Kanye West's 'The Life Of Pablo' Sparks Rampant Piracy

Feb 29, 2016
Originally published on February 29, 2016 3:24 pm
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All right, so when a music artist puts an album out that can only be streamed, not downloaded, what happens? In Kanye West's case, apparently it gets pirated a lot. Paul Resnikoff is publisher of Digital Music News, and he joins us now. Hey there, Paul.

PAUL RESNIKOFF: How are you?

CORNISH: OK. So far, what we know about Kanye's album, "The Life Of Pablo," in terms of, like, illegal downloads?

RESNIKOFF: Sure. Well, initially in the first 24 hours, initial reports pointed to half a million illegal downloads happening in that very short span. Depending on who's estimating, that number's easily crossed into the multimillions since that point.

CORNISH: And you've written about the rise in kind of BitTorrent-based and other piracy kind of streaming platforms. And you say that basically any time an artist restricts content (laughter) in any way, it's like waving a flag to the pirates.

RESNIKOFF: As a general rule, yes. Piracy didn't go away, and it's always this beast that can jump out when stuff is restricted or not spread out ubiquitously.

CORNISH: So when we say restrictions or limitations, what do you mean? What other artists have tried this?

RESNIKOFF: There's actually quite a long list now. Not just Kanye, but Rihanna - T.I. is doing something now that's restricted, Adele and Taylor Swift - I mean, this is becoming a thing. And it's certainly creating ramifications for the piracy market.

CORNISH: In what way?

RESNIKOFF: Sure. Well, a lot of times, you know, a fan will just simply say, you know, I want to consume this the way I want to consume it. I don't want to pay for it. I don't want to go to this channel. I don't want to go to Tidal. I'm going to go to BitTorrent and download the album there.

CORNISH: So what's the deal? (Laughter) I mean, these are big artists. There are plenty of places to buy this music. Or in the case of Tidal, you could sign up for the service - right? - for 30 days and listen for free, (laughter) and cancel the service if you didn't want to subscribe.

RESNIKOFF: Most certainly. Actually, you're seeing both things happening at once. So in the case of Kanye's exclusive with Tidal - well, Tidal's subscription numbers more than doubled according to some estimates immediately after the Kanye exclusive. Clearly, this had a really big impact on Tidal. It was great. You know, it also had a huge impact across BitTorrent, right? Where a lot of users went to download the album for free. So you have both things happening at the same time.

CORNISH: Can you give us a sense of what's going on with music privacy these days compared to what it used to be? What are the figures?

RESNIKOFF: Sure. So the overall level of piracy is actually increasing. And the reason why is that there are so many more people coming online that it's just a function of numbers. Now coupled with that, we've seen a people on a percentage basis moving away from download piracy simply because they can stream their music at great ease.

CORNISH: Do you get the sense that there's been an attitude shift - right? - between streaming music and people who want to own it, right? Download and own it.

RESNIKOFF: Yes, there certainly has been, right? And this just dates back to our psychology around music for decades and decades. My parents valued a collection. You know, are you a real music fan? Like, what do you own? And so that is a major psychological shift, to come from that to - yeah, you know, I stream whatever I want. That psychological attachment to a collection and recording ownership has started to shift dramatically. And that's a really big deal.

CORNISH: That's Paul Resnikoff, he's publisher of Digital Music News. Thanks so much for talking with us.

RESNIKOFF: Hey, it's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.