Spotify was released in times of high media convergence, as a proposed solution to a critical issue: How shall we deal with music piracy and the infringement of copyright laws? The government and music industry proposed legislations which raised opposition but the solution may not necessarily be a juridical one, but a technical. This essay will review the progression of music streaming service, the issue of piracy in the music business and argue that Spotify is a better alternative to piracy in terms of legality, usability and quality.
In the beginning of the last decade, a new social revolution started to take place. The emergence of hardware technology such as the first iPod in 2001(Apple.com 2013) and other MP3-devices had increased the need for users to own copies of tracks on their computers. These could be acquired by either paying for downloads, or downloading for free. As the content holding hardware increased in capacity, online piracy rose to meet it. High-speed internet and services such as Napster and DC++ made it easy for common users to download MP3s (Hinduja 2005) and as this trend grew bigger, so did the number of criminals. In 2007, 70% of all downloads in the U.S. were illegal (Siwek 2007, quoted in Popham 2011), and Northern America is one of the regions with the least file-sharing activity worldwide (The Economist 2011) The dark figures in these statistics are probably extensive but the real numbers are more likely to be bigger than smaller, since many actions of piracy cannot be monitored.
As music piracy increased, the record labels and Intellectual Property-protectors (the government) attempted to find ways to keep their revenue intact. Instead of developing new business models to harvest this new flow of content, they pushed hard for legislative laws that criminalized millions of users, taking actions such as standardizing ‘crippleware’, copy protection through Digital Rights Management (DRM) which disables the copy functions of media content (Burkart 2010, p.16). New anti-piracy laws were proposed in both Europe and the U.S.: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), PROTECT Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). These are aimed to either shut down sites that promote online piracy, or block users from accessing such sites in specific areas. ACTA is different from SOPA and PIPA in that it is a treaty and allows for discussions and agreements to take place behind closed doors, without the need to reveal anything to the public (Ferguson 2012). Many of these propositions mobilized counter-activity from informal networks such as the French group La Quadrature du Net, which claims that ACTA and the new Licenses for Europe are formulated in the industries best interest, and that the government only seeks to avoid a major copyright reform. As a response, the EU claims that while this might not be the best solution to the issue, it is a good option within the current framework (New 2013). New laws and trade agreements are formulated constantly, and they all aim to provide the media corporations with control over the intellectual property content online, but fail to acknowledge consumer habits and needs.
The MP3 definitely made an impact on music consumption patterns, but what really changed the scene was the emergence of online streaming services. The first step occurred as early as 1995, when RealNetworks Inc. introduced the first audio streaming format, Real Audio 1.0, making it possible to listen to a song within seconds after having clicked a hyperlink instead of having to wait until the entire piece was downloaded (Hinduja 2005). This idea of not having to download to consume was followed up by a number of sites during the following years, with many online radio streams offering unlimited free usage. This idea progressed even further with sites such as Fm34, allowing users to capture radio streams for later on-demand access on their cloud server. The change from non-interactive to interactive listening had a great impact on web services (Anderson 2011); the one that had the most impact being YouTube. It was one of the first online streaming services that allowed for on-demand streaming of content. However, it did not offer a solution to the issue of copyright infringement.
It was these issues of music piracy that sparked the mind of Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify (Muller et al 2012). The market had a demand for a swift access to on-demand music, available anywhere and at any time, but was not willing to pay what the industry required. As Anderson (2011) argues, music had shifted from a service at the end of the 19th century (only consumed through performance of musicians) into a product which could be bought and then governed by the consumer. The problem was that users had to own a copy of the content in order to hear it. The Spotify platform allowed for music to become a service once again, by using licensing rather than purchasing. When subscribing to a monthly license from Spotify, users acquire the right to use their library of music, under the conditions that they are connected to the internet and have a device that can carry Spotify’s software. This meets the user’s requirements in a number of ways, but as J. Haupt states in his review, there are still many anti-DRM activists, who claims that it is wrong to deliver the audio encrypted, because this does not allow for users to take ‘snippets’ of sound from the streamed content, which in fact, is still legal (Haupt 2012). This touches on a relevant issue that is still not dealt with. Spotify is a walled garden with access only on their terms. The users are not granted editorial access to the content, in order to remix or take samples. This may not be a problem for many users, but it sends an important message to the many produsers who want to be creative with content. Axel Bruns (2010) argues that these users and the ongoing process of user-generated content contribution can push the development of both culture and technology in a number of different directions. This is most evidently the case with music, where the remix culture has contributed with many new genres and styles.
Spotify is a compromise solution where the users and the industry meet halfway. The user gets unlimited access to streams, but is not allowed to use the content outside of the platform. In turn, the industry collect revenues (however small) and remain in control over the content, but are unable to set individual prices for different artists and songs. Self-proclaimed Spotify specialist Jay White notices that some artists and labels chose to remove their music from Spotify once they get their first pay check, and some doesn’t accept the terms at all. Others release their content exclusively in some territories, but have delayed release in others (White 2012). White says that “there’s growing evidence that delayed international releases drive illegal downloading”. Furthermore, it has been proven that the streaming services allows for more artists to be heard. Chris Anderson writes in his article The Long Tail about how out of the 400.000 top-songs on music streaming service Rhapsody, all are listened to at least once a month. He claims this is thanks to three aspects: that it is available, that it is relatively cheap, and that it is easy to find. Spotify inherits all three of these. As the service is heavily reliant on the deals they have with the labels and artists, Spotify may have to take another approach regarding royalties if the agreements are to be retained.
So has Spotify diminished piracy? A report commissioned by the Swedish Music Industry in 2011 about music consumption habits for users between ages 15-74 finds that online music piracy has diminished by 25% since 2009. This is a result of Spotify and other music streaming services (Ernesto, 2011). In the survey, 40% of the respondents claim they chose streaming services due to ‘the range of music that’s released’. However, these services may not have been as appealing if not for the convergence of platforms. Users being able to use Spotify on mobile devices could be one of the main reasons that have made the platform so successful. Another report by the NPD Group, claims that thanks to “streaming services like Spotify”, illegal downloads diminished globally with 26% (Knapp 2013).
Contrasted to piracy, Spotify saves you not only the time it would take to download songs, but also the time it would have taken to transfer your files onto multiple devices such as tablets, mp3-players and mobile phones. Another advantage over piracy is the exploration functions in Spotify, which allow users to find new music similar to their current playlists. It also ensures their users that all content is of high quality, and offers high quality streaming up to 320 Kbit/s which is the highest rate available for the MP3 format (Spotify 2013).
Spotify’s aim was to be better than piracy, and as recent surveys show, they have succeeded in providing a good option. This is much thanks to the convergence of technology platforms. It is legal, allows for swift access to a substantial library of high quality tracks, can be accessed from anywhere at any time if you have the necessary hardware, and allows for new music to be discovered with ease. Now it is up to Spotify to keep developing their usability and their deals with the record labels, and for the users to choose the service over piracy. The issue that is still not dealt with is how users will be able to legally exert their need to sample, mix and appropriate copyright-protected content in the future.
* Bruns, A, 2010 ‘Distributed Creativity: Filesharing and Produsage’, in S Sonvilla-Weiss (ed.), Mashup Culture, Springer, Wien, pp. 24-37.
* Burkart, P 2010 ‘Music and Cyberliberties’, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT
< http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/lib/uow/docDetail.action?docID=10468468 >
* Ernesto, 2011, ‘Music Piracy Continues to Decline Thanks to Spotify’ TorrentFreak.com, weblog post, 28 September, viewed 30 March 2013, < http://torrentfreak.com/music-piracy-continues-to-decline-thanks-to-spotify-110928/>
* White, J 2012 ‘The Seven Types Of Artists On Spotify’, The Pansentient League, weblog, post date unknown, viewed on 2 May 2013,
< http://pansentient.com/2012/02/the-seven-types-of-artist-on-spotify/ >
* Anderson, Jay 2011’Stream capture: returning control of digital music to the users’, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, vol 25, no 1, p.159
Popham, J, 2011 ‘Factors influencing music piracy’ in Criminal Justice Studies, Vol 24, No. 2, pp. 199-209.
* Seidenberg, S, 2013 ‘US Tries Gentler Copyright Enforcement’, Ip-watch.org, 14 March, viewed 1 May 2013,< http://www.ip-watch.org/2013/03/14/us-tries-gentler-copyright-enforcement/>
* New, W, 2013 ‘European Commission launches copyright Licensing Initiative’, Ip-watch.org, 5 February, viewed 1 May 2013, < http://www.ip-watch.org/2013/02/05/european-commission-launches-copyright-licensing-initiative/>
* Ferguson, K 2012 ‘Everything is a remix, Part 4: System Failure’ online video, everythingisaremix.info, viewed 30 March 2013, < http://everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series/>
* Haupt, J 2012 ‘Spotify (review)’, Project MUSE, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 132-138
* White, J 2012 ‘So Long, And Thanks For All The Streams’, The Pansentient League, weblog,
post date unknown, viewed on 2 May 2013,<http://pansentient.com/2010/07/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-streams/ >
* Anderson, C 2004 ‘The Long Tail’ Wired.com, vol 10, no 12, viewed 3 May 2013, <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html?pg=1&topic=tail&topic_set=>
* Hinduja S, 2005 ‘Music Piracy and Crime Theory’, LFB Scholarly Publishing, New York, p. 14
* ‘PROTECT IP Act’ 2013, Wikipedia.org, viewed 20 May 2013 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PROTECT_IP_Act>
* Muller et al, 2012 ‘Spotify founder Daniel Ek wanted to create something ‘better than piracy’’ Newsmakers, 10 Dec, viewed on 15 May 2013, <http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/newsmakers/spotify-founder-daniel-ek-wanted-to-create-something-better-than-piracy-113823185.html>
* Knapp A, 2013 ‘Study Finds That Streaming And Spyware Are Killing Music Piracy’, Forbes.com, 26 Feb, viewed on 23 May 2013, < http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2013/02/26/study-finds-that-streaming-and-spyware-are-killing-music-piracy/>
*‘Spotting the pirates’, 2011, Economist, 20 Aug, viewed on 28 May 2013, < http://www.economist.com/node/21526299>
*Spotify.com, 2013, Spotify Ltd, viewed 28 May 2013, < http://www.spotify.com/ >
*‘iPod + iTunes Timeline’, 2013, Apple.com, viewed on 23 May 2013, < http://www.apple.com/pr/products/ipodhistory/ >
Finally – for all you titlegamers out there: The Title Game