musicians-with-masks-1921There was a time when my digital music collection was mainly pirated.

Today there’s little illegal material. I’d like to say there’s none, but I know that’s still not true.

At least not yet. Soon it will be.

I aim to be squeaky clean by the end of 2013. It’s a daunting task. When I started the project in January there were more than 15,000 items in my iTunes collection. At a guess 40 percent was illegal or dubious.

Music wants to be straight

This isn’t about morality. I’m not going to preach or take the moral high ground – make your own choices.

Nor do I fear prosecution – it would be hard to successfully prosecute me because there’s hardly anything on my iPod that shouldn’t be there today. And anyway, I have a plausible defence.

While I do think someone, like me, who makes a living from creating intellectual property shouldn’t steal other people’s, I’m going straight because It’s now the smartest practical option.

Ah-ha me hearties

In the past music lovers had little choice but to pirate. It wasn’t possible to buy legal downloads. Sure you could legally rip your own CDs to listen on an iPod, but not always. Some discs were copy protected.

When you could first buy legal downloads, it was difficult and confusing. The music was often expensive. Online retailers charged more for a low-quality download than a CD. So you paid more for an inferior product.

That’s no longer true.

Digital music is still overpriced – it is an outrage New Zealanders pay more than Americans for the same tracks – but it is now easy to get. At least most of the time.

Stealing music online is no walk in the park. You have to walk through the online equivalent of the red light district with pornographic or fraudulent images jumping out at you. Sometimes pirate sites load nasty cookies or even malware as you walk past.

It’s worth paying $1.80 a song just to avoid that.

Today there are few excuses to pirate music. I was going to say no excuses – but that’s not true as we shall see.

Moral, not legal

My music collection has four categories. Yours is probably similar:

  • Music I’ve purchased online.
  • Music ripped from my own CDs.
  • Free music downloads I’ve picked up from band site or similar.
  • Pirated music.

Not all that pirated music is outright theft. In most cases the songs are downloaded copies of my vinyl records and cassette tapes. That doesn’t make them legal, although like most people I resent paying twice for the same thing.

There are some items where I genuinely don’t know how they got there.

Overall illegal music was about 5 percent of my collection in January, today it is probably less than 0.1 percent. Finding those songs among the good stuff is difficult.

A lot of pirate music is low-quality. It may be recorded at a low-bit rate, recorded badly or stop and start at the wrong places.

Now is the time

First was the realisation that most of the pirated material I had wasn’t worth listening to. It was simply sitting unheard on my iPod and PC.

Getting rid of live recordings of songs I don’t like is no loss. Hoarding stuff you don’t want or need is mentally unhealthy. It’s like a modern version of the King Midas story. The cull got me halfway to my target.

Second, buying legitimate music online is now simple. For the past two or three years if I wanted anything new it is easier to buy it than to jump through the hoops needed to steal it.

Paying for the songs I want to keep – where I don’t own the CD – is a lot less than paying for everything. I estimate I’ll have spent around $1000 with iTunes by the time I’ve finished.

I’ll write more in future posts about the practicalities of going legit – it’s not as straightforward as you might think.