Stream-Ripping Is The UK's Largest and Fastest-Growing Form of Music Piracy: Study

Offline copies of streams increased by 141% between 2014-2016.

Stream-ripping is now the largest and fastest-growing form of music piracy in the U.K., according to new research from British government body the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and collection society PRS for Music.

Over 9,000 people were surveyed for the two-part study, which found that stream-ripping -- the practice of using apps, plug-ins or specially developed software to create permanent offline copies of audio or video streams from sites like YouTube or Spotify -- increased by 141 percent between 2014 and 2016, to total just under 500,000 recorded occurrences of stream-ripping by the end of the survey period.

By comparison, Cyberlocker host and link sites were accessed just under 105,000 times in September 2016, while BitTorrent file-sharing services were accessed 23,567 times by British music fans.   

The research found that 15 percent of all U.K. adults aged 16 regularly use a stream-ripping service, with download apps the most popular method of accessing illegal content, followed by ripping sites such as YouTube-MP3.org.

33 percent of those who admitted using a stream-ripping service came from the 16-24 age bracket, with men in the ABC1 social grade (a British social class metric, which in this case represents higher socio-economic tiers) among those most likely to do so. One in five said they did not personally feel they were doing anything illegal when using ripping services, while 18 percent of users said they used them on a daily basis. Over half of users (53 percent) do so at least once a week.

The most popular reason given for stream-ripping was that the music was already owned by the user in another format (31 percent), followed by offline and portable access (around 26 percent). Around 20 percent of those surveyed, said that unaffordability and the feeling that official music content is overpriced led to them using ripping sites.

In line with previous research, YouTube was revealed as the number one source for illegal stream-ripping, with YouTube Downloader the most commonly used download app (76 percent), followed by YouTube MP3 Music Downloader (70 percent).

YouTube-MP3.org, which was served with a copyright lawsuit in California federal court last fall, backed by the three majors and IFPI, was by far the most popular stream-ripping site, accounting for 66 percent of U.K. stream-ripping.

According to INCORPRO, who carried out half of the research study, over 300,000 U.K. users accessed YouTube-MP3.org in September last year, although the site has since been geo-blocked in the country. At the time of the September 2016 U.S. court injunction against the service, YouTube-mp3.org was said to have “tens of millions of users” and account for upwards of 40 percent of all unlawful stream ripping globally.

“We hope that this research will provide the basis for a renewed and re-focused commitment to tackling online copyright infringement,” commented PRS for Music chief executive Robert Ashcroft, in a statement. “The long term health of the U.K.’s cultural and creative sectors is in everyone’s best interests, including those of the digital service providers, and a co-ordinated industry and government approach to tackling stream ripping is essential,” he went on to say.

“There has never been more choice or flexibility for consumers of TV and music, however illicit streaming devices and stream-ripping are threatening this progress,” added Ros Lynch, copyright and IP enforcement director at the IPO. 

“Content creators deserve to be paid for their work – it is not a grey area,” continued Lynch, who said the British government was “working with our industry partners and law enforcement to tackle this emerging threat.”