Legal or Illegal Download Costs: Which Can You Afford?

Written by MCJStaff   // July 25, 2012   // 0 Comments


Clicking a link and instantly having the song you want is so enticing; and the thrill of knowing it’s illicit makes the activity pleasant for many. However, clicking a link to illegally download music can cost you more than the two dollars to own it legally.

Is that thrilling risk worth it, when you consider your future, your bank account, what you’re doing to hip hop artists, and how you’re affecting the nation? Here is a look at the possible ramifications to pirating.

According to the Institute for Policy Innovation, $12.5 billion is lost per year due to music piracy, in addition to 71,060 jobs. Considering the current state of the US economy, that’s a big number. Local governments are also losing in the war against piracy: each year they miss out on $422 million.

While these numbers are interesting, most people don’t care, or expect other people to take the responsibility for changing. Why should you care? Here’s a look at how stealing music affects the artists who bring that music into the world.

Lupe Fiasco is one artist who openly speaks out about piracy. He has told fans repeatedly about the cost per song for artists (around $4,000), and how pirating these mixes leaves the artist with an emotional and financial deficit. Other artists feel the difference in record sales: an average signed hip hop star will make 25% off of each album (but only if it’s purchased). So for each album stolen, the artist is losing about three dollars.

For the average college-aged hip hop music pirate, hearing a celebrity performer whine in a TV commercial about lost earnings (while rocking $7,500 shoe laces) isn’t moving. Why would you feel badly for someone who earns more per hour than you do per month? To see how music piracy is personally affecting every pirate (poor college kid or not), let’s take this debate a level lower.

A decade ago a punk kid named Joel Tenenbaum decided to share 30 measly songs via the Kazaa music sharing network. As a result, he was fined $22,500 per song for his crime ($675,000 in all). He was still fighting the fine in courts until May 2012, when the Supreme Court rejected an appeal, which means that Joel Tenenbaum will have to pay up. Jamie Thomas, a single mother who shared 24 songs on Kazaa, was even less lucky than Tenenbaum: she owes over $2 million for her piracy. How many people do you know who have shared far more music online?

The legal ramifications for getting caught pirating can be far worse than what Tenebaum is dealing with right now. While he was only charged $22,500 per song, the recording labels have the right to ask for as much as $150,000 per song! The next time you consider clicking ‘download’ or sharing music with a friend, tally up your potential fine.

European college kids sentenced to two years in jail for music piracy.

In Australia a young man named Yong Hong Lin received actual jail time for his piracy. He was caught selling burnt discs, and penalized with three months in jail (which would stay on his permanent record, affecting potential jobs and school enrollment). In the USA a group of piracy leaders were sentenced with five years in jail for sharing music.

People don’t envision prison or jail time as something that could happen to them. With music piracy, though, jail time can definitely happen to anyone—even you. In fact, the penalties for stealing physical albums are much less severe than for stealing online (the Class A Misdemeanor of stealing a CD could cost up to $2,500, compared to $150,000 per song online).


Even though the thrill of taking music ‘for free’ from the Internet can be as valuable as the music you pilfer, it’s just not worth it. For those who are truly too poor to buy music, stealing physical inventory is far less risky (though it should be avoided, too).

The bottom line is, whether you feel badly for artists, the industry, and the economy or not, the negative ramifications of stealing music online are just too great to risk.








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