I'm not about to condone downloading-without-paying in general as there seems to have been a great deal of discussion about that. However, on a related note, in the UK everyone who owns a TV capable of receiving broadcasts from the BBC is obliged to buy a TV license (unless they can prove that they watch every other kind of TV other than that produced by the BBC). Currently the TV license fee is around £145 GBP per year per household and all the broadcasting departments of the BBC - including BBC national and local radio as well as online content - are funded by the license fee.
In the year 2009/10 revenue collected from license fees made up a total sum of about £3.5 billion GBP. As a public service broadcaster, the BBC is obliged to cater for audiences of all types of music from classical to folk to country to jazz to rock and pop and so on. Their flagship national pop/rock-music radio station is Radio One. Like a lot of radio stations, Radio One has a playlist
of tunes that have been especially selected
by the station controllers to be played regularly on a daily basis across a variety of programmes in order to give those tracks the maximum exposure that can be afforded. There is even a hierarchy; so bigger-name acts make the A-list, the B-list will be for up-and-comings, and C is for not-yet-heard-ofs and soon-to-be-forgottens (roughly speaking). A-list songs will be played about 20 times a week in prime-time slots, B is 10 to 15, C about 5 plays a week.
What this means is that the approximately 25 million license payers in the UK are effectively funding advertising
for artists which ensures that after the requisite 4 weeks on the playlist prior to release, the songs will inevitably chart highly when they are eventually released. Most people buy what they are told to buy so having listened to the same 12 songs for a month it's no surprise what they'll go for when they step into a store to buy a record. So the nation pays for a radio station that plays records by Rihanna (or whoever) all week long and when the record is released it sells by the truck load thanks to the exposure provided by public-service broadcasting (including a similar amount of airtime on national BBC TV stations) and SRP music walk off with a tidy sum of money [added to which the owner of the IP of the material will receive royalties from PRS through their UK publisher every time the song is played].
All well and good, you say: so what?
After the announcement of the prosecution of The Pirate Bay, an interview with the record-producer Pete Waterman aired on network TV
news in the UK. This was the man who in the '80s brought you Bananarama, Dead or Alive, Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley etc - all pop acts who have topped the charts in the UK, US, Europe, Australia, pretty much anywhere records are sold. What kind of stuck in my craw was the way he was bleating on about the cheek of people in the UK who download music for nothing bringing about the demise of the record industry; surely the people who are ripping off recording artists are the same ones who are contributing funds to the BBC radio and TV stations that helped (in a considerable way) to make Pete Waterman, and others like him, as successful as he became?
I realise that this issue of state-funded broadcasting doesn't apply everywhere, but the UK is not an insignificant record market and I feel it is more than a little crass to be lectured by the likes of Pete Waterman about the iniquity of internet piracy when he has had his career bolstered by a nation of listeners who have no real say about what they listen to on the BBC radio and TV channels that they are paying for.