When you hear the term "music piracy" you might think it's a thing of the past. You might frame it as something from the retro early 2000s, the days of Napster and Kazaa when college students in dorms swiped thousands of songs from illegal peer-to-peer networks. In truth, music piracy has never been worse, and in spite of the efforts of the music industry, piracy is on the rise.
Music Piracy Statistics Today
One of the most significant reports to come out recently about music piracy statistics is MUSO's 2017 Global Piracy Report. It cites (as summarized by industry publications) the following eye-opening numbers and facts about the nature of music piracy today:
- Music piracy rose 14.7 percent in 2017.
- The first six months of 2017 saw a spike in music piracy that brought the stats to record highs since the first peer-to-peer platforms appeared in the late 90s.
- The report measures visits to music piracy sites, not just old-fashioned Napster-like file downloading. Piracy is no longer about downloading files. Illegal streaming is proving to be just as damaging as illegal file downloads.
- Across all avenues of piracy and content mediums (including TV and video, which have even bigger piracy headaches than music), 53 percent of all piracy came from illegal streaming.
- 2017 saw 73.9 billion visits to music piracy sites.
- Although streaming has taken center stage, illegal file downloading has not vanished. 21.2 billion of those 73.9 billion visits were to illegal file downloading sites.
- The United States tops the list for music piracy among all countries. Americans racked up 27.9 billion visits to illegal sites in 2017. (The nations with the most visits after the US are Russia, India, Brazil, and Turkey, in that order.)
Music Piracy Around the World
MUSO's report isn't the only source indicating that music piracy is in its heyday of activity. Havocscope, a purveyor of information about the global black market, has noted the following trends:
- In a survey, it found that the average music pirate has over 2,900 illegally obtained music files.
- While CDs are vanishing in the west, around the world they're still big business. In Jamaica recently, 13.1 million pirated music CDs were obtained in a law enforcement raid.
- In 2013, 51 percent of internet users in Spain accessed pirated content. Authorities estimated that it has cost Spain $725 million in tax losses and the loss of 26,000 jobs.
- The Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft reports that South Africa's music industry loses $45 Million (500 Million South African Rand) every year.
Shocking Stats From Big Picture Data
What's really jaw-dropping is when you look at the big picture stats. While the music industry's profits in 2017 finally increased for once thanks to the new streaming models such as Apple Music and Spotify, the overall profit level of the industry is still only half of what it was in the 90s.
This breakdown of music sales trends in 2018 is especially shocking. It notes the following:
- U2, one of the best-selling bands of all time who would routinely sell millions of copies of their new albums in a short amount of time, had only sold about 250,000 copies of their new album Songs of Experience between December 2017 and March 2018.
- Justin Timberlake's new 2018 release Man of the Woods had only sold about 285,000 copies over a period of time when it would usually be at least 500,000 (Gold status) or in the millions.
- Taylor Swift's new album Reputation has only sold about three million copies, which is in stark contrast to the five million copies her 1989 album sold in a similar timeframe.
- After throwing all the promotional work and touring that Columbia Records could manage, Harry Styles' solo album has only sold about 375,000 copies as of March 2018.
These albums were critically acclaimed and loved by the fans of each artist. The problem was not the quality of music, in other words. These artists likely got millions of streams on Spotify and Apple Music, but as MUSO and Havocscope's reports demonstrate, music piracy has had a massive effect.
Future of the Music Industry
Some believe the music industry in its current form will be lucky to continue existing at all. Instead of focusing heavily on selling studio-recorded tracks, the industry might shift most of its business acumen toward maximizing the quality and profitability of live shows. Selling the actual recordings might become a distant afterthought or just part of the peripheral promotional material for the central revenue generator: dazzling, high quality tours.