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A story of piracy

This week, RIAA’s Vice President, Joshua P. Friedlander, released a blog post as a response to the claim that illegal downloaders are those who also spend more money on legal content (downloadable or otherwise). Of course, his opinion is biased, considering that his paycheck comes from the organization that spends millions (if not billions) fighting all forms of music piracy, no matter how large or small the infringement. No P2P downloading network is safe from becoming a target by his employer.

This same week, there was also a news story saying that the latest strict anti-piracy laws in Japan actually hurt the industry, when they correlated with a significant drop in sales. Supporters of these laws claim the sales drop might have nothing to do with illegal downloading (or attempts at it), but rather a “cultural chance [… because] people don’t feel the need to fill silence as much as they used to”. Personally, I call bullshit on that statement, and on Friedlander’s claim as well.

Let me tell you a little story.

Back in 2008, I came across a video on YouTube called “When Graphic Artists Get Bored” – a slideshow of photos collected from the Worth1000 website. The background music used for this video slideshow: the track “TV Song” by Blue Man Group. I seriously doubt that this music usage was licensed, but it created a spark in me. That same week, I (illegally) downloaded the two Blue Man Group albums that were already out on the market. Later that year, I found out about their “How to be a Megastar World Tour”, and that the closest it would pass by where I live, was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in late October that year (a couple of months away at the time). Luckily, my city’s airport had direct flights to Copenhagen, so I bought a ticket for that show, and booked a hotel room and flights, making a full vacation week out of the trip (I checked my e-mail archive, and I found that I booked everything in late August). After seeing the concert in Copenhagen, I immediately wanted more, and looked online to see if they had any further tour stops in Denmark, but it was simply too far away on such short notice (I think it was a couple of hours of travel time, by train or bus, from Copenhagen).

Shortly after New Year’s Eve, I found out about the Blue Man Group community, and after a short while, a fan event was announced, which would happen in Orlando (Florida) in July 2009. This was in March, though, so after some analysis of my economy, and some in-depth research on what else to catch while on my first trip to the U.S., I booked flights, hotels, and tickets to see Blue Man Group (along with the fan event in Orlando) in both Las Vegas and Orlando, spending one week at each of the two destinations (of course, catching other sights as well, including a few days at both Universal Studios Orlando and Disney World). On this trip, I made sure to buy the physical and legal versions of the albums I had previously downloaded illegally, and I also attended 3 shows in Las Vegas and 2 shows in Orlando.

In 2010, I found out that Blue Man Group would have shows in Stockholm, Sweden, for a short period of time (October and November), and I made a vacation of this as well. I was there for about a week, and I managed to attend all 7 shows that had been set up for that week. Unintentionally, I was invited for a quick backstage tour after the 6th show that week, and got to see most of everything behind the scenes up close (and seeing first-hand some of the “trade secrets” of the shows, as I had previously only read about in the community forums).

Last year, 2011, I found out about a fan event in New York, the primary home of Blue Man Group, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the company. This triggered another vacation trip to the U.S. for me, and since they were now touring North America with brand new material, I also wanted to catch a show or two with this new material while I was already this far away. The only show I could find at the time within a two-week window was in Winnipeg (Canada), so I made sure to also book a hotel stay (single night), flights and show tickets (two shows in a single day), just to catch this show. Since I was already so close to a magic round number, I decided to keep up attendance, and the show on the day of the fan event actually marked my 20th Blue Man Group show (or concert) over these years.

This year, I wanted to attend another Blue Man Group fan event, and I directed my attention to the annual European fan event, centered around the only regular show in Europe: Berlin, Germany. Considering the fact that the guys who plans the annual fan event in Berlin (and who were also a major part of the planning process for the New York anniversary event the previous year) is based in Netherlands, it was well within reach for me, too. I planned the Berlin trip as my primary vacation for this year, and booked a trip for two weeks this past October (less than a month ago, at the time I’m writing this). I also managed to catch a total of 7 shows spread across these two weeks, just to give me the annual dose of Blue Man Group live shows.

Through the years, I’ve also bought all the other albums from iTunes, and both concerts (“The Complex Rock Tour” and “How to be a Megastar”) on DVD and Blu-ray (only the latter). No pirated versions, but the actual physical (or downloaded, in the case of iTunes), licensed products.

I estimate that over these 4 years, I’ve spent a total of almost 3,000 USD just in show tickets, plus somewhere around 17,000 USD in travel costs (flights+hotels only) to see the various shows around the world (rough estimation based on my archived travel confirmations – good thing I have Excel to find out these totals). CDs, downloads, DVD/Blu-ray discs (both for myself and bought as gifts) and official merchandise (mostly T-shirts) comes on top of this. And I keep coming back for more, like most other fans.

All of this sparked by an unlicensed use of a music track in a YouTube video. In return, I’ve gained several friends in the community, a true sense of belonging, and inspiration that I never would have known without Blue Man Group. Because of that video, the Blue Man Group gained at least one more fan.

Basically, my point is, good things can come out of a little piracy. Have you discover something through an act of piracy, even if it was indirectly?