Earlier today, we covered a new report co-published by PRS for Music and the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) about ‘stream-ripping’ piracy – where music from streaming services is converted into downloads to keep.

Following the publication of that report, the pair held an event at PRS for Music’s London office this morning to discuss the findings, and answer questions about what happens next.

The key question from Music Ally’s perspective: if stream-ripping has indeed grown by 141% between 2014 and 2016 in the UK, as the report claims, how does the industry plan to tackle the problem? The main answer involves the API keys used by the stream-ripping services.

“One of the things we have already started doing in our anti-piracy efforts at PRS is addressing the abuse of some of those licensed streaming services’ APIs,” said Simon Bourn, head of litigation, enforcement and anti-piracy at PRS for Music.

“Some of the stream-ripping services are actually utilising the APIs that are made available by YouTube, SoundCloud and others… YouTube and SoundCloud’s APIs are being used by many of these services – or, rather, abused by many of these services.”

“We have been working with SoundCloud very closely on notifying them where their APIs have been used or abused and then having them remove that key from that particular abuser which has the effect of taking the site down or making it stop working,” he continued. “Yes, they might apply for the key again, but it is a constant monitoring process.”

It all brings to mind the whack-a-mole game that music rightsholders are used to playing with other kinds of piracy sites, from peer-to-peer services in the early 2000s to modern-day torrent trackers.

“You have to be really fleet-footed when it comes to tackling increasingly innovative types of infringement,” said Pippa Hall, director of innovation and chief economist at the Intellectual Property Office, speaking at the event.

“It also highlights the challenges we are all faced with when it comes to the equally innovative pirates: as soon as we think we have come up with an innovative solution, the pirates are going to develop an even more innovative infringement tactic. Streaming ripping is one of those innovations.”

PRS event
(L-R: Pippa Hall, Simon Bourn and John Mottram)

Another phase of action will involve lobbying the major app-store owners – Google and Apple – to remove apps that enable stream-ripping, once they are notified about it by rightsholders. This, of course, requires both those tech giants to be fully on board.

The apps are an issue, but we can report them for takedown provided that those responsible for the app stores – Google and Apple – are collaborative and cooperative with us in removing those apps that are facilitating the infringing of copyrights,” said Bourn, stressing that combating stream-ripping will be about taking action against the services and apps, rather than the individuals using them.

“There is a degree of not knowing what users are doing and we can’t track every instance of steam-ripping; but then we can’t track every instance of a download from a pirate locker either,” he said.

John Mottram, PRS for Music’s head of policy and public affairs, said that the main sources of stream-ripping – namely YouTube, Spotify and SoundCloud – have a vested interested in stopping this value syphoning, where users only play a song once in order to rip it, rather than playing it multiple times.

The streaming services’ commercial models are based around selling ads (or subscriptions) around each stream, so anything that circumvents that should give them plenty of incentive to crack down on it.

“[Having one micropayment per rip] is not in YouTube’s interest either,” said Mottram. “In this area, we share the concerns of YouTube, Spotify and SoundCloud. It is not in their interests, in terms of their advertising, to have this happen. For us, this is something we can work collaboratively with the streaming services on as we have a shared interest in reducing this level of piracy.”

Simon Morrison, head of public policy and government relations at Google, was in the audience at the event. He provided clarification on what Google is both doing here and what it still needs to do in collaboration with the wider music industry.

We do remove API keys from these services when we are notified,” he said. “We are working in collaboration with some industry bodies [but not the PRS currently] on this to remove those keys. There are some slightly more technically sophisticated methods where they [stream-ripping sites] do not rely on the APIs and are harder to fight – but we are working on some solutions there as well.”

Stream-ripping has been talked about for several years now, but this is still relatively early days in coordinated efforts to tackle the problem. Reports like this morning’s – as well as the research commissioned or conducted by the IFPI, Muso and other entities – help the music industry understand the scale of stream-ripping.

Actually cracking down on it is likely to be a now-familiar story of trying to get an edge over constantly-innovating pirate-service providers, capable of respawning and rethinking their approach whenever they receive a setback.

You can read the full PRS / IPO report here.

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