For Students Doing Reports

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Thanks for being interested in the music industry and our positions on various issues. We get many requests from students and others for information for papers and other research needs. We’re happy to help and share our perspective. Unfortunately, we can’t always answer every question. Below is a list of commonly asked questions and hopefully insightful answers. Please take a look. We hope you find it useful and informative. Good luck!

Q:  What exactly does the RIAA do? Who does the organization represent?

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is the trade organization that supports and promotes the creative and financial vitality of the major music companies. Its members are the music labels that comprise the most vibrant record industry in the world. RIAA® members create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legitimate recorded music produced and sold in the United States.

In support of this mission, the RIAA works to protect the intellectual property and First Amendment rights of artists and music labels; conduct consumer, industry and technical research; and monitor and review state and federal laws, regulations and policies. The RIAA® also certifies Gold®, Platinum®, Multi-Platinum™ and Diamond sales awards as well as Los Premios De Oro y Platino™, an award celebrating Latin music sales.

Q:  What is the RIAA's official stance on digital music piracy?

It’s commonly known as “piracy,” but that’s too benign of a term to adequately describe the toll that music theft takes on the enormous cast of industry players working behind the scenes to bring music to your ears.  That cast includes songwriters, recording artists, audio engineers, computer technicians, talent scouts and marketing specialists, producers, publishers and countless others.
While downloading one song may not feel that serious of a crime, the accumulative impact of millions of songs downloaded illegally – and without any compensation to all the people who helped to create that song and bring it to fans – is devastating.

The law is quite clear here, and fortunately legal downloading is easy and doesn’t cost much. Music companies have licensed hundreds of digital partners offering download and subscription services, music video streaming, cable and satellite radio services, Internet radio webcasting, social networking music services, video-on-demand, podcasts, CD kiosks and digital jukeboxes, mobile products such as ringbacks, ringtunes, wallpapers, audio and video downloads and more.  In fact, according to the global music trade body IFPI, there are now more than 13 million licensed tracks available on more than 400 different services worldwide.  That’s great news for music fans and the industry alike.

Q: What is the scope of the problem?

Music theft is a real, ongoing and evolving challenge.  Both the volume of music acquired illegally and the resulting drop in revenues are staggering.  Digital sales, while on the rise, are not making up the difference.

Consider these staggering statistics:

    -In the decade since peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 47 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion.
    -From 2004 through 2009 alone, approximately 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks.
    -NPD reports that only 37 percent of music acquired by U.S. consumers in 2009 was paid for.
    -Frontier Economics recently estimated that U.S. Internet users annually consume between $7 and $20 billion worth of digitally pirated recorded music.
    -According to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the digital theft of music, movies and copyrighted content takes up huge amounts of Internet bandwidth –  24 percent globally, and 17.5 percent in the U.S.
    -Digital storage locker downloads constitute 7 percent of all Internet traffic, while 91 percent of the links found on them were for copyrighted material, and 10 percent of those links were to music specifically, according to a 2011 Envisional study.

While the music business has increased its digital revenues by 1,000 percent from 2004 to 2010, digital music theft has been a major factor behind the overall global market decline of around 31 percent in the same period.  And although use of peer-to-peer sites has flattened during recent years, other forms of digital theft are emerging, most notably digital storage lockers used to distribute copyrighted music. 

Q:  How much money does the music  industry lose from piracy?

There are two categories to consider here: losses from street piracy – the manufacture and sale of counterfeit CDs – and losses from online piracy.

One credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concludes that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. jobs lost, a loss of $2.7 billion in workers' earnings, and a loss of $422 million in tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes. For copies of the report, please visit

As you can imagine, calculating loses for online piracy is a difficult task. We do know that the pirate marketplace currently far dwarfs the legal marketplace, and when that happens, that means investment in new music is compromised.

All the same, it’s important to note that across the board, piracy is a very real threat to the livelihoods of not only artists and music label employees but also thousands of less celebrated people in the music industry – from sound engineers and technicians to warehouse workers and record store clerks. Piracy undermines the future of music by depriving the industry of the resources it needs to find and develop new talent and drains millions of dollars in tax revenue from local communities and their residents.

The music industry, while enormous in its economic, cultural and personal impact, is by business standards relatively small.  So theft on this scale has a noticeable and devastating impact: employment at the major U.S. music companies has declined by thousands of workers, and artist rosters have been significantly cut back.  The successful partnership between a music label and a global superstar – and the revenue generated – finances the investment in discovering, developing and promoting the next new artist. Without that revolving door of investment and revenue, the ability to bring the next generation of artists to the marketplace is diminished – as is the incentive for the aspiring artist to make music a full time professional career.

Q:  What would the RIAA like people to know about the lawsuit program now that it has ended?

The program was designed to educate fans about the law, the consequences of breaking the law, and raise awareness about all the great legal sites in the music marketplace.  Like any tough decision, there are trade offs.  On balance, the legal marketplace is far better off because of the program.

Prior to the lawsuits, only 35 percent of people knew file-sharing was illegal, but after the initiation of the end-user legal campaign, that number quickly rocketed to more than 70 percent.  In 2003 and 2004, we saw double digit growth in the numbers of people using peer-to-peer to download music illegally.  If awareness of the copyright laws and an appreciation of the consequences of getting caught for breaking the law had not had an effect, p2p growth rates would likely have continued unabated, and would have seriously undermined the potential for a legal digital marketplace.  Instead, according to NPD, between 2006 and 2009, the percent of Internet users downloading music illegally declined from 19 to 14 percent, while the percentage engaging in legal music downloading grew from 16 to 20 percent.  Where there was virtually no legal digital market in 2003, today the legal digital market exceeds $3 billion annually and boasts more than 400 licensed music services worldwide.

The music business’ efforts to innovate and license new models, educate fans about the law and enforce rights where necessary have made a profound difference in shaping today’s music landscape.  Illegal file-sharing rates have now stabilized: the share of users who download legally has surpassed the share of users who download illegally.  The “lines” have crossed and that’s an important marker in the development of a legal marketplace.  Because that’s what this is ultimately all about – helping provide the framework for a dynamic, exciting, content-rich marketplace that is rewarding for both fans as well as  the music community.  The good news?  That marketplace is here.

We’re realistic and by no means declaring victory.  There continues to be paralyzing levels of illegal downloading that require a variety of approaches and the help of partners like Internet service providers (ISPs).  That’s why we send copyright notices to educate and notify downloaders in advance that they are breaking the law and could face more serious consequences.  And we continue to bring legal action against individuals behind illegal music sites that operate with downright disregard for the value of music and artists’ rights in order to line their own pockets, with the shuttering of p2p site LimeWire as the most recent example.  Each part of the process matters and the industry is committed to making sure fans have the best music experience possible. 

Q:  What is your strategy with colleges now that you are no longer sending pre-litigation letters?

That process has not sufficiently changed beyond ceasing to file new lawsuits. We have always employed a multi-faceted approach when it comes to universities, which includes educational programs (such as the campus downloading DVD available at, participation in school speaker forums and other forms of outreach; working directly with schools through our involvement in the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities; and sending DMCA notices upon detection of illegal file-sharing activity on campus networks.  We continue to be proactive in all these ways.  Over the course of the past couple of years, as the technology to detect online theft has improved, we have sent an increased number of notices to universities.

To their credit, schools have for years responded to the copyright notices we send by forwarding them to their students. Most colleges have also implemented their own form of a graduated response system, with escalating penalties for repeat offenders (such as required tutorials on copyright law or various forms of judicial sanctions).

It’s also important to note that we know college students are some of the most avid music fans. That’s great news! The music habits and customs they develop now are likely to stay with students for life. Therefore it’s especially important for them to be educated about the law; the harm suffered by musicians, labels and retailers alike when music is stolen; and the great legal ways to enjoy music online. Like students, we are huge fans of music and want to see a thriving music community that continues to develop exciting new bands for current and future generations.
Q:  What does the RIAA consider the university’s responsibility to be in curtailing file sharing?

Because of the Higher Education Opportunity Act regulations enacted last year, all colleges and universities are now required to have a plan in place to address illegal file-sharing on campus networks. Higher ed organization Educause has a good and helpful webpage that lays out the specific requirements for each school, in addition to some “role model” schools that have taken proactive steps to reduce the problem on their campuses. 

We believe that university leaders have a responsibility to acknowledge campus piracy, to take steps to prevent the theft from occurring in the first place, and to demonstrate leadership in teaching students that music has value and there are right and wrong ways to acquire it. When college administrators are more proactive in addressing the campus piracy problem, it usually means fewer incidences of illegal downloading on those school networks and less chance that students will get in trouble for breaking the law.

Q: What steps can colleges and universities take to address piracy on its networks?

Educational institutions are uniquely positioned to shape student attitudes toward copyright.  Universities can increase network efficiency, reduce exposure to viruses, and ultimately reduce operating costs by adopting and consistently enforcing strong acceptable use policies, implementing technologies, and facilitating access to convenient, inexpensive, and legal alternatives.

There are several off-the-shelf, proactive applications that help campuses control network usage, define the scope of campus network bandwidth usage, and deter illegal P2P activity. These applications help maintain the integrity, security, and legal use of school computing systems without compromising student privacy.

Many universities have successfully implemented anti-piracy technological tools and report receiving fewer copyright infringement (DMCA) notices.  Several university officials have testified in Congress at the federal and state level about the efficacy and cost benefit of adopting an anti-piracy technology.  While each university has its own policies and tools, technology has clearly been part of the answer. 

Q:  Is it still illegal to download music on P2P sites like LimeWire, BitTorrent and Ares?

Absolutely. We continue to monitor these and others and send notices to ISPs upon detection of illegal file-sharing activity.  Additionally, we continue to hold file-trafficking services responsible.  That is and always has been our number one preference. We are not out of the anti-piracy business and will continue to focus and invest time and resources in going after the illegal services that facilitate and encourage theft.

Q:  Don’t you think some people are always going to download music illegally, even with a graduated response program in place?

We're realistic. As an industry, we have lived with street piracy for years. Similarly, there will always be a degree of piracy on the Internet. It's not realistic to wipe it out entirely but instead to bring it to a level of manageable control so a legitimate marketplace can really flourish.

Lawsuits were just one piece of our overall effort to discourage illegal downloading and encourage fans to turn to legal music alternatives. Yes, we enforce our rights against people who steal music. We also work hard to educate consumers about the law and about the many legal ways to get music online. Because we know the best way to deter piracy is to offer fans compelling legal alternatives, record companies are aggressively licensing their music to a great many services – from download and subscription models to Internet radio to legitimate P2P and more. Giving these legal online services a chance to flourish is a driving factor in almost everything we do.

Q: How is downloading music different from copying a personal CD?

Music companies have never objected to someone making a copy of a CD for their own personal use. We want fans to enjoy the music they bought legally. But both copying CDs to give to friends and downloading music illegally rob the people who created that music of compensation for their work. When music labels are deprived of critical revenue, they are forced to lay off employees, drop artists from their rosters, and sign fewer bands. That’s bad news for the industry, but ultimately bad news for fans as well. We all benefit from a vibrant music industry committed to nurturing the next generation of talent.

Q: If people start paying to download and are charged per song, who decides how much a song costs and where that money goes?

Each legitimate music service has its own licensing agreements with the individual record companies. These agreements are likely to set many of those terms.  Luckily for fans, music companies have licensed hundreds of digital partners that offer a range of models, many of which are free and all of which are discounted.  A few examples we invite you to explore are listed on the RIAA's Legal Music Sites page.

Q: Should devices such as CD burners be outlawed since they are an easy way of making illegal copies of others creative efforts?

Devices and technology are not the problem. It’s when people use technology to break the law that we take issue.

Again and again, we have embraced the technological advances that have allowed millions upon millions of people around the world to enjoy the music we create. We want fans to enjoy their iPods, CD burners, and other devices, but we want them to do so responsibly, respectfully, and within the law.