How Music Streaming Killed Piracy

Caleb Conklin, Reporter

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In the early-to-mid ’90s, if you wanted to listen to a specific song, there was only one way to do it. You had to drive down to your local record shop and buy the CD or cassette tape for that album. Nowadays, you just stream your music instantly on Spotify or Apple Music. While both these methods are legal, in the late ’90’s and the 2000’s, there was a huge wave of illegal music consumption.

I would like to pose a question. When was the last time that you’ve listened to music through a CD? For most of you, it’s probably been a while. Physical music formats have become obsolete thanks to the internet, and signs of that were even showing back in the 2000’s. On January 9th, 2001, iTunes was released. It was a service created by Apple that allowed you to purchase music over the internet and listen to it on your computer, no physical media required. Later that year on October 23rd, they released their portable music player, the iPod. The iPod worked in conjunction with iTunes, now allowing you to load your iTunes library onto it and listen to your music on the go. This worked much better than bringing a Discman and a CD carrier around with you.

iTunes and the iPod took off, with people falling in love with the idea of digital music, switching over to iTunes, and no longer buying CDs. This worked for everyone: Apple made money whenever music was bought, record labels and musicians got paid when people bought their music, and users were able to instantly buy music and bring it anywhere. These computers, iPods, and other portable music players could also play music files from the MP3 format. The problem for sellers of music was that MP3 files were very small and easy to share. This became a problem when Napster hit the scene. 

Napster was a computer program that allowed the sharing of MP3 files from one computer to another. One user would upload a file to the program, and any other users could download that file and have the song. It was a very easy program, as all you had to do was search and download. The problem was, this was piracy, which is illegal. This program was giving people the ability to download music, completely for free, without any money going to the music creators.

So of course, this service took off, with 80 million active users at the peak of Napster’s popularity. It was great! No more paying $10 for a single album or being restricted to just Apple programs. Napster came with several faults though. A lot of the files uploaded to the service were computer viruses disguised as music files, and you had to do a bit of tinkering to get it on your portable devices. Eventually, Napster was shut down, then replaced by different services like Limewire and Kazaa, with those services also being shut down eventually.

Now we move to current day. You can still easily download music files for free, all you need is just one Google search. The thing is, people just don’t do it anymore. I haven’t downloaded an MP3 in years, but why is that? 

Well, in the early 2010’s applications like Spotify and Pandora started getting popular. These apps are streaming services, where you pay a small monthly fee to listen to any song you want instantly on any device, anywhere. These apps have the convenience factor of programs like Napster, but without the issues, and they’re fully legal. For many people, their phones are their primary devices, and when pirating music, you often have to use a computer, and all those files can take up a lot of space. While Spotify works self-contained on any device and takes up very little space.

How did this kill piracy? Well, it’s simple, convenience. When pirating music you have to download every song that you want and move it from a computer to your phone. Compare this to Spotify, where $9.99 a month gets you nearly every song out there, on any device, in only a couple taps. People will pirate things until it becomes more convenient to pay, and these companies made a great ecosystem for listening to music that basically killed music piracy due to its simplicity.