Despite the rise of streaming services, music piracy persists

·2-min read
Eight million American Internet users illegally downloaded music from a peer-to-peer (P2P) site or "torrent" network in 2020.

Music industry professionals were hoping that streaming would put an end to piracy. But it hasn't worked out that way. One in five US internet users still download music files illegally, according to a new report by MusicWatch.

The illegal download and sharing of music files introduced by Napster, Limewire and the like led to a vision of piracy that was so pervasive that it was once thought to be unalterable. And then came the streaming platforms like Spotify. They worked hard to convince consumers that it was better to pay for music. A paradigm shift that led some commentators to believe that music piracy's days were numbered.

But that hasn't happened yet, according to Russ Crupnick, a MusicWatch analyst. Eight million US internet users over the age of 13 illegally downloaded music from a peer-to-peer (P2P) site or "torrent" network in 2020. But the phenomenon is even more significant if we take into account all the modes of piracy that exist, or the "badquisition" in the jargon of MusicWatch. Fifty-four million Americans obtained music files fraudulently last year. That's one in five internet users.

The ease of piracy

Many of them have engaged in "stream ripping," an illegal practice that consists of making a permanent copy of streaming content. MusicWatch estimates in a post on Hypebot that there are 16 million stream-rippers in the United States. In addition to stream ripping and illegal downloads through P2P and torrent networks, some mobile applications are popular with unscrupulous music lovers for pirating music files. That would be the case for 23 million Americans.

However, one question remains: at a time when streaming services offer access to catalogs of millions of tracks, why do some people still resort to music piracy? It's because it's easy to do... and because of a lack of knowledge about some of the features of Spotify and other services. According to MusicWatch, most people who download music illegally do so to be able to listen to their favorite songs without having an internet connection. An option that all streaming services now offer.

"Since the majority of 'Badquirers' actually pay for a streaming service this suggests many aren't aware that they can save music from their service to listen when offline. Building awareness around this functionality might help to dampen Badquisition," notes Russ Crupnick. A small price to pay to put an end to music piracy.

Caroline Drzewinski