In 2013, Bruno Mars was the most pirated artist in the world.
It is another example of how popular American movies and music are abroad but exports have been falling sharply in the past year. The industry blames this on piracy and hopes it can be curbed by more intellectual property protections.
But dropping exports of recorded media is unlikely to grow despite efforts to include copyright provisions in trade pacts unless the industry embraces other forms of distribution.
The United States government is currently in the process of negotiating trade pacts and one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), may include copyright provisions. But these provisions may not have a stronger impact on recorded media exports.
“All the TPP countries, except perhaps for Vietnam, already have strong copyright laws that are in the same ballpark as U.S. law. Indeed, most countries around the world already have relatively strong laws on the books, and enforcement is improving as well,” said copyright lawyer Jonathan Band.
“The key to lower levels of infringement is a business model that provide consumers with low cost, convenient alternatives.”
Recorded media exports—encompassing music, movies and games—fell 9 percent in 2013 alone. Exports have declined 26 percent over the last four years, according to the Commerce Department.
The music and movie industry have been pushing the government to deal with the issue of piracy for a long time.
Economists note it is difficult to estimate how much of an economic impact recorded media piracy has had. Several studies have placed a $12.5 billion loss for the music industry and $6.1 billion for film.
“Piracy undermines markets, both on and offline, and effective and modern copyright protection would minimize current market distortions caused by piracy,” said Neil Turkewitz, Recording Industry Association of America executive vice president for international.
One way the industries have sought to combat piracy is by lobbying for intellectual property discussions in hopes negotiations for trade pacts like the TPP will include certain provisions.
The TPP– an agreement that involves Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, and Vietnam– seeks to expand trade opportunities throughout the region.
But despite the modest impact of including intellectual property provisions in the TPP, it is fully supported by the music and movie industry as it supports most free trade agreements.
A statement from the Motion Picture Association of America noted “trade pacts help protect U.S. jobs by reducing trade barriers and protecting against discriminatory trade practices.”
“We strongly support the negotiation of free trade agreements to enhance the levels of intellectual property protection so that market forces can operate without distortion,” said Turkewitz.
He added the industry does not yet have a formal position on the TPP because its full provisions have not been public.
The U.S. Trade Representative puts together a yearly list of countries that have issues maintaining copyright protection called the Special 301 list. This list also includes countries where BitTorrent sites– websites where people can freely download copyrighted material without permission– are registered.
Countries in the list include Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam all of which are TPP parties. Inclusion in the list of some countries, like Canada, is either because copyright laws are being updated or additional watchdogs in the Customs Department.
But these websites and piracy exist for a reason, because people want access to the material quickly, cheaply and if possible for free.
Economists and copyright experts believe it is alternative methods of delivery, like iTunes and Spotify, which will increase sales across borders.
“I think the place where the impact would be greatest is in spreading different types of legal download and streaming sharing services, and also perhaps ad-supported sites like Yahoo,” said Lisa Hunter, economics professor at Hunter College said.
“In the context of new trade agreements, tighter intellectual property rules would be expected to lead to a bump in sales, but the effect is likely to be modest.”
These alternatives, said Hunter, have even fed into the popularity of American acts fueling ticket sales and provide larger revenue for the industry.
Both Hunter and Band, the copyright lawyer, noted the slow adoption of alternative distribution methods have caused a significant shift in the way products are sold.
These days, the recording industry sells more digital copies of singles than CDs thanks to the popularity of services like iTunes.
American films still have a strong global market penetration but with the availability of movies in sites like Amazon and Netflix, there has also been a decline in sales of DVDs and Blu-Ray.
Hunter noted the recording and movie industries took too long to develop ways to deliver products that consumers liked so firms are only now experimenting with ways to distribute the digital format.
“While piracy will continue to exist, it will not likely make the same headlines that it made for music,” she said.