Online Piracy Surges After Music Festivals, Spotify Reveals

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New research released by Spotify shows that music festivals appear to cause a spike in piracy, while streaming and digital sales remain unaffected. The findings suggest that festivals increase demand for artists' music, but that festival goers mainly sample through unauthorized channels. Spotify further reveals that artists who delay their Spotify releases suffer more from piracy than those who release it directly.

festivalSummer is traditionally the time when the world’s largest music festivals take place.

These festivals are a great opportunity for fans to discover enjoy and discover music, but data released by Spotify shows that they also have a darker side.

As one would expect, there is more interest in artists’ music after their performances, but a case study of a Dutch music festival shows that this increased demand is limited to unauthorized channels.

The report titled “Adventures in The Netherlands” found that around the Stoppelhaene festival of 2012, BitTorrent downloads for the artists Racoon and Gers Pardoel skyrocketed. Legal sales and Spotify’s own streaming counts meanwhile remained unaffected.

“What is surprising is that our analysis uncovered some examples of torrents spiking immediately after festival performances,” Spotify writes.

“Explanations for these spikes merits further study, but one intuitive driver is instant gratification. Academics and policy makers who are researching this topic may want to consider other events such as awards and talent shows to see if similar spikes occur.”

Music festivals cause piracy spike


The data indeed shows that the festival increased demand for these artists, but since the Netherlands has high Spotify use, it’s odd to see that there was no effect on streaming. One explanation could be that festival goers are less likely to use streaming services because they prefer to “own” a copy of their music.

Another important finding of the study, and most likely the reason why the research was conducted to begin with, is that artists who delay the Spotify release of their albums suffer from higher piracy rates.

Spotify says that there is no evidence that artists who delay their releases on the streaming service sell more music. On the contrary, the data suggests that delayed releases result in more piracy.

The data shows that One Direction’s album Take Me Home and Robbie Williams’ single Candy, both released on Spotify without a delay, sold four copies per BitTorrent download. The delayed releases of Rihanna’s Unapologetic and Taylor Swift’s Red on the other hand sold only one copy per BitTorrent download.

With this finding Spotify appears to suggest that release windowing boosts piracy.

The results above have to be interpreted with caution as the correlational nature says little about the direction of the effects. That said, Spotify is confident that music piracy is declining and it sees itself as one of the contributing factors to this trend.

“Spotify has been surprisingly successful in the Netherlands and our analysis supports previous academic studies which show falling levels of music piracy,” the steaming service notes, adding that availability and great legal offerings are major factors in the battle against piracy.

“Fourteen years after the launch of Napster, it has and always will take a combination of superior legal offerings to the consumer alongside effective public policy to improve the climate for copyright online,” Spotify concludes.

A question that remains unanswered is whether the artists feel the same way. For years there have been complaints about the lower revenues Spotify generates for them. The most recent critique comes from Radiohead’s Tom Yorke, who pulled his music from the streaming service as he believes “new artists get paid fuck all.”

While Spotify’s research finds no evidence that their service is cannibalizing sales, many artists feel otherwise. Given the above, Radiohead and the others may also consider putting an end to festival performances in order to keep piracy rates down.


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