Madonna at her 'Confessions' Tour at Wembley A...

Madonna at her ‘Confessions’ Tour at Wembley Arena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Madonna isn’t the first artist to fall victim to pre-release piracy, but her reaction to the leak of her latest recordings is certainly among the most fierce.

“Rebel Heart” isn’t due out until February 2015, and the leaks are described as “unfinished demos,” but the iconic singer described the feeling as “artistic rape” and compared the pirates to terrorists. Against the backdrop of Sony’s recent hack and pulled release of “The Interview” following threats of violence, the comparison doesn’t feel quite as stretched as it might have just a few weeks ago.

Madonna and her marketing team moved quickly to remedy the situation by releasing six new tracks as “an early Christmas gift,” but their hand was clearly forced by the pirate activity. The officially released material quickly rose to the top of the digital charts, indicating that fans are happy to pay for the privilege of listening, though concern remains that many could still hear substandard versions of the new songs, which the singer says were stolen some time ago.

The high-profile Madonna album leaktypifies the many problems with piracy, especially of pre-release material.

Listeners have no way to know that recordings released via torrents and file-sharing sites are the finished product. By assuming as much, any poor quality material could put fans off future listening and break the bond between themselves and the artist. And when record labels are put on the back foot by pre-release piracy, songs can be rushed out in a different format than originally intended, potentially damaging the artistic vision for the release or even reducing the types of product available (such as special editions or merchandise, which is much tougher to release on the fly.) If a label feels like enough sales potential has been lost to the leak that they can’t justify an expanded release strategy, some products that fans really want may never see the light of day.

As for the artist, well Madonna’s choice of words speak volumes…

“Rape,” “terrorism,” and “violated” are not terms to be thrown around lightly, and she clearly feels the pain of her passion and hard work being so callously dumped out into the world for public consumption. Consider how you might feel when your home is broken in to and your personal belongings invaded and/or taken. For Madonna and other artists songs are more than just property, they’re often described as children. Understanding this connection helps us to see where her emotional reaction on this issue stems from.

In the end it comes down to the fans. Those who choose to ignore leaks and trust in the artists they love by supporting their official release decisions not only help the artist, but ensure the best possible listening experience for themselves. The more people choose to trust in illegitimate sources who rip off those same artists, however, only add to the growing gap between listener and musician, which just results in distance and disillusion on both sides.