Scandinavia has been the leading light of streaming music services for many years, and now some believe it will provide the blueprint to beat music piracy for good. (Or at least make it a marginal issue.)
In the space of just five years, the number of Norwegians under 30 – the demographic most likely to engage in piracy – who admit to illegal file-sharing has dropped from 80% of respondents in 2009 to just 4 percent last year. These are levels that industry analysts say amounts to piracy being “virtually eliminated” in Norway.
The significant shift is inextricably linked to the rapid uptake of streaming services, which are now used by some 1.7 million Norwegians. The ease and convenience of platforms like Deezer and Spotify is credited with making illegal downloads a much less attractive activity, with similar stories seen across the border in Sweden (where Spotify first started).
Piracy in Scandinavia, it seems, is rapidly going out of style.
Of course there are various caveats to highlight, even against the backdrop of this overtly positive report.
Firstly, not everyone is inclined to tell the truth when faced with a survey. True, a large number of people were unafraid to admit to the practice back in 2009, but it’s also a long time to allow for a change in user attitudes, as well as behavior. A certain amount of the reduction might simply be that it’s less acceptable to admit to piracy in public now than it was five years ago. In the intervening period there have been major criminal cases against file-sharing sites like Megaupload, which was shut down by U.S. authorities in 2012, and more recently The Pirate Bay.
Such high-profile shutdowns could easily influence illegal downloaders to steer away from their bad habit or, at the very least, not admit that they do so when questioned by a stranger.
Another factor lies in the small sample size.
Norway has a population of only a little more than 5 million people, of which those under-30 translate to another small sub set. Although the target group is the most important to consider when it comes to online music consumption, the assumption that this relatively small group’s behavior would naturally extend to their counterparts in developed markets around the world is open to question.
Finally, the early results in other major markets don’t appear to stick to Norway’s blueprint. Even with a number of streaming music services now operating in the U.S. market, torrent activity remains a prime concern for anti-piracy groups, while file-sharing sites continue to see plenty of illegal content activity. The fact that most legitimate services have only been operating since 2011, and that North America is a much larger market, means that we must allow some additional room for the adoption rate to grow, but again the question mark remains over whether a majority of consumers will choose streaming as their music solution.
Even so, advocates of both streaming services and intellectual property protection will be hoping that the underlying expectation of the Norwegian model holds true for the rest of the world. If convenience really can kill piracy, the wheels are already in motion for Spotify and its peers to move major markets further down that road.