Music Ally was founded in 2002 at the height of the music industry’s panic about online piracy, with recorded music revenues on the slide and endless discussion about how or whether filesharing could be stopped. Our argument then was that the best way to fight piracy was through innovation, and our early readers were the people who saw the internet as a huge opportunity for music rather than an existential threat.
Nearly two decades later, here we are in a recorded music industry that has turned around its decline with the help of legal streaming services. The pressing industry debates are about how those services and the value chain around them needs to evolve to be fair for everyone involved, and about the various new opportunities to explore beyond streaming.
Piracy hasn’t disappeared, as the teams within labels and industry bodies doing anti-piracy work will tell you. But it’s very much not the paralysing bogie-man of yore. And that small band of early Music Ally readers is now a community of tens of thousands of people excited about digital opportunities – including ensuring they pay off for musicians.
What brought on this warm glow today? The latest report from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) exploring online copyright infringement. Based on data from 2017 to 2020 provided by Muso, it aims to understand trends in online film, TV and music piracy. And the numbers are a good sign of how far we’ve come.
The topline: access to pirated music in the EU fell by 81% between 2017 and 2020. Eighty one per cent! Meanwhile, with a slightly different metric: “In 2020, the average internet user in the EU accessed pirated music 0.6 times per month, compared to 2.3 in 2017.”
One piratical area the music industry has been vocal about in recent years is stream ripping, which the report suggests now accounts for 48% of music piracy. But that’s as much about strong declines in illegal downloads, streaming and torrents, and one graph (on p52 of the report if you’re looking for it) suggests that even stream-ripping nearly halved between 2017 and 2020.
Legal streaming has truly shivered the timbers of online music piracy. That does not minimise the importance of dealing with inequities in the distribution of streaming revenues and evolving the model (plus the industry practices around it). But the EU report is a welcome reminder that even being in the position to tackle that challenge in 2022 is a world away from the dark days of 2002.
Or to put it another way: we out-innovated the pirates! If we can now apply similar innovation to the challenges of musician remuneration; industry structures and diversity; and our carbon footprint, imagine where we might be by 2042…