Just because music piracy is talked about a little less these days, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still an issue. According to Musicmetric, as reported by Billboard, Beyoncé’s new self-titled album has been illegally downloaded approximately 240,000 times. The release of this “visual album” also sparked renewed interest in the other albums in Beyoncé’s catalog, which also saw increased numbers of illegal downloads recently.
Paid sales of Beyoncé have still been enough to garner her the top spot on the Billboard 200, with nearly 1 million copies sold in its first couple of weeks. However, the additional quarter of a million pirated copies would have represented additional gross sales of $3.8 million had they been purchased legally. Doing the math, while Bey is likely feeling no pain and/or crying all the way to the bank with what she did sell, music piracy in this case accounts for a 20-percent bleedoff of what she could have made.
Some industry watchdogs have pushed this data as evidence that streaming services like Pandora and Spotify have not solved the piracy problem. However, it is worth pointing out that at the time of the album’s surprise release, which generated so much interest, it was not available to streaming services, being exclusive to iTunes for the first week. Even at the time of this writing, only two of the songs on Beyoncé are available for streaming on Spotify.
So what does this suggest? To put it crassly, if someone wants to hear the new Beyoncé record and/or see the videos, but doesn’t want to buy it or can’t afford it—the only way to hear it is to steal it. From this perspective, the spike in illegal downloads is not entirely surprising. From an analytical standpoint, it is not completely fair to discount the role of streaming services in reducing music piracy when the album in question is not available to stream. It begs the question whether the number illegal downloads of this album would have been reduced if Bey had chosen to release the album to streaming outlets.
So, is music piracy still an issue? Certainly it is. But with Beyoncé still unavailable to stream, all these numbers really tell us is that the mentality of the public hasn’t changed much since the digital revolution made it easier to obtain music without paying for it. Those who want something for nothing are still willing to steal music order to get it—at least, in the absence of more convenient outlets. At the very least, streaming services still provide a more convenient alternative for those who otherwise have no qualms about pirating—and at least the artist and label will receive some compensation for it.
Stealing music is wrong; it always will be wrong. But from a practical standpoint, it is much easier to find workarounds than to change mass thinking. I still contend that streaming media has the potential to be that type of workaround.