Music Tech

Spotify Killed Piracy? 57M In U.S. Still Pirate Music, Says New Survey

piracyAccording to the prevailing wisdom, education, judicial action, Spotify, Pandora and streaming music that makes a free or almost free infinite jukebox available to everyone, has killed piracy. But that's not true, according to a new study by MusicWatch


Despite the best efforts of the music industry, the acquisition of unlicensed music from unsanctioned sources has not gone away, according to a new MusicWatch study.

In 2004, it was estimated that 41 million in the US illegally downloaded music from P2P networks. In 2015, that number fell 22M.  But in 2015, there are more ways for fans to acquire unlicensed music like stream ripping from YouTube and elsewhere, downloading from storage lockers, mobile apps, and hard drive swaps.


The MusicWatch study estimates that in 2015,  57 million Americans are engaging in some form of  unlicensed music acquisition.  They've dubbed the practice “badquisition:” acquiring music from bad or unlicensed sources. And even people who pay for music still also pirate it.  According to the survey, 35% of music buyers (CD or download) reported also getting at least one song from an unsanctioned source. 

Why Do People Still Pirate Music?

With iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer and other free and affordable music services available, why would anyone need to still participate in “badquisition” of music? According to the survey: 

  1. Ownership Matters – The migration to access was supposed to eliminate the need (and desire) for owning music. Consumers disagree. Research shows “badquirers” want to own the music. They also want it available on their smartphones. Some express concerns about data usage but ownership is a higher priority.
  2. Ubiquity Fosters Selectivity – As expected, many “badquirers” report getting files because they are free, or at least cheaper. But it is more complicated than that – there are tracks they like and want to own, but not enough to pay for. Streamripping, mobile download apps and P2P provide an avenue for obtaining those files and permit listeners to image from www.allofus.debe more selective in what they buy.
  3. Technology is a Lubricant –“Badquirers” often turn to video services when they want to listen to a song. One-third of those who do so are also streamripping music. They often do an internet search for the song or artist which, coincidentally, is the leading way they learn about unsanctioned sources for music. The study estimated a 50% increase in the number of streamrippers in the US between the end of 2013 and early 2015. There are nearly as many streamrippers in the US as folks who illegally download music files from P2P networks.
  4. Ambiguity – 73% of “badquirers” agreed with this statement; “I assume any music app that I can download from an official app store is licensed by artists and rights holders.” 58% said it was easy to determine whether a site that has free music is licensed by artists and rights holders—42% disagreed.
  5. Communication Breakdown? “ – Badquirers” are getting music that they believe is officially released, but is not available on streaming services or they can’t find it on CDs or downloads. And yes, they also look for remixes and bootlegs unlikely to be found on licensed services. Are consumers well informed on what is available on streaming services? Does more need to be done with pre-release alerts? Or is there indeed a gap in catalogs?
  6. They are Heavier Music Buyers – People using unlicensed options for music acquisition are otherwise good customers, spending $33 per capita on CDs and paid digital downloads. The US average is $19 per capita. Half of them bought a CD or download last year, which is a higher percentage than the population as a whole. They are also more likely to stream, including using paid services such as Spotify Premium. However, the $33 per capita is less than the $45 expenditure of the average music buyer.

image from www.musicwatchinc.comStudy Methodology:

"The MusicWatch “Badquisition” study was conducted among 1000 US respondents aged 13-50 who were screened for use of one of seven unlicensed forms of music acquisition including P2P file sharing, streamripping, mobile apps and other forms of file transfer. The data was weighted to quotas from MusicWatch’s Annual Music Study (AMS) which monitors music acquisition and listening activities. This was an online survey completed December 2015. Expenditures and population estimates were derived from AMS and based on internet using population aged 13 and older."

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1 Comment

  1. Would be interesting to see what happens to the piracy numbers when you take out people downloading Taylor Swift, Adele, and the other artists who have resisted streaming.

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