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Podcast piracy potentially problematic

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but right now you’re using a great tool for getting free music. Though it’s no secret…

By Lewis Kelly , in Feedback: Indie music in Vancouver , on March 12, 2010 Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Don’t tell anyone, but right now you’re using a great tool for getting free music.

Though it’s no secret that you can use your computer to illegally download music through programs like LimeWire, I’ve always thought using those services was like eating a tuna sandwich you found in a public bathroom – yeah, you do get a free sandwich, but you also run the risk of picking up any number of interesting and educational viruses.

Delicious, but deadly? Photo courtesy Dave Lifson.

There’s a way to avoid all those trips to the doctor’s office, though: podcasts. A ton of free music is legally available to download through iTunes or directly from the web. Best of all, you can load them onto your hard drive or MP3 player directly, so your listening isn’t tethered to your internet connection or your computer, as it is when streaming from or a band’s MySpace page.

“But wait!” you cry. “All these podcasts are cumbersome, unwieldy files, full of songs I don’t want and annoying radio personalities exhorting me to kick it Old School. I find that offensive!”

“Ah,” I reply, “with the aide of some free audio-editing software and about thirty seconds of training, you can snip those unwanted bits from your audio file and be on your merry way with precisely the music you want in an MP3 file, completely free of adware, viruses, or anything resembling Jeff O’Neill.”

You also won’t have paid a cent, which is kind of problematic from a business perspective.

But you might not want to start placing big money with your bookie on a Napster-style crackdown on music podcasts in the recent future. A little while ago, I asked Mark MacArthur of CBC Radio 3 – a man who, as a producer and music programmer, makes podcasts professionally – if CBC cared about making so much music available for free.

“Not really,” he said. MacArthur argued that even the hassle of opening up an audio file, making one or two cursory edits, and exporting as an MP3 is enough to deter most people from pirating music like this.

I’m not convinced he’s right. Learning to use audio editing software in this fashion isn’t much more complicated than using BitTorrent to download District 9 or Avatar.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what podcast producers like Radio 3 ought do about it. Sure, they could go all Ubisoft and create a draconian, cumbersome anti-pirate program that inconveniences five legitimate users for every thief it deters, but … well, it would be draconian and cumbersome.

Excepting Lars Ulrich , who wants that?

So in a roundabout way, I support MacArthur’s position. Podcast piracy could become a problem for the music industry in the future, but the list of potential solutions is a short one, and for now there are bigger pirate-fish to fry.

Maybe the best we can hope for is that it’ll remain an an obscure, unspoken secret, like the real story behind Van Halen‘s famous “no brown M&Ms in the dressing room” contract clause, or the real identity of Elvis.

Dead, or living in a rest home as his own impersonator? Photo courtesy of Ariela Beal.

I won’t tell if you don’t.


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