Why the music industry is still fighting against piracy in 2021

Image Credit: Michael Geiger

Wasn’t the illegal music download problem solved years ago? Research from PRS for Music shows that’s not the case – but they’re fighting back.

The battle against digital music piracy is by no means over. Though streaming services stopped the early-noughties piracy frenzy that near-enough destroyed the music industry, stream-ripping and illegal music downloads are still rife across the internet.

UK copyright collective PRS for Music has released statistics looking back over five years of its Member Anti-Piracy System (MAPS), an automated notice and takedown tool tracking PRS repertoire on illegal websites. The numbers show organisations like PRS are still fighting the good fight, helping to make sure musicians aren’t getting scammed.

Since launching in 2016 MAPS has reported over 6.7 million URLS that illegally link to or host works. Of those millions, 76% were subsequently removed. If any don’t comply, they’re referred to the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit’s Operation Creative.

Despite the digital music boom that clawed the industry back from the brink – a boom that RouteNote was a part of – it would be naive to assume that everyone on the planet now uses legitimate streaming sites or pays for music downloads, even though accessible free services are offered by platforms like Spotify.

PRS found that the constant sending of notices is an effective tool for forcing sites to shut down. MAPS flagged 424,000 live links to Google and Bing for delisting, forcing 1,346 sites to cease operating. All members of PRS for Music can track the infringement of their music online by requesting access to MAPS.

Simon Bourn, Associate General Counsel at PRS for Music said: “If just one legal download of an album were made for every infringement identified by MAPS over the past five years, it would have led to revenue being generated for the industry of around £13.1 million. However, we know that in fact many downloads are likely to be made via an infringing link, so the loss to the industry is in fact a multiplier of this amount.

“Whilst MAPS has helped us curtail these losses, it is simply unacceptable for songwriters, composers, music publishers, and all those involved in the creative process, to be suffering in this way, particularly now at a time when they are even more reliant on royalties from digital.”

Tracking and taking down illegal download sites is still vital work. A 2020 study found that use of UK stream-ripping services shot up by 1390% in the years between 2016 and 2019. MAPS uses web-crawling tech to report infringements, cutting off piracy at the source.  

The world of legal music streaming is revolutionary in its convenience, but it is by no means perfect, as explored in the UK government’s economics of music streaming inquiry. Despite its faults and the many arguments about how fair the revenue share is for artists, streaming offers a way for musicians and producers to make money from their music. Piracy doesn’t pay musician’s bills or support the careers of incredible emerging artists.


RouteNote is proud to be an independent distributor firmly on the side of the musician, formed in 2007 to offer a free way for artists to access streaming platforms and earn money from making music. With RouteNote you’re always in charge of your music and your money. Find out more and sign up for free here.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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