"Every time media is downloaded, we lose a sale"
Woe is us!
Copyright Holders (CHs for short) have been moaning loud and long about "illegal Internet downloads". It has become the subject of numerous lawsuits and is their primary justification for the much hated Digitial Rights Management (DRM) technology.
Hey, I'll admit that if some schmoe in another country makes copies of CDs and sells them with a semi-authentic looking case it creates problems. When a tourist picks up a copy of "Backstreet Boys: Greatest Hits 5!" from a street vendor in Italy (not picking on Italy, just that it's an easy country to spell) and it turns out to be a blank CD, or worse, a cover of the Backstreet Boys songs by local Italian bands (eeee! horrors!) their first reaction probably won't be, "Wow that was a stupid thing for me to do, my mistake". No, they'll likely be on the phone to the record labels trying to get a free replacement (which now the poor record company has to deal with).
Ok. I get that. If someone took my hard work and just made copies to sell to others for their own benefit, I'd be ticked too. Anyone would.
However, someone who makes music available on a filesharing service isn't profiting from it and the downloaders isn't going to come back and complain to the CHs. So in reality, the only possible beef a CH can have with the practice is the gut-wrenching realization that someone, somewhere is enjoying something and the CH isn't making money on it.
It's this viewpoint that leads CHs, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, to file lawsuits against little kids, dead people, and computer printers. In the court room and official documents, they'll cry and mope and wail, "We're losing ga-jillions of dollars in downloads every second these scum are allowed to walk free! (boo hoo!)". The problem is that this is inexact, imprecise, a fabrication, false, a lie.
The simple truth is that downloads does not equal sales. No way, no how.
Some wouldn't have bought it anyway
First take the set of people who can't afford the legit product. They'll download the song while spouting some nonsense like, "the money doesn't go to the artist anyway!". Well the fact is they're not noble, just broke. You can argue that music tracks are cheap, but that assumes that the desired song is even available on the music sites. If not, you'd have to buy a CD or, worse yet, a box set just to get that one song you want. If downloading or copying from a friend wasn't available, this person would likely choose not to have it.
For people like this, there is no loss because they wouldn't have bought it anyway!
Next take people who only have a short-term need for the product. For example a mother planning a 6 year old's birthday party, a blogger writing band reviews, or someone posting a video of their baby dancing to an upbeat song on Youtube. If these people don't already own the songs they want, they'll try to borrow them, but if that doesn't work, the result isn't a new purchase. Instead Mom will change to a party game that doesn't need the song, the blogger will forgo the music samples and post anyway, and the Youtuber will just let baby jam to a different tune.
Again, they might download it, but they wouldn't have bought it.
Some will download it and buy it later
Then you have audiophiles with thousands of dollars of equipment in their living rooms who wouldn't tolerate any hissing, poping, or crackling in their media. These guys will buy the HD-Blu-Ray-Extended-Mixed-Box-Set version of anything you produce because they're all about quality. They might download a song until the album comes out or the track becomes available on iTunes (or whatever), but the point is they're definitely buying it eventually. So in this case, the download doesn't affect the sale at all.
Another situation is where someone is previewing a song or album and uses downloads to do it because they don't know anyone they can borrow it from. If they hadn't downloaded it, they would have either not bought it at all or borrowed it from someone else so again, no lost sale here.
Some download stuff they already bought!
Don't forget people who legitimately purchased a CD or set of songs only to lose them to damage or data loss. Who would argue if they were to download a replacement after-the-fact? That's right, CHs who believe they should get paid for every breath you take. Any normal person would never begrudge someone the ability to get a replacement for something they legitimately own, but didn't think to make a back-up copy of.
Then there's the people who have a CD (or has downloaded a song), but it's got some kind of goofy copy protection on it that prevents the owner from making a fair use copy. And I doubt anyone has lost any sleep when they copied a CD so they could use it in BOTH of their cars without having to carry it back and forth, legal or not. It might be necessary to download the "cleaned" version of the CD from some enterprising computer nerd somewhere in the world who's figured out how to remove the junk.
Downloads that aren't for sale
Whether you stopped carrying something or just don't offer it at all, downloaders may seek versions of music you aren't selling. For example, many CD versions of songs don't match those that were played on the radio. For people like me who can't stand alternate versions, remixes, or covers, only the first version I heard will work. If someone were to download the version they want that a CH doesn't even sell, where exactly is the issue?
Actual Lost Sales… Or Not!
So out of the set of downloaders that's left you have some people who would have bought the music, but won't now because they were able to download it. There are still a ton of ways that CHs make money on them. For example, if the downloaders likes the music, they may become a fan of the band and buy concert tickets or merchandise, or, best of all, they can become a free advertising agent.
Let's talk about that last one. How much do companies pay for advertising campaigns? Thousands? Millions? That broke bum who downloaded your song is now playing it in their car or their house making their friends ask, "hey, who's that?" The other kids at the 6 year old's party go home asking their parents for "that cool song they heard at the party". The blogger who posted their article including sound clips generates more press and buzz about the band. The Youtube video becomes viral and suddenly hundreds of thousands of people are watching the cute dancing baby with your song in the background (some great songs would never be noticed if not for a little publicity).
If you're a CH, you're not getting completely free advertising! If I was in this situation, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank. The CHs generally take a different approach.
Actual downloads that hurt
So after subtracting all the downloads that don't affect the bottom line at all, you're left with those who will never, in any way, contribute to the CH's bottom line and those who download songs with no remorse whatsoever. CHs clean their proverbial rifles, facial tics a'jiggling while picturing these scum blowing raspberries while shouting "Content must be free! It's our right to steal from you!". While it would make sense for the CHs to go after only those who truly download maliciously, there's no way for them to know which downloaders are the "good downloaders" and which are the "bad". So like a SWAT team that knows their target is somewhere in a crowded city street, they only have one sensible option. Fire on everyone
Well, it must seem sensible to them, because that's what they do. Blanket lawsuits and restrictive DRM designed to make it almost impossible for average people to use their legally purchased goods while inconveniencing the world's hacking community for mere hours, no one is safe… except the filesharers who are savvy enough to know how to keep their downloads anonymous.
Faced with media that contains cumbersome and annoying restrictions or even hidden viruses that prevent you from making fair-use copies, it's no wonder that people are violently opposed to the CH tactics. While the CH ever so slowly tightens their death grip on their own customers, more and more people are fighting back by resisting lawsuits or openly sharing their media with the world. And the tighter they squeeze, the more angry we get, the more we support the thorns in their side, and more we cheer when they get pricked and bleed.