Does Internet radio solve piracy? Let’s be clear about the question.
By “Internet radio” we mean all forms of interactive listening that reflect the consumer trend to access as a new form of ownership. In other words, reaching for the celestial jukebox instead of hoarding song files in local storage, whether or not those files are obtained illicitly.
By “piracy” we mean any music consumption unauthorized by music owners, regardless of whether that behavior displaces legal downloading or listening. (Displacement has been a much-argued question for 15 years.)
Now that we’ve clarified the terms, let’s admit that the answer is unknowable. There is logic to the idea that streaming music, and music subscriptions, offer an easier, safer, and more satisfying path to soundtracking one’s life than unauthorized methods. If Spotify had existed in 1998, during Napster’s heyday, it is possible that the novel delights of file-sharing would have been substantially undermined.
Enough speculation. Here are some numbers. Google reports receiving 21.5-million copyright removal requests in the past month, and nearly 6-million in the past week. The accelerating pace of those requests is breathtaking (see the graphic), and likely due to increased surveillance as much as it is due to supply or demand for unauthorized music.
What is a copyright removal request to a search engine? Google is not a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, but it does serve as a directory that points to file-sharing platforms. As such, it must respond to DMCA-compliant takedown requests. These requests emanate in the greatest volume from industry groups like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and its British counterpart, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry). Those two alone are responsible for about 10-million takedown requests in the last month, nearly half the total. Another top-three request source is Degban, a technology provider that uncovers unauthorized services. Microsoft gets into the act, too.
All these groups, and others, want search results removed from Google. Google complies with 97 percent of requests.
The meaning of all this is debatable. It is wrong to imagine that 21.5-million new file-sharing networks popped up in a one-month period. Most takedown links point to individual files on a P2P platform. There could be a million requests related to one underground service. As to actual use, Google’s disclosure does not hint at clickthrough, or offer any measurement of how popular unauthorized file-sharing is. The ongoing request-and-removal process has become systematized through technology, and functions as a tamping-down method of keeping illegitimate music distribution partly hidden.
Music streaming and music piracy live side-by-side. We’ll take streaming any day.