Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Beyond free, the lure of the pirate

Having taking a run at Ladytron, maybe Radiohead should cover another Roxy Music tune named, "The Thrill of It All."
Piracy, it seems, is about more than price.

That's one of the surprising discoveries to come out of an experiment by the British band Radiohead last week. On Thursday, the group made its latest album, In Rainbows, available for direct downloading from the Web at an unusual price: whatever fans feel like paying. Downloaders who want to pay nothing can enter "zero" in the site's price field and download the album for free.

But for hard-core music pirates, even free hasn’t been enough of a draw. According to music industry analysts, hundreds of thousands of Web users who frequent copyright-infringing file-sharing sites, including The Pirate Bay and TorrentSpy, have chosen to download In Rainbows illegally, distributing their contraband around the Internet just as they might with any other pirated album.

On the first day that Radiohead's latest became available, around 240,000 users downloaded the album from copyright-infringing peer-to-peer BitTorrent sources, according to Big Champagne, a Los-Angeles-based company that tracks illegal downloading on the Internet. Over the following days, the file was downloaded about 100,000 more times each day—adding up to more than 500,000 total illegal downloads.

That's less than the 1.2 million legitimate online sales of the album reported by the British Web site Gigwise.com. But Eric Garland, Big Champagne's chief executive, says illegal file-sharing is likely to overtake legal downloads in the coming weeks, given that many of those 1.2 million legitimate sales were pre-orders taken during the 10 days between when the band announced the album and its actual release last Thursday.

With popular album releases, illegal download volumes normally outstrip sales, says Garland. But more surprising is that fans chose to steal music they could legally download for any price they choose.

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