For a long time I have felt ambivalent about piracy in the digital realm. As the owner, operator and janitor for Nine Volt Audio I long ago came to an acceptance that my sound libraries would be pirated, offered free for the taking to the likes of thousands. I remember long ago, back around the time of my second or third release, the utterly sick, punch-in-the-gut feeling I got upon discovering a Nine Volt Audio library posted to a pirate site for the first time. But that feeling has gone away, and has been replaced with a “what-will-be-will-be” feeling.
Recently I was made aware that TAIKO 2 had been pirated. TAIKO 2 is a 2.4 GB Kontakt format library containing over 11,500 samples of Japanese drums. I released it less than four months ago.
How was it pirated? Someone used a credit card fraudulently with one of our distributors to purchase a download copy of it. By the time the fraud had been discovered, the download of the library was complete. Within two days of this happening, the pirated version was up on the web.
What about Copy Protection?
Up to now, I have chosen not to implement copy protection within the Nine Volt Audio libraries. Why? Because a quick look around the web will most likely reveal a cracked version of your favorite software or sound library. Other protection systems, such as “digital watermarking” (a method by which every library contains a unique identifier to the copy the purchaser downloads) would have failed in this instance, since the purchase was made fraudulently in someone else’s name.
What about the Law?
It seems that some sites that host and/or refer users to cracked and stolen software acknowledge the existence of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – a United States law that, amongst other things, criminalizes dissemination and services to circumvent the protection of copy written material. I submitted an official “Abuse of DMCA” email to one referring site, along with a 2nd email that read:
I own/operate Nine Volt Audio. I see that our "TAIKO 2" library has just been added to your site.
I humbly ask that you consider taking it down. I did the majority of the work on the TAIKO 2 library and it represents about 10 weeks of work for me.
I/Nine Volt Audio can only put out around four libraries a year, so having stuff freely available can have a real impact on me.
I received a response the next day that read:
Sure... if that's what you want Have a good week.
The reference to TAIKO 2 was deleted from their site.
However, when I read the response I pictured a shoplifter leaving a store, but stopping briefly to wink at the storeowner before completing their exit.
Within another two days, the first two pages of Google revealed five other sites illegally referring to the TAIKO 2 library. Sending more DMCA abuse emails might help, but the library will forever exist in the Torrent and Usenet systems of the world, no matter the amount of action taken.
What Does it Take?
With so many sample and loop libraries released into the world on a daily basis, one could be forgiven for never giving any consideration to how one is put together.
Here is an abridged version of what it took to create TAIKO 2.
Initial planning: I coordinated with a partner to secure access to the drums, the performance hall, percussionists, and any recording equipment that I could not practically travel with. This groundwork, along with discussions about how best to record the drums took place over many months, with countless phone calls, Skype chats and emails.
Travel: A large collection of taiko drums does not travel. I had to go to them. I booked a flight and traveled from Nashville, Tennessee to Columbus, Ohio.
Sessions: With setup, recording and teardown, approximately 40 hours of session time was packed into four days. During this time over 8000 hits/samples were performed and recorded, a task that morphs into a “water torture” feel by the end of the first day.
Editing: Because I recorded from four stereo microphone positions, with additional mono microphones to record solo drums, the editing of 8000 hits gets multiplied out to the creation of approximately 30000 files. Listening to every hit, slicing them up, trimming, fading, naming, organizing by velocity, splitting into groups, layering, and then mapping to the keyboard took several weeks.
Programming: Just getting the samples into the Kontakt sampler is one thing. Transforming it into a customizable and inspiring-to-play instrument is another. Over a month was spent writing custom code (aka “scripting”), designing interface graphics, developing custom impulse responses, and generally refining the product through numerous revisions.
Getting it Out: Over a week was spent creating the cover art, demo MP3s, video walk through, PDF manual, website update, DVD creation and promotional art (banner ads, email artwork, etc…).
And this is just the time I spent. My partner for this particular project invested at least a month of his own time contributing and adding to many of the aspects listed above.
Looking at the Numbers
It is impossible to quantify the financial impact that the pirating of TAIKO 2 will have. How many people will consider purchasing the library, but will first check to see if there is “free” copy somewhere on the web? How many people will download a pirated copy just because they can? No one can ever know these numbers. But perhaps another perspective could be instructive.
One pirate site currently lists 13,699 illegal downloads of TAIKO 2. If each person had paid $1.00 for his or her copy from this site, it would amount to more than the library has grossed so far. I disclose this information to illustrate the point that these libraries are investments, and getting them “in the black” takes time, effort and further capital to promote them.
I think it is reasonable to assume that this library’s sales potential will be hurt by the existence of a pirated version. But who else does this impact? Consider for a moment if TAIKO 2 had not been made:
- Airfare to the recording location and lodging would not have been purchased.
- Purchases for recording equipment and software specifically used to create TAIKO 2 would not have been made.
- Percussionists would not have been hired for the sampling session.
- A programmer would not have been hired to help in the creation of the Kontakt script.
- Advertising on the web and in print would not have been purchased.
This is only a partial list. There are numerous other positive financial ripples created for others by this library, not least-of-which are the composers that create and sell music utilizing the TAIKO 2 samples.
There are soft costs associated with piracy, too. It is easy to imagine that at times, some paying customers get a tinge of, “I’m a sucker for buying this when everyone else can take it for free.”
Besides the individuals that download TAIKO 2 without paying, who else gains?
Most obvious: websites that host or aggregate links to pirated material. These sites often sell membership and subscription services.
Less obvious: many referring sites are loaded with ads served up by Google, amongst others. Clicking on those ads makes money for the webmaster and the advertising servicer.
When I get stuck thinking about TAIKO 2 being pirated, my mind usually goes to one of three thoughts:
- How heavy the drums were. Getting them on and off the recording stage – sometimes taking two or three people to move just one drum. The thought of that physical act, combined with the knowledge that someone is freely taking TAIKO 2 gets under my skin.
- My partner on TAIKO 2 is having a kid in a few months. The fact that this library has been pirated sucks for him.
- What will the future bring? Despite my passion for doing what I do, is that enough to press on knowing that the products will be pirated?
But if I think a bit longer on it, my self-preservation kicks in with the “what-will-be-will-be” thought. The fact that I slip into this way of thinking is perhaps most upsetting of all.
Acknowledgements: A "thank you" to the folks at 8 Dio for catching the first pirated posting early on and letting my TAIKO 2 partner know.