No, Forrest, we're definitely talking past one another. This is why: "What I saw was an attempt on your part to impute hypocrisy or disingenuous motivations to artists and labels with a legitimate complaint..."
I don't view financial concerns as "disingenuous motivations" and I don't consider it "hypocrisy" for a label to be concerned with the bottom line. A label that isn't concerned with its bottom line is going to have an awfully difficult time surviving in a rapidly changing marketplace.
It might be the case that you in particular are not concerned with the financial implications of piracy. As you implied, stealing--regardless of the financial implications of what was stolen--is stealing nonetheless. And I can certainly appreciate why this issue on its own would be of concern to artists and lawyers, not to mention artistic lawyers.
But I find it hard to accept your assumption that most record labels' interest in piracy has nothing to do with a concern for how piracy affects sales. I've heard several people involved in the industry explicitly state that they believe that piracy hurts sales. I don't think it is presumptuous of me to make the inferences I'm making on the basis of such claims. And, to be clear, I don't think there is anything disingenuous about a business being concerned with factors that might undermine their bottom line.
The reason I am pushing the economic side of this so strongly is that I have a genuine interest in supporting the labels and musicians that I admire and respect. And when I hear people involved with the labels I love say things like "We don't know if we can sustain this enterprise because of piracy" it worries me and leads me to two questions:
(a) What would it take to make the enterprise more sustainable?
(b) Is piracy really the reason why sales are down?
This latter question matters for people like me who want to see our genre not only survive, but grow. If our focus on piracy leads us to fail to consider other possible (and potentially more potent) explanations for decreases in sales, then our preoccupation with the issue might be leading us down the wrong path.
What factors, other than piracy, may help explain why sales are suffering? I'm no industry analyst, but I would venture that some of the following factors matter:
1. When people can stream music for free over Spotify and Pandora, they don't need to buy music in order to hear the music they wish to hear. This legal alternative could potentially be responsible for a large part of diminishing sales.
2. As a few people noted earlier in the thread (e.g., Castleview), the entertainment landscape has changed considerably over the past decade. Do I want to spend money on a CD? Or would I rather (a) play an MMO or Skyrim, (b) chat with friends on Facebook, (c) argue with internet trolls on Twitter, (d) read a book on my Kindle, (e) watch a movie on Netflix that I can get instantly without having to drive to the video store? These (legal) alternatives to buying music could explain diminishing sales of music.
3. Because of the Internet, the pool of music that is available to fans has grown exponentially. When I'm trying to decide how to spend my $25 this week, I'm not just choosing between Steve Roach and Robert Rich. There are 100s of artists I'd like to support and 100s of CDs I'd like to buy. Because there is more music available to consumers these days, a typical artist is likely to experience a decrease in sales regardless of the effects of piracy.
An important point here is that, independent of piracy, there are at least three good explanations for why labels might have seen a decrease in sales over the past 15 years. A label is free to invest money in issuing take downs, suing customers, and lobbying politicians for new laws. But doing so may not be in the label's best interests economically, especially when those efforts come at the expense of thinking more broadly and creatively about other factors that drive sales and the way the world is continuing to change.
Regarding point (a): What would it take to make the enterprise more sustainable?
I don't know. As Julio noted, something needs to change. I've called attention to some things that I know influence my own buying habits (e.g., being able to preview an album first, lower prices on digital releases, making the physical product special), but those strategies might not work for all consumers.
I also suspect that we need to rethink *who* the consumers are in this genre. I assume the potential market for ambient music isn't college students who like to attend dance parties. It is probably composed of people who are collectors, audiophiles, and musicians themselves. So, finding ways to get more money from Spotify, for example, might not be the right kind of strategy for increasing the financial viability of ambient labels. But exploring other options, such as bundling digital downloads (available on purchase, as with BC) with purchases of the physical product, might be one solution that both embraces new technology while appealing to the collector mentality. I also think one solution is to focus on high-quality releases. Just because you can release something doesn't mean you should. Also, simply acknowledging that there are communities out there and embracing them can help a lot. I know people here have expressed their disdain for self-promotion. I can relate to that. But simply "knowing" who someone is--even via online platforms--makes them more human. And, at least for me, that makes me want to buy their work.