Digital Music

Music Piracy Continues To Dip Dramatically, But The Industry Is Loathe To Admit It Because It Ruins The Narrative [Op-Ed]

1In this op-ed, Mike Masnick reveals how better-authorized services have, in contrast to increased legal enforcement, been incredibly effective at reducing online piracy, but that the music industry is choosing to ignore the numbers in favor of a different narrative.


Guest post by Mike Masnick of Techdirt

This was wholly predictable, of course. Back in 2015, we released a detailed analytical report showing that the absolute easiest and most effective way to reduce piracy was to to enable more and better licensed services that actually gave users what they were seeking for reasonable prices and fewer restrictions. The data in that report showed that focusing on greater legal enforcement had no long term effects on piracy, but more and better authorized services did the trick every time. Then, earlier this year, we released another report showing that the music industry is in the midst of a massive upswing thanks almost entirely to the rapidly increasing success of licensed music streaming platforms. It was incredibly dramatic to look at the numbers.

Put two and two together, and you'd full expect to see a corresponding dramatic drop in piracy. And, indeed, it appears that's exactly what happened, but the recording industry doesn't want you to realize that. In IFPI's latest release, they play up the idea that piracy is still this huge existential problem.

Sounds bad, right? Later in the report it insists that:

Using unlicensed sources to listen to or download music, otherwise known as copyright infringement, remains a threat to the music ecosystem.

A "threat to the music ecosystem"? It also attacks stream ripping: "Stream ripping is the illegal practice of creating a downloadable file from content that is available to stream online. It is now the most prevalent form of online music copyright infringement." Of course, place shifting/time shifting copyright content has been found to be fair use in the past, so it's pretty rich for the industry to act like it's all bad. My own love of music was fueled from back in the day when I was a kid carefully setting up a tape player to tape my favorite songs off the radio. But, hey, to IFPI it's all evil.

Of course, what IFPI conveniently left out of its report is that these piracy numbers are dropping dramatically. Indeed, IFPI doesn't bother to mention the historical numbers here, because, boy would that really upset the narrative they're pushing.

This year 27% of Internet users classify themselves as music pirates, compared to 38% last year. Similarly, the percentage of stream-rippers dropped from 32% to 23% between 2018 and 2019, which is a rather dramatic decrease.

To put this into perspective, out of every 100 persons who were classified as music pirates last year, 29 kicked the habit. And for every 100 stream-rippers, 28 stopped. These groups obviously overlap, but it’s certainly a major shift.

It is, indeed, a major shift. And certainly correlates quite closely with the similarly dramatic rise in the use of licensed services. And this is during a period of time prior to draconian new copyright enforcement laws were put in place, so it's not like the IFPI has a story to tell about how its new legal regimes helped out here. It seems that the most likely story is exactly what we've said for years. Invest in giving the public what they want, in a reasonable manner at a reasonable price, and piracy kinda goes mostly away as a problem.

What an idea.

If only the IFPI would actually recognize that.

Instead, as Torrentfreak notes, IFPI seems to conveniently ignore its historical narratives when the data proves their fear-mongering was exaggerated or wrong:

Another thing we observed is that the role of search engines is no longer highlighted. This used to be a top priority. In 2016 IFPI reported that 66% of all music pirates used general search engines (e.g. Google) to find pirated music. A year later this went down to 54%, last year it dipped under 50%, and in 2019 it’s not mentioned at all.

For some reason, we think this may have been different if these trends had gone in the other direction. For example, in 2016, IFPI sounded the alarm bell when stream-ripping grew 10% while the 28% drop this year isn’t mentioned.

One wonders why a 10% increase was worth setting off the alarm bells, but a much more massive decrease is wholly ignored or, worse, still presented as evidence of a problem. Actually, no, no one wonders why. We know. It would just be nice if politicians finally recognized that IFPI isn't particularly honest in its framing of all of this. Might have saved us quite a bit of trouble.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice article. Please remember that there are also ILLEGAL Promotional Record Pools such as BPM Supreme, DJ City, Direct Music Service (DMS) AND MANY MORE who sell unlicensed content (back catalog, bootlegs, mashups, etc… as well as distribute worldwide without working with ANY PROs) and makes MILLIONS each month because of it. Sony Music has started taking notice but mainly ignored.

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