Music Going for a Song

Author:Patrick Kabanda

Protecting creative content could promote development in the digital age


Music Going for a Song Finance & Development, September 2016, Vol. 53, No. 3

Patrick Kabanda

Protecting creative content could promote development in the digital age

Intellectual property rights date to ancient Egypt. In an inscription on a rare Egyptian tablet from 2000 BCE displayed at the Louvre in Paris, Irtysen, a master craftsman, scribe, and sculptor, boasts about his trade secrets. How would he maintain ownership of his techniques and make a decent living in today’s digital world?

Technology occupies us in ways that would baffle Irtysen. Rush hour subway riders swipe and text away while digital music blasts through their earphones. Whether they’re consuming this music legally or illegally, who knows? What’s clear is technology makes it easy to copy and transmit creative work: capture and share are the order of the day.

Cheap singlesWhen Apple’s iTunes debuted in 2001, it ushered in the cheap digital single. In about a decade, music sales plunged to $7.1 billion in 2012 from $11.8 billion in 2003 (Covert, 2013). At the same time, world trade in creative goods and services totaled a record $624 billion in 2011, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. To protect creative workers’ incomes and boost creative economies, protection and fair compensation are essential.

Digital music generated more revenue than physical formats for the first time in 2015—it was up 3.2 percent to $15 billion, the industry’s first significant year-over-year growth in nearly 20 years (IFPI, 2016). The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) notes that digital revenue rose 10.2 percent, to $6.7 billion. A 45.2 percent rise in streaming revenue more than offset fewer downloads and physical sales. This is welcome news. But the industry is trapped in a so-called value gap—a mismatch between music that makes money and a lot that doesn’t parlay into meaningful revenue for artists and creative businesses.

If developing economies could reap earnings from their cultural wealth it could unleash development, help solve youth unemployment, and promote diversification. But piracy, endemic in both developing and developed economies, poses a threat.

Digital piracy is constantly changing, which makes it hard to eradicate. Unauthorized music is distributed through platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter, unlicensed cyberlockers (online data hosting services), and BitTorrent file sharing. The IFPI estimates that “in 2014 there were...

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