What Music Piracy Really Looks Like

The changing face of YouTube, music piracy, and stream-ripping (graph of total Americans who pirate music)
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Last year, research group MusicWatch shared data with Digital Music News that showed 53 million Americans actively pirating music content.  But even more shocking was how they were doing it.

Instead of torrenting on the Pirate Bay, more and more piracy is now happening on YouTube via stream-ripping, with direct streaming piracy and storage lockers also mounting threats.

The music industry is blaming YouTube for not paying fairly on free, legal streams.  But they seem to be ignoring a massive surge in YouTube-based stream-ripping, which grew more than 25% last year.

But that’s just the beginning: according to data shared this morning by Muso, a London-based firm that specializes in pirate audiences, mobile-based piracy surged 8 percent alone in the last year alone (more on that below).  That’s just one part of a shift away from ‘traditional’ torrent sites, and heavy movement back to YouTube ripping and web-based MP3 download sites (often through mobile devices.

These are among the many changes tracked by Muso, specifically tracking trends from January through December of 2015.  We’ll hopefully have updates for 2016 soon, but this offers a view of the trends.

1. There are fewer people using torrent sites…

2. There are more people directly downloading music videos from YouTube…

3. There are fewer people actually going to piracy sites…

4. BUT, there are more people going to web-based music download sites…

5. Mobile is a massive source of music acquisition, legal or illegal.

According to Muso, a massive 28% of all visits of pirate hubs in 2015 came from mobile devices.  In total, the company tracked 141 billion visits to more than 14,000 pirate sites, which means roughly 40 billion visits are coming from mobile devices.

6. ‘Popcorn Time’ style pirate streaming is absolutely surging.

In total, Muso counted 12 billion visits to websites solely to stream pirated music content, with 44% of this piracy activity was via mobile devices.  They also found 58 billion visits to websites solely to stream pirated film and TV content online, with 28% tracked via mobile streaming piracy.

7. More people are stream-ripping YouTube from mobile devices than desktop computers.

But the most shocking part is this: mobile-based ripping on YouTube is now bigger than desktop.  In fact, it’s probably easier for most music fans.  “The ripper piracy from mobile devices overtook piracy from desktop devices, growing by 46% last year,” the company relayed.

“The usage of [stream ripper] sites is far larger than many realize, in fact making up 17.7% of all visits to piracy sites for music content.”

39 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I don’t know what’s worse — that pirates steal our work, that they upload it to YouTube in terrible quality more often than not, or that ContentID isn’t available for indie artists (and no: TuneCore, CD Baby and Audiam can not be used for that).

    • CJ

      Actually Youtube is becoming a source to download high quality mp4 files. All that is required is a simple web browser extension which allows you to download music files from VEVO uploads. Most of the extensions have blockers for copyrighted files but with digital media there is always a work around. And it is impossible to track the way torrents are tracked. Also google is not liable for any damages since it actually has taken steps to prevent this exploitation. In all honesty youtube brings more money to the music business by supporting their files than is “lost” through exploitation of the site.

      • Anonymous

        CJ wrote:
        “youtube brings more money to the music business by supporting their files than is “lost” through exploitation of the site.”

        Interesting perspective… it’s a definite possability.

        I’m curious… what was your basis of this assertion? Do you have any facts that demonstrate either the revenue generated by YouTube’s “support” or revenue lost from YouTube’s “exploitation”??

        • CJ

          As for money that youtube directly pays the music industry you can read these two articles



          However there is no way of tracking how many people find music on youtube and then download them from sites like itunes. As for how much exploitation of the site “loses” the industry, that is arguable. The whole $13Billion a year was found in a study done in 2007 by the institute for policy innovation, which receives a whole lot of money from the industry. The study has been extremely criticised by research peers as it is heavily assumption based. Such as the assumption that if those who downloaded the content would have otherwise purchased it. The majority of studies, such as one in the Journal of Political Economy, actually find that illegal downloading causes little to negligible losses in sales. And lack of a gain in money isn’t actually a “loss”. Such as if I don’t win the lottery this weekend I won’t have lost 10 million dollars, I will just not have gained it.

      • Chris Tibb Milelr

        those high quality mp4’s you’re talking about are shitty 128kbps As a Label owner myself nonetheless it still takes money out of my pocket but more importantly my artists. To which I pay them %60 of net sales.

    • James

      Boo hoo cry me a river, I’m not going to spend money on something I can get 100% free.

    • Lippy

      I have come up with a product solution that will prevent future pyracy and illegal distribution of music and , quite possibly, film. I am merely an average guy with humble means…I am praying you or someone you know can help me revolutionize the industry, once again, and give complete control of the product back to the artists and labels…Lipppy Shoutsmore

    • Persons yeah

      I’m writing a report on this, so as soon as I am done, I’ll upload it on here, for y’all to read… Thanks!

  2. Remi Swierczek

    YouTube is immoral concentration camp for music and musicians!
    Between the Tube ad stupidity and Google being the number one Shazam and lyric ID music PIMP we are DEALING WITH MOSTER killing $200B dollars of music goodwill to gain about… $4B dollars in adds!

    Larry Page, Answer my emails! Be fair to creators and YOUR OWN GREED!
    Enjoy Adwords and start use and abuse music in MORAL way! You can control $200 to $300B music industry by 2025.
    Tell FACK YOU to your stupefied medieval legal ZOMBIES!

  3. Jk

    Youtube knows exactly what they’re doing. For example, why did they recently add a tool to their players that allows users to adjust speed/pitch of videos playback? They’re acknowledging that the pirates are bypassing their youtube piracy detection algorithms (by nudging a videos speed up or down a bit) and youtube is giving users the tools necessary to correct the pitch/speed and continue enjoying that pirated content.

    • Kerry Anderson

      Speed control is not a new YouTube player feature. I have been using it for years to speed up lectures. It has nothing to do with pirating music.

      • Paul Resnikoff

        It’s been a feature for a really long time. I think the separate issue comes from uploading slightly slowed or sped up tracks to evade ContentID.

    • Me2

      But here is the problem with the awkward positioning of YouTube’s service mode right now.

      If I use YT to watch cats, how-to, reviews, and generally the stuff that is actually created by the uploaders, there is no problem. Works great.

      But those who use YT to stream music inevitably run into the occasional video that is at the wrong speed, mislabeled, poor quality etc.

      A model based on “User Generated Content” precludes complete quality control over the experience. Even if 90% of the music works fine, it’s still not up to level of a proper, commercial, licensed streaming service.

      Don’t really see any way YT can get around this.

  4. Anonymous

    It amazes me that people just started worrying about this within the last year or so. You used to be able to literally drag the entire .flv file out of the temp folder on some systems. No ripping or extra plugins/apps necessary. This flaw existed for years. Granted it affected many sites and not just Youtube. But no one cared. Youtube downloading has been going on for nearly decade. Many people have built nearly their entire music libraries from Youtube downloading. But we are just now worried about this? Most of the people I know that were doing this have since stopped thanks to easy access to Spotify Free. But this has been a problem for so long.

    Google could kill 99% of it if they wanted. It’s a bit of a mystery as to why they and other similar videos services have been so lax on the issue. Downloading actually does hurt them. Once a video is downloaded, that user no longer has to watch that video/song on Youtube. That means lost ad revenue. Hulu and Netflix don’t have issues with stream ripping.

    • Stephen Hinkle

      I don’t think Google could stop it. In one hand, they could encode things in a way that is harder to copy, but this would not stop someone using an analog cable (headphone port to microphone port connection). Plus there are “fake speaker” drivers that emulate a sound card and turn into a WAV or MP3 file. Stopping stream capture and not caching it is only as good as a browser that will do that. The issue is that any file conversion or other piracy methods are done on the client end and cannot be easily controlled remotely.

  5. Shiemi

    R.I.P YouTube 2006-2009.
    I will always cherish those happy memories.

  6. CJ

    The major issue is what is leading to copyright infringement. Yes, it is “copyright infringement” not “theft”. The music industry has moved to a mostly digital medium that is cheaper, faster, and far easier to distribute. This has cut their cost to produce and sell a product and yet the cost of the product has not dropped at all. This has increased the ease of copying the media, while not decreasing the desirability to do so. The music industry has created this problem itself and continues to blamb sites like youtube, pirate bay, etc for its imagined losses.

    • Armchair Nomad

      I would say it has decreased in price at .99 a song, but that is a small decrease. Now that many tracks are $1.29 the price is about the same as buying a CD, yet there is no physical product. The reason for this is because most of the cost of a CD when they’re mass produced isn’t for the actual product, but for the work that went into making the music. $.99 is a good price. $1.29 is a bit much when there is no physical product in my opinion.

      • CJ

        Also keep in mind the other costs of bringing a CD to the consumer. You are not just paying for the CD to be made. It has to be made, packaged, shipped and sold by a retailer at an increased price. By selling you a digital product directly through ITUNES or spotify labels get to cut out retailers and pay a smaller fee to the digital distributor. Also when retailers would buy CDs they would have to buy tons of them so they did not run out, this meant that they charged YOU the consumer for the cost of the CDs that they eventually could not sell and tossed in a discount bin or the trash. Digital media does not have any of these costs, which should further drive down the price. The CDs that retailers did not sell were still considered by the industry to be sold albums. Now things like that aren’t really happening which is the actual major contributor to the decrease in music sales.

        • Wendy Day

          I can’t ever recall counting shipped CDs rather than sold CDs…I do recall paying 30 cents per CD to press and print…but the REAL cost is still in developing and supporting the talent while they create, marketing and promoting the music (to create the awareness in the marketplace that there is even a 99 cent download available or a .00035 cent stream available to sing along to), recording 50 songs to choose the best 10 or 15, shooting the clever videos, and paying for the radio spins to reach millions of fans quickly. Oh and the cost of getting the new artist in front of the fans since the next Drake isn’t created overnight…that’s about $100 a day to move around on promo tour. But not to worry, if musicians stop making music so they can earn a living elsewhere, we can all always bop to the rhythm our fingers make tapping on the keys while posting opinionated drivel on blogs.

          • Troglite

            Thank you!!! I wanted to post something similar about where the true cost and value exists. It’s not in the copy (whether the media is physical or digital). It’s not in the distribution, either. It’s in the experiencing of listening to the music… which occurs in the physical world. That’s what people choose to pay for (or steal).

            In fairness, both sides of this debate are guilty of painting in broad strokes and selectively using facts that they seldom fully understand. Acting like every musician has a Ferrari for every day of the week is just as large of a distortion as treating individual infringers as if they were commercial scale pirating operations like the Pirate Bay or YouTube would be.

    • Troglite

      Manufacturing costs account for less than 10% of the retail price of a new CD. If the recording industry passed those savings on to consumers, I am rather certain the impact on piracy would be negligible.

      Infringement and theft produce the same outcome for the musician/songwriter: their legal right to set the price for licensing their art is subverted. It’s a difference with little or no practical meaning.

      I actually have more respect for people who just openly admit they don’t want to pay for a song as opposed to trying to justify their actions as some form of socio-economic justice.

      • Me2

        +1 That’s what it’s really about. The rest is song and dance, and a lot of misconceptions about how the business actually works. Just admit it.

      • CJ

        I wouldn’t really call it socio-economic justice. More just how macroeconomics works. The industry saw moving to digital medium as a way to cut costs, and therefore make a larger profit. Nothing wrong with that. At the same time they did not have the foresight to see the possible repercussions inherent with such a change.

    • Versus

      Of course the costs have come down.
      Consider what CDs typically cost in the 80s, 90s, 2000s. Remember to correct for inflation.

  7. Humanity

    You can’t steal something that’s without physical form and infinitely copyable. The value of an infinitely copyable medium has simply adjusted in line with the cost of distribution. Distribution costs almost nothing, therefore the copy is worth almost nothing. Therefore, instead of lamenting about the lowered value of recorded articles, move into a new paradigm. Understand that instead of “selling” things, with the internet, you can simply MAKE things and know that if people see worth in it, they WILL pay to see it voluntarily. It’s called busking, traditionally. Online it’s being a patron of the arts. If you doubt this can work, simply look at the rising volume of funds being harnessed by sites like Patreon. If the RIAA/MPAA and other organizations lowered their egos and saw this for what it is, there would be no crime for sharing. Because that’s what it is. Sharing.

    In other words, appeal to those with the love for the art, not the copies. It works, and it’s scaleable.

    • Versus

      “You can’t steal something that’s without physical form and infinitely copyable. The value of an infinitely copyable medium has simply adjusted in line with the cost of distribution.”

      Yes, you can. That’s exactly the meaning of “intellectual property” as distinguished from its medium, physical or digital.

    • Robert Lee Wheatley

      “You can’t steal something that’s without physical form and infinitely copyable.”
      I presume you’re good then if I steal your identity?

      Robert Lee Wheatley
      ASCAP Member

    • Versus

      ” Who is wrong- the people, or the regulation authorities- is a tough question!”

      Is it? Whether stealing intellectual property is right or wrong is a “tough question”?

      • CJ

        Hmmm lets see…. Grouping absolutely everyone who downloads something through a torrent as a thief? And automatically prosecuting them as such? Many people who download are doing so to replace file that had already legally been purchased, or want to try something before they buy it. The Industry ends up suing customers who actually do purchase content. Alienating their fans. Yeah totally in the right…

        Alternative…. Encourage people to WANT to pay for your product. Such as everyone who buys your next album off of itunes gets entered into a sweepstakes for 10 free backstage passes. Include random signed CDs in store sold albums. Shoot T-shirts into your crowd at concerts. Have a contest to design your next album cover or to be part of a music video. You know, respect your fans who are the reason you drive a ferrari. Rather than blame them for you not having one for each day of the week.

  8. KcidKcus

    I love how I can download a video off of YouTube and then convert it to .mp3 all via a single shell script! Paying for music is just so very 1990s-ish! Here’s the shell script I use to accomplish all this:



    youtube-dl –ignore-errors –get-title –get-url –get-filename “$url” > $TMP_FILE 2> “/tmp/$TMP_FILE.err”

    exec 42< $TMP_FILE

    while read video_title <&42 ; do
    read video_url <&42
    read video_filename <&42
    wget "$video_url" -O "$video_filename"
    ffmpeg -i "$video_filename" "$video_filename.wav"
    if [ -z "$path" ]; then
    ffmpeg -i "$video_filename.wav" -ar 44100 -ab 160k -ac 2 "$video_title.mp3"
    ffmpeg -i "$video_filename.wav" -ar 44100 -ab 160k -ac 2 "$video_title.mp3"
    rm -f "$video_filename" "$video_filename.wav"

    exec 42<&-
    rm -f $TMP_FILE

    This only works if you have a *nix-type OS(e.g. Mac OS X, Linux, etc.). If you're using Windows, I guess you can go to http://www.youtube-mp3.org. For this shell script to work, you need to have youtube-dl, ffmpeg, and wget installed beforehand. Now, just copy & paste the above into a text file and leave off the .txt extension. Name the file youtube2mp3. Then, open up a terminal window in the folder you have that file in. In the terminal window, type 'chmod +x youtube2mp3' and press enter. Next, place the file in a system folder such as /opt/local/bin/ or /usr/local/bin/ so that you can use the shell script no matter what folder you open up a terminal window in. When you're ready to use the shell script, open up a terminal window and type youtube2mp3 and press enter. In about 2 or 3 minutes later, you’ll have the song ripped from the YouTube video in mp3 format. 🙂

    • Chris Tibb Miller

      it compresses the track format from whatever it was uploaded in usually 320kbps and what you get is shitty 128kbps after the compression. I myself am a Label owner and have to deal with shit like this daily and It never ends. real DJ’s will pay for their music and get the .wav or 320kbps but it doesnt stop there, fake credit cards used to buy the track from a website then once confirmed stolen. the royalties are then refunded and the track gets downloaded in high quality for no pay to my artists or myself. I told some sites to stop accepting credit cards and just use PayPal ONLY which is a lot harder to con, Simply put they “didnt want to hear it”.

  9. Robert Lee Wheatley

    Public libraries need to stop “lending” digital music. It is so easy to “Napster” it that way.

    Robert Lee Wheatley
    ASCAP Member