The Blurred Lines copyright case is still contributing plenty of column inches in the press, months after the judgement was officially announced. While many in the music industry have spoken about their apprehensiveness over the possible impact of the ruling on the creativity of artists, it’s piracy rather than plagiarism that has generally speaking posed the biggest threat to artists and the music industry in recent decades. As World Intellectual Property Day in April highlighted, developments in digital technology are forcing those who produce music and those who listen to it, to reconsider their approach to buying and selling music. Specifically, one area of development that is coming under increased scrutiny right now is the business of music streaming.
Since music streaming became a readily available and largely affordable option, the number of people downloading music illegally has reduced dramatically. Though the US organisation representing the music industry the RIAA still counts piracy as a major problem, Research published in Autumn last year showed that music piracy via BitTorrent reduced by 20 per cent in Australia in the year after popular streaming site Spotify launched in the territory. Figures from the Netherlands published in January tell a similar story, with increased numbers of music fans choosing to stream music and a decreasing number opting to download illegally. From one angle it certainly seems like streaming via a paid subscription service or on a platform that is paid for through advertising is the solution to digital piracy but not all artists are totally on board with aspects of the concept.
Folk singer-turned-pop-star Taylor Swift famously removed her songs from Spotify because she felt the platform was impacting on album sales and cheapened her work. She told Time Magazine: “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art. I didn’t see that happening, perception-wise, when I put my music on Spotify. Everybody’s complaining about how music sales are shrinking, but nobody’s changing the way they’re doing things. They keep running towards streaming, which is, for the most part, what has been shrinking the numbers of paid album sales.”
You can still find Taylor Swift’s songs online to stream but you’ll have to opt in to a service such as Apple’s Beats music to do so, which will involve paying a subscription. If you want to stream music or you are an artist contemplating where your music should be made available, you should know that not all streaming sites are created equal and many are falling by the wayside as a result…
Why not all streaming sites are created equal
Launched in 2007 as a competitor to the likes of peer-to-peer sharing site Limewire, Grooveshark was one of the very first streaming sites to enjoy widespread use and originally operated as a paid download service. Almost a decade later, the site was forced to close in May after a long running battle with the RIAA, which was unhappy about the firm’s haphazard approach to paying royalties (read more on this here). The site had tried to claim the same sort of protection Youtube enjoys under the Digital Millennium Copyright – essentially asserting that all music content had been user uploaded. Unfortunately investigations revealed that some uploads had been performed by Grooveshark staff, which is the issue that essentially led to its demise. There have been rumours since that the site has resurfaced but these seem somewhat questionable since the firm was forced to surrender all of its assets as part of the copyright infringement judgement. In a statement issued at the time of closure, Grooveshark said:
“We started out nearly ten years ago with the goal of helping fans share and discover music. But despite [the] best of intentions, we made very serious mistakes. We failed to secure licenses from rights holders for the vast amount of music on the service”.
So what is the future of music streaming?
If you’re worried the site you’re streaming your music from might be anything less than ethical or want to find one that’s wells suited to your listening activities, you should check out Whymusicmatters, which lets you explore your digital options. You are by no means limited in your choices nowadays; Apple is reportedly working with a number of artists and industry insiders to try and improve it’s service. Beats and another of the first streaming sites, Deezer, is testament to the fact that learning to work within copyright rules can really pay off and then there’s Google Play. And, if you’ve got the cash to (ahem) splash, Jay-Z’s Tidal is promising big things in terms of exclusive content and “pre-streams” though it’s yet to be seen whether it will make real waves here in the UK.