them a steady flow of income, with no thought as to how they will enforce it without money to begin with.

  14. Sheogorath

    Then I listened to the included free track which, evoking shades of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” mused about a future world where there were no more mean, nasty pirates.
    The sentence I’ve quoted above inspired a rewrite of the named song, where the lyric starting with “Imagine all the people” is replaced by “Why don’t you ask your label to pay you properly?” Am I right or am I right? 😀

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