It is often claimed that music streaming reduces piracy. While this statement has often been used by streaming services like Spotify, they have not actually had any hard data to back up the claim – until now. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has discovered that Spotify does reduce the number of songs being pirated; but also reduces the number of legal songs sold at the same time.
Researchers Luis Aguiar and Joel Waldfogel examined weekly torrent statistics and compared it against data from Spotify. Some 8,000 artists were watched under the study, which ran from 2012-2013. The results indicated that for every 47 streams of a song, the number of files shared dropped by one. This does not sound like much, but Spotify streams millions of songs a day; which translates into a substantial reduction in piracy.
The number of streams also has an impact on digital music sales. The researchers discovered that every 137 Spotify streams reduce the number of individual music tracks sold by one. However, this is not an issue for the music industry as the amount that Spotify reimburses companies for its streams negates any loss suffered. It should be noted that the study does not actually say that the cost of the track is covered; rather the researchers say that “the losses from displaced sales are roughly outweighed by the gains in streaming revenue.”
This study is noteworthy in that it originates from the European Commission’s science service. Meaning that it carries quite a bit of weigh among lawmakers, and adds extra legitimacy for what companies like Spotify are trying to achieve.
While the study focused solely on the impact that Spotify has on music piracy, it would be helpful to know if subscription only services have the same effect. Spotify has the advantage of allowing users to stream music for free, which is what piracy is partially about. Subscription only services have the additional paywall layer and could prevent many users from adopting it, reducing at effect it might have on piracy.
Still, the study only reinforces what people have been saying all along. Piracy is not always about stealing, but rather providing people with a convenient way to access content. The same thing happened with movies and Netflix; and video games and Steam. The fact that it is the same situation for music should not surprise anyone.