Last week saw the closure of the infamous music and file sharing site What.CD making them part of the club of fallen piracy giants like Napster, Kickass Torrents and the original Pirate Bay. In a heartfelt goodbye to its followers the site announced via Twitter that they would be shutting down quoting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a sombre “So Long, and thanks for all the fish”.
With the recent disappearance of What.CD’s, is it time to ask ‘what next?’ Could it be possible that streaming apps like Netflix and Spotify have finally begun to eradicate the rebellious world of internet piracy?
Well not exactly. It’s important firstly to acknowledge the evolution of piracy. Think back to a time where Limewire might have been the go to site for all your music. Typically, you weren’t sure if you were getting a high quality version of a song, some unwanted pornography or a harmful computer virus. File sharing was young and grew just as the internet did to a point where it seemed like these sites were run like any other reputable institution. All of whom, complete with dedicated contributors, coders and legions of users, put their time and efforts into providing the public with free access to music, films and other files.
Naturally this caused some controversy. How could they get away with this? How would those artists reap any of the rewards of all their hard work? Yet a lot of us fell into this trap. All of the bands and their discographies I so desperately craved were made so readily available to a 15 year old with no real sources of income. My guilt as a music fan did kick in eventually and I found myself making an effort to buy every Arctic Monkeys album I could whenever I had the money. Nevertheless, the truth was not enough for people to feel bad about the artists’ reduced profits. It also helped that the internet is hard to legislate. In fact it could be argued that things like Metallica’s relentless campaign for the shutdown of Napster only helped to keep piracy alive.
Metallica were not the only ones who wanted to put an end to it all. There were a lot of people losing out as a result of all this illegal downloading and they weren’t stopping anytime soon. There is evidence to show that it’s working too with The Pirate Bay and KickAss Torrents founders Fredrik Neij and Artem Vaulin actually being arrested and charged for their contribution to the piracy world. There were also those who sought to gain from the attack on internet piracy.
As of 2016, Spotify has a staggering 30 million subscribers, showing just how much they have capitalised on the crackdown of illegal file sharing. Netflix are also huge players with around 86 million subscribers worldwide. With consumption of legitimate entertainment apps at such a high level, why is piracy still alive at all? The general consensus seems to be that these services are reasonably priced considering what they offer. Who wouldn’t pay less than €10 a month for access to millions of songs or thousands of films and TV shows, including original content? It seems like the most logical option.
Yet What.CD’s demise was not without mass displays of public disappointment from countless, emotional Tweeters and reddit users. “I can’t really begin to explain how much of a loss this is. This was the biggest digital repository of music the world has ever seen.” ‘Mynsfwacctlol’ lamented. Why the outcry? One of my classmates revealed to me that he was once a member of the exclusive club, enlightening me with stories of a rigorous interview process where he was questioned about his knowledge of music and file sharing in order to gain access. It’s obvious that What.CD was about so much more than free music. It was a place where people could come together and share the things they cared about the most. It was a place where anything you wanted was found and users gave as much as they got. I myself, have been disappointed by Spotify for not having albums like The Wombats’ ‘This Modern Glitch’ and Peter Gabriel’s ‘Melt’. In fact there are already whispers in the dark corners of 4chan and Reddit that the pieces of What.CD are being picked up and put back together by their loyal former users and workers. Perhaps it’s likely these sites will always exist in some shape or form, even if it is only in the shadows.