More than one-third of global music listeners are still pirating music, according to a new report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). While the massive rise in legal streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal was thought to have stemmed illegal consumption, 38% of listeners continue to acquire music through illegal means.

The most popular form of copyright infringement is stream-ripping (32%): using easily available software to record the audio from sites like YouTube at a low-quality bit rate. Downloads through “cyberlocker” file hosting services or P2P software like BitTorrent came second (23%), with acquisition via search engines in third place (17%).
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“Music piracy has disappeared from the media in the past few years but it certainly hasn’t gone away,” David Price, director of insight and analysis at IFPI, told the Guardian. “People still like free stuff, so it doesn’t surprise us that there are a lot of people engaged in this. And it’s relatively easy to pirate music, which is a difficult thing for us to say.”

Stream-rippers told the IFPI that their primary motive was being able to listen to music offline without paying for a premium subscription to the likes of Spotify. Most legal subscription services charge around £10 a month to listen without adverts.

The IFPI estimated that YouTube represented an annual revenue of less than $1 (76p) per user, compared to $20 (£15) on Spotify, and concluded that user upload services are not returning fair value to the music community.

Price said that very little stream-ripping was happening on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, and that these services could do little more to attract people towards paying for subscriptions: “There is no better way of consuming music, full stop. It is very difficult to imagine how they could become more user-friendly.” He instead put the blame on “the large video platforms like YouTube” for not doing enough to prevent piracy.

“There are certain areas where they could improve on the security front, such as better encryption,” he said. Stream-ripping sites often involve simply entering a link from YouTube, with the sites then generating a free MP3 file from the link to illegally download. “There’s no way of giving sites a link from Spotify or Netflix and getting an immediate download, but you can do that for some of the large video platforms,” Price explained.

“This is a game that is easy for a lot of these sites to play. It’s not like setting up a torrent site like the Pirate Bay, where you’ve got to collect all this content and curate it to some extent. You’re basically offering people access to music that is already uploaded elsewhere.”

He also highlighted the importance of changing the law to emphasise the illegality of stream-ripping sites, and to make it more difficult for the sites to access revenue via advertising. Working in tandem with record labels, the IFPI helped close down one of the biggest stream-ripping sites, YouTube-MP3, in September 2017.

Thirty-five percent of listeners who do not use a paid-for streaming service said everything they want to listen to was on YouTube. This will change following the approval last month of Europe’s copyright directive, designed to update copyright legislation for the digital age. Article 13 of the legislation makes social media platforms responsible for the prevention of users sharing copyrighted material.
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If the controversial directive is fully passed into law in January, sites such as YouTube would have to detect copyrighted material before it was made available to users. Under current legislation, these platforms aren’t responsible for copyright violations, but must remove the offending content at the request of rights owners.

The IFPI surveyed a representative sample of 16- to 64-year-olds in 18 countries, including the UK, South Korea, France, the US, Brazil and South Africa, who make up the vast majority of global music consumption.