A PhD exploring the digital music world led Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen into a highly guarded, secret and illegal community of music lovers.
Her research is the first to explore the controversial motivations for downloading illegal music and her findings came down to three Cs – cost, convenience and choice.
Dr Beekhuyzen said many music lovers did not have access to affordable, high quality music online in Australia, so they sought them via illegal means.
“Apple iTunes products are about 58 per cent more expensive in Australia than the US,” Dr Beekhuyzen said.
“Also, iTunes music tracks cost the same as CD tracks, even though the quality is significantly lower due to compression.
“We often use the word ‘piracy’ to describe the illegal use of music, but it is a commercial term, which is not appropriate for people who download music for their personal use when the content they want is not available through paid options.”
Dr Beekhuyzen said iTunes and other digital music sites had failed to provide ways for people to connect and share music.
“Music is personal and people who belong to these secret digital communities like sharing their passion for music with like-minded people,” she said.
“The legitimate online music sites don’t understand this and hence they don’t give rewards, discounts or create a community environment.”
Dr Beekhuyzen’s research recommended reforming digital music’s pricing strategy, providing more choice on different types of music and making the sites more user-friendly and social.
“The music industry hasn’t been able to control the growth of illegal music communities and the industry’s best option is to embrace the technology used to distribute large files and use it to share music in ways that will benefit their bottom line.
Dr Beekhuyzen described the illegal community members as smart, technical people, who played an important role in promoting emerging musicians and bands.
“A lot of musicians feel these communities help to bring people to their shows and give people the chance to try before they buy.”
Dr Beekhuyzen interviewed 16 members from a number of underground music communities and was a member of a community for four months herself.