INTERNET pirates including those in Jamaica couldn't stop the six per cent rise in global digital music sales to US$4.6 billion ($395 billion) in 2010.
Vernon, a Jamaican musician and computer scientist, has over 10,000 illegal songs enough to continuously play for a month. He asked that his surname be withheld for legal considerations, but enjoys downloading rock and reggae.
Increasingly, he's searching for drum & bass but not any of the over 400 legitimate sites to download music. Vernon, however, isn't alone as at least four of the top 100 most popular sites visited by Jamaicans contain illegally shared material which translates into an army of Jamaican pirates. These sites include Pornhub, The Piratebay, Btjunkie and Xhamster according to the Alexa search group.
The rise of legal sites and disruption of illegal ones were major reasons for the increase in digital sales at a time when physical CD sales dipped 30 per cent according to the just-released Digital Music Report 2011 published by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) which represents the global recording industry.
Vernon, at 32, views this Internet policing as an inconvenience rather than a threat. "It would annoy me," to stop freeloading, he told Splash.
The music industry in 2010 shut down or 'seriously' impacted illegal sharing on three of the most popular sites including Limewire, The Pirate Bay and Mininova. But Vernon's favourite site Btjunkie wasn't impacted by the clampdown.
"These court cases haven't affected me at all," he said adding that he could easily switch to an alternative site.
Currently, The Pirate Bay which got blocked in Italy last year (available elsewhere) has over 1,000 reggae files or torrents, 68 relating to Sean Paul, 18 for Vybz Kartel and 13 for Beenie Man and so on. Piracy, however, isn't arithmetic, that's because scores of users seed and leach a single file at any given moment transforming a few files into piracy of geometric proportions. Statisticians have conducted related research including Richard Waterman, Professor of Statistics at the University of Pennsylvania whose study was evidenced in the Limewire case.
Even if The Pirate Bay were blocked by internet providers, other sites exist solely dedicated to offering free dancehall/reggae mix-tapes. Vernon who plays a mean rhythm guitar for his reggae-rock band doesn't feel he's cheating his musical colleagues by freeloading.
"Honestly, if your music is not being downloaded its just not selling," he reasoned. "I would not have a problem with my band being downloaded, because I don't think I can stop it.."
Besides artistes traditionally didn't earn much from record sales anyway and "should benefit from tours", he stated alluding to the view that piracy increases expose and ultimately tours sales.
However the IFPI report stated that the live performance market was hit along with the broader music industry offering "no guarantee of growing revenues". Specifically total box office sales of the world's top 50 tours fell by 12 per cent in 2010 to US$2.9 billion, according to data provided by Pollstar Inc, in the report.
The IFPI's main challenge is to transform more freeloaders, as much as 45 per cent of those online into paying users. But unlike those in the developed world many Jamaicans including Vernon don't own credit cards to transition into that legit realm; only 187,600 or about 15 per cent of the labour force, according to the latest Financial Stability Report 2009 issued by the Bank of Jamaica. Additionally, iTunes the largest online music store doesn't permit purchases from Jamaica. Rival sites exist such as ReggaeInc listed amongst IFPI's 400 legal sites, but many top artistes launch albums via iTunes.
Vernon couldn't recall the last time he bought a physical CD "it was some years ago but I do remember it was Megadeth and Dave Matthews". During that period many local music stores were shut down with just three listings remaining in the latest directory. Mobile Music, the last one to close transitioned into a vegetarian restaurant--swapping music for menus.
"Piracy that's bull," stated Vernon who intends to release his album on iTunes for sale.
Its a cruel time for debut artistes even hitting the global top 50 chart, with their respective total sales down to one-quarter of 2003 levels, according to the IFPI data.
"Traditionally vibrant music local industries, such as Spain and Mexico, are especially hard hit. In Spain, where music sales fell by an estimated 22 per cent in 2010, no new home-grown artist featured in the country's top 50 album chart, compared with 10 in 2003," it stated.
The IFPI added that jobs are at risk across the creative industries. Independent research in 2010 from Tera Consultants, backed by trade unions, found that 1.2 million jobs could be lost across the creative industries in Europe alone by 2015 if no action is taken to tackle piracy.
For now, at least, digital sales are up along with Vernon's pirating.