Does downloading music cost CD sales?

Tim Blair links to a story from The Scotsman which claims ‘research’ shows that people ‘who illegally download their favourite tracks from the internet still buy albums in the shops’.


This seems to be a case of asking people questions, rather than examining whether they actually did go out and make the subsequent purchases. This is common in such research. But people’s statements of intentions and what they actually do frequently diverge significantly.

So, do I support the RIAA’s chasing of music file sharers? Not at all. I think the oft-made statement that copying music is ‘theft’ is ridiculous — the act of theft involves not just obtaining something, but depriving the person from whom the theft is made of that something’s use. I think that industry figures of the amount ‘lost’ due to file sharing and other copyright infringements are ludicrous — it is incredibly naive economics to believe that if a person couldn’t burn a CD for a cost of $1, they would go out and buy it for $25.

Yes, surely some people who sample music from the Internet go and buy the CD when they’ve discovered they like it. But how many?

The biggest hit to CD sales is not from Internet downloads — which provide odd tracks of uncertain quality — but copying whole CDs from friends. Doing this delivers better quality and is cheaper and far faster than going the Internet route, can’t be tracked using Internet technology, and can’t be protected against while the CD continues to exist.

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