A pair of new studies commissioned by British collecting society PRS for Music and the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) claims that stream-ripping is now the “most aggressive” form of music piracy.
The term refers to the process where audio from music-streaming services is ‘ripped’ by users into digital files which can be downloaded and then transferred to their various devices.
PRS and the IPO commissioned two studies of the practice, from anti-piracy company INCOPRO and research firm Kantar Media. The first study examined traffic to stream-ripping websites and apps, while the latter surveyed more than 9,100 people about their online habits.
The headline claim from the overall Stream-Ripping: How It Works and its role in the UK Music Piracy Landscape report is that stream-ripping has grown by 141% between 2014 and 2016 in the UK, with 16-34 year-olds in the ‘ABC1’ demographic the biggest group doing it.
INCOPRO’s study claims that 68.2% of usage across the top 50 music-piracy sites is now stream-ripping. Kantar’s survey, meanwhile, found that 57% of respondents were aware of stream-ripping, while 15% claimed to have used one of these services. For 16-24 year-olds, that percentage rose to 33%, while for 25-34 year-olds it was 28%.
Why? 31% said they wanted to download music they already owned in another format; 26% wanted to listen to music offline; 21% because of unavailability of the music elsewhere legally; and 20% because they felt official content was overpriced.
Of those stream-rippers – the 15% of respondents who admitted to using these services – 54% said they used downloaded apps to rip; 34% used stream-ripping sites; 30% used download sites; 28% used stream-ripping plugins; and 18% used dedicated stream-ripping software. 78% of them had used a computer for their stream-ripping, while 52% had used a mobile device.
18% of stream-rippers do it on a daily basis, while 53% do it at least once a week, and 67% at least once a month.
Kantar’s study highlights the popularity of apps like YouTube Downloader and YouTube MP3 Music Downloader; sites like YouTube-MP3 and Convert2MP3; and download sites like Free-MP3Download.
YouTube looms large in the research: INCOPRO claims that it’s the source of music for 75 of the 80 stream-ripping services that it is tracking, including 51 that use YouTube as their sole source. 29 of the services use SoundCloud, although only five draw on it alone.
If YouTube’s royalty payments to the music industry are seen as a ‘value gap’ between usage of its service and the money being generated, then stream-ripping could be seen as a ‘value syphon’ – where people are only streaming a track once to rip it, rather than multiple times.
The PRS and IPO report highlights some of the challenges in tackling stream-ripping: an activity that is super-decentralised, and thus difficult to track and even harder to police.
Services like YouTube can – and, we should point out, do – identify where streams are being filtered via stream-ripping software and move to block the ripping software in question. But, just like the whack-a-mole game the music industry has been playing with piracy sites since the early 2000s, when one is taken down, several more often appear in its place.
Past piracy studies commissioned by the music industry have tried to quantify the ‘harm’ caused by online infringement. However, the PRS/IPO report admits that this is tough in the case of stream-ripping “given difficulties in assessing the number of individual user clicks on a ripping website, estimating the length of the content to be ripped and with the different functionalities on certain ripping sites”.
“We hope that this research will provide the basis for a renewed and re-focused commitment to tackling online copyright infringement,” said Robert Ashcroft, CEO of PRS for Music.
“The long-term health of the UK’s cultural and creative sectors is in everyone’s best interests, including those of the digital service providers, and a coordinated industry and government approach to tackling stream ripping is essential.”
What that coordinated approach looks like was not made clear in the report, although PRS for Music is hosting a press conference in London this morning (Friday 7 July) where we may hear more views on that. For now, the full report is available to download.
The industry debate about stream-ripping has tended to take a backseat to the one about safe harbour and the ‘value gap’ in recent years, but concern about the phenomenon is not a new trend.
Geoff Taylor, boss of British industry body the BPI, used it as a stick to beat YouTube with at the Midem conference in 2014.
“We’ve been asking YouTube to deal with these stream-ripping applications for many years… We can’t understand why it’s taken so long for Google and YouTube to do something about this,” he said then.
A report published by piracy-tracking firm Muso in April 2016 suggested that stream-ripping was on the rise, growing by 25% in 2015. “The usage of these sites is far larger than many realise, in fact making up 17.7% of all visits to piracy sites for music content,” it claimed at the time.
Muso followed that in December 2016 with a mini-report asking ‘Is stream ripping 2017’s biggest music piracy threat?’
“With a 60% increase in visits to stream ripping sites since the same time last year (January – September 2015 compared to January – September 2016) the perceived threat to the global recorded music industry is fast becoming a reality,” claimed that study.
“Stream ripping is attracting a predominantly younger audience, with half of 16 to 24 year olds using stream ripping websites to acquire music… Stream ripping comes in as the third most popular way of accessing illegal music after streaming (35.1%) and torrenting (28.3%) in 2015.”
This week, Muso provided Music Ally with some updated stats based on its monitoring and analysis.
It claims that stream-ripping now accounts for 23% of online piracy engagement, with 7.87bn visits to stream-ripping sites over the course of 2016 – 60.9% on mobile and 39% on desktops.
In the UK – the focus for the PRS/IPO studies – stream-ripping is now the most popular form of piracy according to Muso, accounting for 31% of online piracy engagement, and just under 238m visits in 2016.
In the US, which Muso says is the biggest market for stream-ripping activity, it claims that it now accounts for 37.8% of engagement with online piracy, and just under 940m visits last year.
There have been attempts to crack down on some of the most high-profile stream-ripping services. In May 2016 YouTube’s lawyers wrote to the TubeNinja website asking it to “stop offering that functionality”. The site remains live with those features more than a year later.
Later that year, in September 2016, global body the IFPI and US body the RIAA launched a double-pronged attack on stream-ripping.
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.
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 2016 alone.
It was also that September when the RIAA and BPI went after stream-ripping site YouTube-MP3, claiming that it had made “millions of dollars” from its users, and that the German-based site attracted more than 60 million monthly users. The ads on these kinds of sites, as can be seen below, are not exactly from premium blue-chip brands:
The site, yes you guessed it, remains online today, despite in December 2016 being added to the US Trade Representative’s ‘Notorious Markets’ report on prime sources of copyright infringement.
The report described YouTube-MP3 as “one of the most popular stream-ripping sites with 4.8 billion visits in the past year, a high global Alexa rating of 332, and high country-specific Alexa ratings in Mexico (77) and Turkey (111)”.
“YouTube-MP3 allegedly accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s stream-ripping activity, and the music industry estimates that it generates hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in revenue through advertising,” it continued.