Has Music Piracy Declined in Recent Years?

by JRO on October 30, 2013

  • SumoMe

It seems like only yesterday that the Artists Against Piracy group (featuring Metallica, Alanis Morissette, Christina Aguilera, Blink-182, Sarah McLachlan, Garth Brooks, and other musicians) was launching a full-frontal assault on Internet music. This clash of the titans came during a moment of pivotal change in the music industry: the early 2000s. Many people point to Napster as the service that kicked off the digital music revolution. And while there were a number of services that pre-dated Napster (e.g. Sony Connect, Pressplay, Zune Marketplace, etc) it was obvious that near the turn of the century, fans were yearning for a new way to consume music.

Music Piracy Today

It is difficult to accumulate accurate data about music piracy on the Internet. Seeing as how it is illegal, people won’t often freely admit that they use peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. However, the NPD group recently released a study showing a steady decline in P2P file sharing since 2007. More specifically, the percentage of the U.S. Internet population that uses P2P networks has decreased from 16 percent (about 28 million users) at the end of 2007 to roughly 9 percent (16 million) at the end of 2010. Over the same time period the average number of music files downloaded from P2P networks dropped from 35 per user to 18. Even further, the number of people who burn and rip CDs, swap music files on hard drives, and download music from digital lockers has also decreased.

Online piracy is a very popular scapegoat for the precipitous decline in traditional music sales (30 percent decline from 2004 to 2009), but with only 9 percent of people admitting that they use P2P networks, there has to be another part to this story…and there is.

Apple iTunes

Perhaps the most important development in this “revolution” came in 2003 with the launch of Apple’s iTunes store. Before iTunes, it was very difficult to “unbundle” albums if you only wanted one or two songs from an artist. This forced a large number of consumers into the illegal black market to avoid footing the bill for a bunch of songs they really didn’t want. What’s more, the digital music players available at the turn of the century were often difficult to operate. But with the fully integrated iTunes-to-iPod solution, consumers could have “1,000 songs in their pocket.”

Easy Access to Music You Want

Trying to give a definitive reason for the decline in piracy is a challenge. Is it thanks to high profile court cases from groups like Artists Against Piracy or the Recording Industry Association of America? Have these groups done a good job of striking fear into the hearts of would-be music pirates? The NPD study suggests a combination of things. They claim that a crackdown on sharing sites and questions about their safety has certainly fueled a portion of the decline in piracy. In fact, nearly 20 percent of users have stopped using these sites because they’ve been shut down or because of issues with spyware and viruses. Combine that with the rise of easy, legitimate music streaming sites like Pandora radio or Spotify and you have a perfect reason for the decline in P2P sharing. These results suggest that people are willing to pay for music, as long as they can have it on their terms.


Along with music piracy, Kenneth Fairmont writes on tech topics such as gadgets, accessories, musical technology, keyboards, software and other neat areas.

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