4 Brutal Realities of Modern-Day Piracy…


The following guest post comes from Russ Crupnick, a longtime music researcher and current partner at MusicWatch.

The entertainment press ended 2014 with several big stories.  Front pages covered Taylor Swift’s decision to pull her songs from Spotify.  The story was accompanied by news suggesting that 2015 might bring a re-evaluation of free streaming or, at least, serious thoughts about windowing music.  The Sony cyber-attack was followed by threats regarding the release of The Interview.

I saw a thread to these stories.  Sony provided wide distribution of the movie via sanctioned on-demand outlets.  Why then were people compelled to illegally download “The Interview”?  Torrentfreak reported 1.5 million downloads through BitTorrent, and that was just in the first 48 hours post release.  You couldn’t claim ignorance of where to legally stream the movie; scarcity wasn’t a problem.

On the other hand, if it became harder to find “Shake It Off,” where would fans go?  Would they pay for a track or a view of the video?  Would they migrate to the same dark places as those who viewed The Interview?

Let’s put piracy on the front page for a moment.


Reality #1: Despite more than a decade of education and litigation and a blossoming of legal distribution outlets, we know that some consumers are simply prone to steal intellectual property.

The fact is the psychology of free still permeates the music industry.  In 2013, about half the music Americans acquired was from sharing. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) who were asked about their music search habits reported looking for “digital music downloads for free”.  Nearly 20 million Americans still use P2P file sharing services to illegally obtain songs and albums.

It is not just “kids”; half of those who illegally download music over P2P networks are over the age of 35.

Nearly two decades after Napster you have to conclude these folks are aware of what they are doing, and simply don’t care about the legality or morality.


Reality #2: Technology creates new forms of piracy and creates more confusion about what is legal.

Smartphones have driven a resurgence in mobile music, but not without a dark side.  In a recent MusicWatch study, we estimated that 27 million people used a mobile app to get free music illegally.  For context, that’s more than used Spotify in the same three month period (in the US), or Google Play Music and iTunes Radio combined.  These folks download about the equivalent of two albums each year using those apps.

It’s not just apps, or P2P.  To get a complete picture of piracy in 2015 you must add in the video streamrippers, the digital locker users, and the drive swappers.  Parsing what is illegal is harder today.  Technology has evolved to the point where unsanctioned alternatives sometimes reside next to legal licensed alternatives.

Reality #3: The good citizens welcome help finding reputable places to obtain entertainment content.

In the Spring of 2003, there was national media coverage that an anti-piracy litigation program was coming. After that it is was hard to claim ignorance that P2P music sharing was illegal. The number of P2P file sharers plummeted after this industry litigation initiative was announced.

Word travels — in fact, word of mouth is the dominant way users learn about today’s illegal music services. However,  one-quarter of the people who use these illegal services learn about them via search engines. Would a search “badge of approval” help? Eighty-five percent of digital music consumers agreed that an icon indicating that a search result was for a legal, authorized music service would have an impact on where they went to listen or download music. The majority of consumers express a preference for searches that help them find legal and reputable services or sites.


Reality #4: Could limiting content availability fuel more piracy?

The ad supported (they aren’t free) streaming services deserve credit for helping dampen piracy. Several years ago P2P cessation was driven by fear of litigation or the awful experience of corrupt files and spyware. These days, folks who stop or do less P2P file sharing most often cite availability of legal ad supported audio or video streaming  streaming services.  The impact of piracy must be included in any discussion about windows or limits on free streaming options. Some artists will benefit from legal scarcity. Other artists may be victimized by elevated piracy.

I’m sure a few readers will say “enough” about piracy, especially in a world increasingly dominated by legal streaming.  That would be a mistake.

The numbers highlight the extent of piracy that continues to exist.  Millions of consumers need help transitioning from ownership to legal access alternatives.

Most consumers claim to be open to educational messages. The industry needs to point fans to the legal streaming services, and promote the ad-supported model as a pathway to subscription. That will take time.  In the meantime, more legal listening hours will attract more advertising revenue.

As for the confirmed pirates—the only solution for that group will be to build walls around their illegal consumption and sharing.

10 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Reality #1: Despite more than a decade of education and litigation and a blossoming of legal distribution outlets, we know that some consumers are simply prone to steal intellectual property.

    Consumers are not the only ones engaging in the theft of Intellectual Property, and that in and of itself is a huge problem that permeates back to the consumer. Some are educated enough to understand the bigger picture of what actually goes on, and therefore justify it to themselves, as in if their leaders and custodian corporations are not going to act legally and legitimately and fairly, then they therefore are simply following by example, and that is a huge problem in the grand scheme of things when those same people want to lock everything up… That doesn’t make it right, i still choose not to pirate or steal, even midst more reason then most people to do so, but i am lenient and understanding of those who do so for this reason, as it needs to stop…

    Reality #2: Technology creates new forms of piracy and creates more confusion about what is legal.

    I disagree on the confusion part… It does move ahead of legislation and law and therefore that is what makes it confusing, overall its a pretty easy thing to know what is right and what is wrong, getting it enforced and the courts setting precedents, that is a whole other matter…

    Technology, i mean, ever since it went to 1’s and 0’s without a proper digital network set up, that is the problem, nothing is creating a new form of piracy, its the same thing, just some different tools here and there…

    Reality #3: The good citizens welcome help finding reputable places to obtain entertainment content.

    This is a difficult one… There are plenty of people, many older, who believe they shouldn’t download for free and therefore make a stern effort to pay for their downloads and subsequently make sure to let everyone know, yet they themselves support and are engaged in even worse crimes and acts of theft, therefore to say a good citizen is one who finds reputable sources for entertainment is a huge oversight and a total fallacy… A good citizen can be many things, and in times of tyranny and/or oppressive regimes, a good citizen might actually be one that appears bad…

    Would you consider Mandela a good citizen or a bad one??? At the end of his life, i think most people can agree he was a tip-top citizen, however back in the day was considered a violent extremist, yet it was his government and country and the societal mindset that led him to such acts of supposed terror, therefore, unfortunately, we cannot know what is good or bad unless given a certain amount of time to see things through, to give people chances and opportunities, to peel enough layers to create transparency, and to clean up injustices… The hard part is knowing which side is committing the injustices and which side is acting rightfully, whether righteously or not…

    Turing was possibly one of the best citizens around yet got treated like his life wasn’t worth anything and like he was putrid scum of society, a terribly bad citizen, and he was essentially murdered because of it, so i think what a good citizen is, is largely up for debate…

    Reality #4: Could limiting content availability fuel more piracy?

    If the digital network had been constructed properly, piracy would barely even exist if at all, and everyone would be getting compensated fairly and paying fairly, the ecosystem would be healthy, scams would be less, and everyone would be engaged and have reason to contribute, everything would be healthier and brighter and better, instead it was done wrong, its scam city and pimp city and most people are all me me me me with hardly any reason to contribute unless paid or funded to do so… It’s a terribly shame and possibly one of the biggest oversights in human history…

    • small labe1

      …. did you seriously just compare your pirate-self to Mandela? are you ‘effing joking?
      And spare me the “Im the one who pays bs”… anyone that typed that nonesense above has so much justification oozing out of their pores, that they actually think they typed a ‘balanced’ take on the situation.
      Who are these corrupt artists that make stealing from them such a difficult choice?

      • Anonymous

        …. did you seriously just compare your pirate-self to Mandela? are you ‘effing joking?

        I’m sorry??

        Confused i am…

        What evidence do you have to substantiate your claim i’m a Pirate?

        Please re-read my post, in there you will see evidence and a statement of fact to the absolute contrary of your assertion, so i’m totally baffled by your inflammatory suggestions and character defamation, which is a serious and heinous crime my man and which with strong enough action could be taken up a few levels to the point i initiate litigation against such public claims… so please, tread carefully when reading and replying to me, thanks for your understanding!

        Whoever even said i was talking about myself or comparing myself or even anyone to Mandela?? Not on trial here testifying to the judge over actions or crimes here, i don’t do that stuff, which if you would have carefully read my post, you will see i say as such within it…


        And spare me the “Im the one who pays bs”… anyone that typed that nonesense above has so much justification oozing out of their pores, that they actually think they typed a ‘balanced’ take on the situation.
        Who are these corrupt artists that make stealing from them such a difficult choice?

        I’m not sure i understand the part about sparing you i’m the one that pays b.s.?? What do you mean with that statement?

        Also what do you mean corrupt artists making stealing from them a difficult choice??

        What does that even mean bud??

        the incorrect dots some people connect and the assumptions some make and jump to and then act upon is a scary thing indeed…

        if you are just fishing for a more exhaustive addendum like extrapolation of my posts, just kindly ask my man and i will be happy to come forth with further explanations that might better help you understand exactly what i am saying…

  2. Willis

    I really miss the eye patches, wooden legs and parrots. Today’s piracy just isn’t like it used to be.

  3. Musicservices4less

    I basically agree with all that Russ stated. But the only way to start to get piracy under control (it will never be completely eliminated) is to support the change in FCC classification of ISPs from a Title I to Title II. All the arguments how this will effect Net Neutrality, DMCA Safe Harbor, etc. are Red Herrings to distract from the real issue of how the Internet now needs to be looked at. Internet access IS a utility. Tell me how it is different from home gas, electricity, sewage or water? Here are the basic elements of a “Utility”: 1) We all need it and it is or delivered and is “man-made” (it is not air) 2); it should be available to everyone at a reasonable price; 3) that price must be reviewed periodically; 4) legal business considerations should have a voice but not control; and, finally, 5) in our country, the way that this is accomplished is by government regulation and oversight. So sorry to Republicans and big business.
    But most importantly of all, as respect for the law by everybody is held extremely high in this country, the government must have complete control of the Internet in areas of illegality and security. Again, this is some our country’s basic principles. And uncontrolled copyright infringement (Piracy) falls under the area of illegality whether an individual considers it major or minor illegality is irrelevant. That is a personal opinion. If you don’t like what the government eventually determines, get out and vote!
    Support the change from FCC classification of ISPs from Title I to Title II. All else is futile!

    • Versus

      If Internet access is a utility, then access should be cut off for those who utilize it for illegal purposes.

  4. Musicservices4less

    One more thing. Let’s end the Wild, Wild West of the Internet. I think we had enough of that and let’s deal with the Internet on a more appropriate level of civilization and intelligence. Or we can stick our heads in the sand like some do with the issue of Global Warming and say I don’t know if it really exists. I don’t know if we should spend any money to save White Rhinos. It may raise our taxes. Too f’ing bad. We need to do these things and now!

  5. Dan

    1 – Thieves will always steal – lets make it as difficult as we can and start sending the hosts of these pirate sites to jail where they belong.

    2 – technology knows what it is doing and has its get out of jail “Safe Harbour” to hide behind – amend that and the problem will cease to exist as again they will be criminally liable.

    3 – honest people always know how to purchase or use free legal options

    4 – creating demand causes piracy? No scumbags stealing and facing no penalty for allowing others to do the same is the problem – not creating demand. Porsche create demand yet if you steal their product you go to jail – Music? no worries just help yourself and if I can make money from helping you (yes I’m looking at you Google you cunts) all the better

    • Versus

      Thank you for saying all this. The solutions exist. We know that technology can block certain kinds of sites (such as other kinds of illegal activity). Why is the political will lacking?

      Are musicians so afraid to alienate their fans? Those stealing your music are not your fans. Actions speak louder than words.

  6. Anonymaus

    Dan’s comment got it right and I think most of the points highlighted in this article are pretty obvious to most people but it does seem to be too simplistic to just blame users.
    I was researching music piracy for a project recently and came across a rather long article that examines the piracy ecosystem….maybe one has to look at the whole.


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