Music Pirates Are Still Making Waves

It is no secret that the music industry took a hit when the digital age took hold. One of the biggest reasons for this was the exponential growth in piracy that came with high-speed digital downloading. With sites like Napster and LimeWire spearheading this new digital piracy around the turn of the century, users could download whatever music they wanted for free. Music sales and revenue plummeted. And the industry has been slow to catch up.

The legitimate music downloading business has since grown, and the rise of streaming services has begun to offset the loss of revenue from digital music piracy. But although many pirating sites have been shut down, piracy is still alive and well. In earning an online Master of Music in Music Business and Entertainment Industries from the Frost School of Music, students will study the complexities of modern piracy in the recorded music business and important developments in copyright protection in the digital age.

What Is Stream Ripping?

Digital music streaming has also led to the development of what is known as stream ripping, the latest form or piracy. Simply put, stream ripping is when a person uses an app or website program that allows them to illegally "rip" or permanently download a song when streaming it on YouTube, Spotify or other legitimate sources. Stream ripping is an unintentional and unfortunate byproduct of streaming technology.

What Is the Current State of Music Piracy?

Music piracy has changed, but is still prevalent on an international level. According to a 2016 report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), 35 percent of internet users still listen to pirated (unlicensed) music content in some form. This can be from a number of sources, such as illegal downloading sites, peer-to-peer sharing networks like torrent websites, unlicensed streaming services, or stream ripping.

Plus, many people in and out of the industry assume that piracy has died off due to free and low cost streaming. But, according to data and forecasts like the Cisco Visual Networking Indexes, peer-to-peer file sharing has grown substantially in the last decade and will continue to do so.

Do Streaming Services Really Balance Out Piracy?

Answers to this question vary. Of course streaming services like Spotify claim that the convenience and free or low cost of legal streaming has helped to outmode illegal downloading sources, along with adding substantial revenue to the music industry. And this claim is well-supported in the exponential growth of streaming service users, both free and paying. A report by the European Commission also found that Spotify "displaces music piracy."

But Spotify also displaces permanent, legal downloads. And while revenue from streaming services has started to reverse the digital age decline in music industry revenue, it has also concentrated that revenue as profit for said streaming services.

Copyright law is still undergoing reform to incorporate the fair distribution of digital streaming revenue. Songwriters, publishers, recording artists and record labels have generally received substandard royalties from streaming, as compared to royalties from traditional sources. So although streaming may displace piracy for the industry as a whole, this revenue has so far been slow to trickle down to other factions of the industry.

What Can Be Done About Modern Piracy?

Online service providers (OSP) like YouTube are somewhat protected by "safe harbor" laws when unknowingly hosting copyright infringing material. However, copyright owners can notify OSPs of infringement and request them to take the material down (which they are required to do).

Large music companies and courts are taking a legal approach to shutting down illegal pirating sites, although many resurface shortly thereafter under a different domain name. And many sharing sites do not technically host copyrighted material, so they can be hard to prosecute. Stream ripping will prove even more difficult to stop until technology is designed to combat it (and app stores weed out infringing apps).

But perhaps the most important deterrent to modern piracy lies in educating consumers about the importance of supporting sources of legal, licensed music. After all, if piracy continues to shift money away from the people who create music, those artists will not be able to continue making the music that consumers want. Music piracy is as bad for music lovers as it is for the music industry.

Learn more about Frost Online's Master of Music in Music Business and Entertainment Industries (MBEI) program.


IFPI: The Recording Industry's Ability to Develop the Digital Marketplace Is Undermined by Piracy

Engadget: Spotify Really Does Reduce Music Piracy, But at a Cost

EU Science Hub: Streaming Reaches Flood Stage: Does Spotify Stimulate or Depress Music Sales?

Business Insider: The Rise of Music Streaming Services Hasn't Killed Music Piracy

IFPI: Music Consumer Insight Report 2016

The Wall Street Journal: Music Industry's Latest Piracy Threat: Stream Ripping

Statista: Music Piracy Still Prevalent in the Age of Streaming

Forbes: What Exactly Is Stream-Ripping, The New Way People Are Stealing Music

Digital Music News: If You Think Piracy Is Decreasing, You Haven't Looked at the Data

Cisco: Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2008-2013

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