Music Pirates Going Overboard!

Artists Fight Back To Protect Their Livelihoods

Rapper Talib Kweli worked on his CD The Beautiful Struggle for more than eight months before it fell into the wrong hands and portions of it ended up on the Internet, where it was available for illegal downloads six months before it was officially released in November 2004. Kweli, who spouts his views on American society through his lyrics, had been recording the highly anticipated album between Los Angeles and New York City, working day and night in countless recording studios. He speculates that it was at one of those studios that someone got their hands on the unreleased tracks.

The Brooklyn — born rapper, half of Black Star, a duo formed in the late 1990s with rapper — actor Mos Def, partially blames himself. “I’m a forgetful person. I’ll do a session and leave a CD in the studio by mistake,” he says. “But someone took advantage of my carelessness.”

Artists across the world can share similar stories of stolen music. Now record label executives not only have to worry about a CD selling once it hits the stores but also about the music falling into the hands of pirates, who seem to be everywhere — on the Internet, in illegal CD distribution centers, in factories, and on the streets. The unscrupulous are inventing more and more ways to profit from recording artists. Whether it’s CD piracy or artist impersonation, the music industry is paying the price.

When Napster was launched in June 1999, incidences of online piracy began to mushroom. In 1995, the recording industry reported $12.3 billion in music sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Music sales rose steadily, reaching $14.6 billion in 1999; however, the industry lost 2% in sales between 1999 and 2000. Figures continued to decline through 2005, when the RIAA reported that music sales dropped to $11.2 billion, a 23% drop from 1999.

When consumers steal music, everyone suffers, says Amanda Hunter, deputy director of communications for the RIAA. “Not only does it rob recording artists and songwriters of their livelihoods and threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of less — celebrated people in the music industry, it also undermines the future of music by depriving the industry of the resources it needs to find and develop new talent.” And while offenders may feel apathetic toward the rich, powerful moguls at Sony, Warner, and Arista, they may forget that many working — class individuals — musicians, composers, engineers, producers, and songwriters — are affected as well.

Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, the Pop/R&B group that made it big in the 1960s with songs such as “Stop, In the Name of Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?,” says she loses money every time an impostor group lures fans to a concert using the Supremes’ name. These groups are made up of women who may or may not have performed with the Supremes but never signed with Motown Records or recorded with the group. Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong

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