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Lessons From Kanye on Music Licensing

  • date icon April 12, 2016
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Kanye West nabs the headlines for many reasons: but today, we’re highlighting an important lesson about music you may have missed while streaming The Life of Pablo.

While your streaming of The Life of Pablo may be new, the album isn’t: Kanye dropped his latest tracks earlier this year, but quickly restricted availability by declaring that fans could only access the tunes through Tidal.   

Not long after Kanye shut down the potential for nearly all digital streaming services to legally play The Life of Pablo, he found himself on the top of the wrong lists, as online piracy of his music spiked – nearly 500,000 people illegally downloaded the music on BitTorrent the first day, and it was leading The Pirate Bay’s shared music.

Less than two months later, Kanye is on top of a different chart. After finally making The Life of Pablo widely available on multiple streaming services and offering it for sale, Kanye is on top of the Billboard charts and setting new records: it’s the first Number 1 album to get the coveted position through mostly streaming, where about 70% of equivalent sales took place.

This lesson isn’t a new one: it’s been proven time and time again that access to legal digital content is one of the most effective ways to combat online piracy and drive users to legitimate sources of music, movies, and more.

Only a few years ago, rights holders complained that pirated works using BitTorrent platforms accounted for 50% of Internet traffic in the U.S.  That traffic has been replaced largely by Netflix and YouTube, which represent over 50% of prime time viewing traffic. Consequently, BitTorrent traffic has dropped to the single digits.  In addition, studies indicate that the introduction of lawful online video and music platforms is typically followed by reductions in online infringement by 50% and 80%, respectively.  

As Kanye celebrates the top spot this week (and finally getting the streaming royalties he was missing out on before), we hope this chapter in The Life of Pablo is remembered as an important example of the power of online services to benefit artists and consumers alike.