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Legal music downloads catching up to pirated copies


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 7 Feb 2013 at 09:24

Legal digital purchases of songs are starting to catch up with pirated downloads, according to music lobby group the BPI.

While the record industry used to claim only one in ten downloads were legal, the BPI said 345 million tracks were illegally downloaded in the first half of last year, with 239m paid-for downloads.

The industry group claimed last year's closure of Megaupload led to a significant drop in piracy levels, while increasing access to legal services was also having an impact.

Despite innovation in the online market for music, new services still have to compete with websites and services that attract potential customers away because they offer music illegally

"Before its closure, Megaupload had more users than any other locker site in the UK, averaging 1.3m each month in 2011," the BPI said in its report.

With digital sales now accounting for more than half of all music sales, the BPI said the industry had sold 114m albums and 938m single tracks as digital downloads to date.

The figures highlighted the challenge faced by high-street retailers such as HMV, with digital sales now accounting for 99.6% of singles sold.

Piracy ongoing

Despite the progress, the BPI warned that the industry still faced a battle to convert the remaining pirates to paying customers.

"Piracy in the UK remains at a high level with 7m individuals visiting sites that offer content illegally each month," the report said.

"Despite innovation in the online market for music, new services still have to compete with websites and services that attract potential customers away because they offer music illegally for free."

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User comments

Three things I can think of could help:
1. Make sure people can preview the full song.
2. Offer lossless versions and/or make sure a CD is available. I hate the idea of buying a lossy version of a song/album.
3. Make sure songs are available, for example, one time I looked up a specific remix of a song and it wasn't available anywhere digitally.

One other idea I've had is the one time I believe DRM would be acceptable and that's to offer a free rental version (say a week). Allot of the songs I like are ones I listened to on my ipod in the right mood and I might experiment more if they did something like this.

I remember reading a report which said music pirates BUY MORE MUSIC, one reason attributed to this is because they try more music.

I believe piracy wont be completely stopped, but that doesn't mean they can't reduce it.

By tech3475 on 7 Feb 2013

Actually, minor change to my post, remove the "/or" in regards to CDs.

There are many people who still prefer a physical copy (me included).

By tech3475 on 7 Feb 2013

Pricing is the biggest issue for digital content, after DRM

For example, Tanita Tikaram released a new album last year. The CD is priced at £8.99 which is not unreasonable, but iTunes want £7.99 for the MP3's! Amazon only charge £4.99 for the album, which is a lot better, but either way, the price for the digital versions is high considering the lack of production, delivery, storage etc. required.

eBooks are far worse! The "Hairy Dieters" book is £4.99 in paperback, but iBook/Kindle both want £7.99 for the digital edition! Considering production costs, delivery, storage etc. for books is even higher, charging MORE for digital versions which incur none of those things is blatant profiteering!

If I buy the physical book, ironically it costs me less and the retailer more. If I buy a digital copy, I'm saddled with DRM that stops me using content on my different makes of eReaders (iPad/Elonex/SONY), plus I'm expected to pay a 200% premium.

Piracy is mostly a direct result of publisher's greed. When people can plainly see they're being fleeced, they feel morally justified in downloading content. Right or wrong, that's the outcome.

By cheysuli on 7 Feb 2013

Re: Three things I can think of could help

Playing Devil's advocate...
1) What's to stop me simply recording the output and using that rather than buying the song? (Admittedly the quality probably won't be as good, but I'm sure it would be sufficient for the majority).

By miles_roper on 7 Feb 2013

Personal experience

I haven't pirated a song since I began paying for Spotify Premium, after a couple of years as a free ad-supported user.
Additionally I haven't illegally downloaded a film since I signed up to LOVEFiLM a year ago.
Simply make the legal option as pain-free as possible and offer it up at a reasonable price.

I know that not everyone is like me, and some people still balk at paying £10 a month for music or films (I now self-righteously stare at some people in slack-mouthed awe when they ask if I can copy tracks off Spotify for them; when they recommend ripping tracks from YouTube streams and saving as mp3's; and when they suggest buying mkv players and buying stacks of Blu-ray rips to play them on my TV.)

I can see the argument for price holding up while companies still place restrictions on what you can do with the media you've bought. If you're only getting a limited version of what you'd have with a physical copy, there is no way you should pay even 50% of the price of the physical copy, right?

By jasdev1 on 7 Feb 2013


I too use rental services such as lovefilm (also good for games), I also ended up trying music unlimited (it was £12 for a year) and so far it has proven quite good including have a song by an artist I like but never heard of with the option of an offline mode on my phone which makes it good for trying music similar to my idea or listening to music I may not buy but want to listen to.

That said, the latter I may not renew unless it is similarly priced because I only use it sporadically (unfortunately I can't use it with my ipod classic for obvious reasons and it doesn't have all the music I like).


Nothing, the analogue hole is and always will be there. In fact my Asus D2X came with software to do this for protected audio files should I want to use it. But then may I remind you that you can already do this with e.g. radio rips, youtube rips, spotify rips, etc.

My idea wasn't aimed at these people, it was aimed at people who just wanted to legitimately try music in a casual way cheaply.

By tech3475 on 7 Feb 2013

Digital vs physical pricing

Bear in mind there is an extra appeal to having it "now" which is hard to put a monetary value on. If people are willing to pay more to have a digital download now than a CD tomorrow, then regardless of the actual costs, the price will be dictated by what people will pay. If iTunes didn't sell enough albums at £7.99 they'd have to put the price down - the only reason they get away with being uncompetitive is because people are willing to pay that much. I suspect this is because a lot of people with iPods don't think they can use other stores, or that it will be much harder to load the music, so iTunes becomes the only "choice". I'm sure cheysuli would have found his digital album much cheaper at Amazon or

The unavoidable fact is that music has never been more widely available to listen to instantly and in full for free, and more cheaply in real terms to buy. Apart perhaps from the case where it simply isn't available (which is not the case for most music piracy), it's hard to see the justification.

By halsteadk on 7 Feb 2013

Agree with most of the above

Music downloads still suffer either from being associated with spotty youths furtively downloading via torrents, and\or from the poor audio quality of iTunes and other systems targeted at mobile devices.

I'm a fairly typical music fan: I have hundreds of CDs and over 100 old vinyl disks. Most of this has been digitised and is played on my trusty Mid-fi system of Linn electronics & B&W speakers.

Latterly I have downloaded a fair amount of good quality 'lossless' music (flac), but the availability of mainstream Major Label stuff is very limited, even for Classical music.
LINN has some truly excellent Studio Masters available at a reasonable price, as do others, but for the most-part you simply can't legally get CD or better quality downloads of most music.

Then there's the price.....
Apple are boasting of having sold 24BILLION downloads.
As is highlighted by @halsteadk above, the economics simply don't stack-up.
The costs of digitally warehousing 24B tracks is vastly less than the costs of producing an equivalent number of CDs....

By wittgenfrog on 8 Feb 2013

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