We are nearly a generation past the time when consumers bought stand-alone burners to copy CDs for their friends, or began downloading music on Napster. Streaming, and easy, efficient access to music was supposed to have solved many of the issues around unsanctioned sharing and piracy. Unfortunately a segment of music fans continue to acquire music in unsanctioned forms. Legacy forms of piracy through P2P file sharing applications has faded, but the use of websites and apps that facilitate the downloading of music licensed only for streaming is thriving.
How much of a problem is stream-ripping? From the latest MusicWatch Annual Music Study, we estimated that there are 17 million stream-rippers in the US during 2018, up from 15 million in 2017. For context, that’s more people than bought a new vinyl record last year!
Stream-ripping is not a casual activity either. The top 30 percent of streamrippers are copying 112 files, on average – the equivalent of more than 10 full music albums. That may not seem a lot in a world where streaming services hold millions of songs, but ask any rights holder how they feel about someone copying their works. For a more vivid picture imagine someone shoplifting 11 albums from Walmart or Best Buy!
Stream-ripping doesn’t just displace traditional types of music purchasing. MusicWatch consumer research shows that the main reasons cited by people who use stream-rippers are often to substitute for features offered by subscription music streaming services. This includes the ability to load files on their device for access to songs offline, and not having to pay for songs individually.
It’s somewhat absurd that the same search and app platforms that promote legitimate music streaming services don’t do more to discourage apps that promote piracy. One-quarter of users pointed out how they find these stream-ripping apps at the app stores, or through a search. Certainly the app and search companies could do more to educate consumers about which uses potentially constitute copyright infringement. Research shows that stream-rippers are more likely to participate in other unsanctioned forms of music sharing such as downloading songs from unlicensed mobile apps, or sharing on digital lockers. Stream-rippers tend to be better educated and from higher income households, negating the excuse that piracy is driven by lack of financial resources. They are also more likely to go to the movies, play video games and subscribe to Netflix or Hulu. If they’ll pirate music they’ll likely also take movies, tv shows and other forms of intellectual property. Discouraging stream-ripping isn’t just good for music; it’s good for the entire entertainment ecosystem.