The IFPI and Google are arguing about YouTube again, this time in the pages of the Financial Times.
There’s a new angle on their dispute though: young music fans’ increasing use of ‘stream-ripping’ tools to turn YouTube videos into unpaid music downloads.
The IFPI commissioned research firm Ipsos to survey fans in 13 countries, and claims that the study reveals almost half of 16-24 year-olds now use stream-ripping software, making it a more popular form of music piracy than file-sharing.
As the FT’s report went live, the Wall Street Journal published related claims from US body the RIAA that the top 30 stream-ripping websites attracted 900 million visitors in July alone.
The problem for the music industry is establishing how much potential revenue is being lost through the popularity of stream-ripping.
There is no ‘one illegal download equals a lost sale’ methodology here – which in any case was regularly disparaged when wielded in past piracy reports – so calculating how many of those 16-24 year-olds would pay for a streaming subscription if stream-ripping was less accessible is a difficult task.
Stream-ripping may be the headline for the IFPI study, but the subtext is hardly hidden: YouTube’s role as an on-demand music service even when its videos aren’t being ripped.
The IFPI claims that 82% of YouTube’s 1.3 billion users (an advance on YouTube’s official 1bn figure, by the way) use the service to listen to music. YouTube’s response: “The average YouTube user spends an average of an hour a month consuming music, far less than music-only platforms.”
As the European Commission mulls whether to weaken YouTube’s safe harbour – the latest speculation suggests the EC may be coming down on rightsholders’ side of that argument – there may be a coded warning in YouTube’s claim in the FT piece that less than 20% of YouTube music views come from search, while the vast majority come from its recommendation algorithm.
Facebook famously tweaks its news feed algorithm regularly to boost or downrank certain kinds of content. Could YouTube do the same, at music’s expense?
The service may be struggling to bring stream-ripping under control, but its defence that music isn’t as important to its users as the industry claims – and its control of the algorithm that dominates what engagement there is – is just one of the nuances of the ongoing tension between the two sides.