Last week, Kanye West released his new album in a somewhat controversial manner, making said album available only on Tidal and on his personal website. Because of the relative scarcity of Kanye West – The Life of Pablo and because of the hype surrounding its release, fans took to illegally downloading the album in even greater numbers than generally expected. Therefore, this Kanye West torrent suddenly became a new Pirate Bay super-hit, gaining tens of thousands of downloaders and seeders over the course of just a few days.
Of course, other torrent websites hosted the Kanye West torrent for his new album as well, but the Pirate Bay torrent was the most popular and accessed.
To get a better grip at what happened and how this is significant for the internet piracy debates, let’s first take a deeper look at the event and its causes. First of all, we will try to answer the following questions: why was this torrent of Kanye West’s album even worth discussing; why did this event occur; and what is most unusual about it?
Causes of the Kanye West Torrent Incident
First of all, as we mentioned above, there was the issue of the relative unavailability of the newly released Kanye West – The Life of Pablo album. But after the initial disappointment of fans went away and they just postponed buying the album until a later time, shock and anger followed. The singer issued a statement saying that this album will never be for sale, and it will only be available via Tidal, forever. (Initially, he stated that the album will not be for sale for another week). If fans were initially just disappointed (and didn’t want to pay a rather expensive subscription fee required for Tidal services), now they were beginning to be angry. The general sentiment was that Kanye West was trying to force them to buy something else in addition to the only thing they did want to buy, which was his album.
The fact that many fans still had trouble obtaining the album even when they did sign up for Tidal (due to an issue with their payment processing services) definitely tipped the balance towards piracy. In a public backlash over Twitter, many fans complained that Kanye West’s statements and the availability of torrents for this elusive album is what tipped them over the edge. Over the course of just one day, the number of downloads for the new torrent for Kanye West had exceeded 500,000 (as reported by BBC).
Most of these downloads were hosted by the Pirate Bay hub, but other torrent networks and direct download sites also hosted the album everyone was searching for. This increased the total piracy figures even further, even if we don’t have any definitive data just yet. All in all, what is certain at this point is that the illegal downloads surrounding the new Kanye West – The Life of Pablo album are unprecedented by any other music release: there were over 10,000 people sharing a single copy of this popular torrent in the past few days!
What the Kanye West Torrent Incident Means for Copyright and Piracy Debates
Upset at the way things went down, Kanye West released a further statement threatening to sue The Pirate Bay for copyright infringement in relation to his newest album, The Life of Pablo. Of course, as mentioned above, The Pirate Bay isn’t the only torrenting website involved in distributing illegal copies of the album, but it’s the one with the largest volume of downloads.
But what Kanye West doesn’t seem to acknowledge, and neither do the other decision-makers involved in the copyright industry, is that the only way to stop illegal downloads is to offer people a comfortable alternative. As proven by a comparison of the numbers (between this case and the cases of more available albums), as well as by fan statements in the public backlash surrounding The Life of Pablo, people really do want to buy albums legally.
But in order for them to do that, you need to offer them a viable and reasonable way to do so. Overpricing, or limiting the availability of content through the subscription to another service they do not want to buy will only make them turn to piracy as a way to eluding what they feel as absurd conditions. They do want to pay for the content, but the industry needs to allow them to do it in their own way, or at least offer them multiple alternatives to do so, in order to make their lives easier instead of harder. Otherwise, they will turn to torrent websites, precisely for that ease of use and the get-it-your-own-way feel. It’s not the money that makes the difference as much as the feeling of being forced to do something unfairly. This is the true morale of the Kanye West torrent story, and it is one that hopefully the music industry (and copyright industry at large) will learn.