Streaming is the Copyright Industry's Approaching Train at the End of the Tunnel

The copyright industry is under the belief that “streaming” will solve all of their problems with “downloading”. Rather, I predict that it will be the copyright industry’s undoing, for three distinct reasons. Streaming is more a legal concept than a technical one, it changes who the culture gatekeepers are, and it changes what people see themselves paying for.

We know that people will always copy, as people always have copied. Culture, knowledge, experience, skills, and behavior. It’s part of what makes us human and allows us to build a civilization. For the same reasons, file sharing — of whatever form — will never stop. It might transmute to stream sharing, or whatever’s-next sharing, but it will still be about the sharing of culture and knowledge with fellow human beings, just like it always has.

But I predict that the copyright industry’s belief in streaming will undo them, for these three reasons.

1. Streaming is a purely legal concept

First, the distinction between streaming and downloading doesn’t exist on a technical level, as in “in reality”. It is a fabricated difference by lawyers to force rule-changing technology into old malfitting shoes. The legal difference between streaming and downloading is built on the idea that you can control the behavior at the recipient when transmitting bits over the internet. But the receiving machine is always the only type of machine that the copyright industry could never control in the slightest: it is a fully programmable general-purpose computer. What it does with the bits it is receiving is entirely up to its owner and operator, and never up to the transmitter.

Anything that can be received as a stream can also be saved for later. Without exception.

Besides, the difference between streaming and downloading is blurred even from a user standpoint. YouTube is typically given as an example of a streaming site. When I go to YouTube to watch a video clip, YouTube starts sending bits to my computer immediately, in anticipation that I will click the Play button within a few seconds. But maybe I don’t. Maybe I’ll let the whole clip arrive at my computer without pressing Play. Maybe I’ll keep the web page open for a whole week without pressing Play. All the time, I can copy the downloaded bits to other people, still without pressing Play.

At what point does YouTube’s streaming turn into illegal downloading? What is the legal limit on how long I am allowed to not press Play, before YouTube becomes liable for copyright infringement through copying rather than broadcast? Five seconds? An hour? A week? Can I legally go to the bathroom?

You see my point — it quickly turns ridiculous when lawyers insist on shoehorning new technology into old rules.

2. Streaming changes the gatekeepers

Today, the record labels are ecstactic that Spotify and similar services are gaining mainstream acceptance, as it means that a portion of people will prefer controlled centralized services rather than uncontrolled decentralized file sharing. But in doing this, they are also ensuring their own fadeaway.

It used to be that any musician needed a record label to reach the masses at all. The copyright industry was so successful in its indoctrination, that aspiring musicians were dreaming of getting published. This is still true to a large extent. As if, in this day and age, they needed somebody else’s blessing to reach an audience!

While Spotify has succeeded in reaching a large audience, it is not interesting for artists who have business ambitions. They will turn elsewhere. And here’s what we see happening: it used to be that people were buying music from the record labels and books from book publishers, through stores and channels. Today, a few superaggregators are larger than the copyright industry’s actors: you can get any music from Pandora, Spotify or iTunes, and you can get any book from, say, Kindle Store.

The interesting phenomenon is that creators are starting to go directly to these new gatekeepers — and they encourage that. Out of the 25 best-selling authors on Kindle Store, 19 have not gone through the copyright industry to get there. As thanks for that, they get to keep 70% of the revenue instead of 5-15%.

So artists are starting to just skip the unnecessary middleman step altogether — and are heavily rewarded for it, financially. As more creators discover that, the process is likely to accelerate. This means record labels will have ceased to exist as players of importance within a decade or so. Artists will be in hands of new gatekeepers. They may be just as bad off as musicians were with record labels, but those record labels will no longer be in control.

3. Streaming changes what we pay for

I was and am paying subscriber number 110 at Pandora, a US-based music streaming service with 48 million users. (When record labels locked it down to the United States, I circumvented that and still do.)

With my fervent criticism of the copyright monopoly, why was this? I was so early to give Pandora my money I was practically jumping at the opportunity. Number 110 out of 48 million. Obviously, I’m not opposed to paying. What did I pay for?

Well, here’s the thing. I refuse to pay for work that I can do cheaper myself. Copying is one example of such work. But what Pandora does immensely well is to make sense of the abundance. It sorts my music for me into moods that I can switch between: heavy trance beat for coding to blast out irrelevant chatter and noise, soft ballads for dinnertime, medium-paced 70s and 80s rock when I just want to feel good. Doing this with my MP3 collection would take days, and I’d rather pay Pandora to do it for me.

But I will never pay somebody just to access that culture and knowledge. I find that idea offensive.

This goes well in line with what many people have written about scarcity and abundance. As the copyright monopoly ceases to be cared about in the slightest, culture and knowledge becomes abundant. With each new abundance comes a new scarcity, in this case the ability to sort the abundant material in ways that add value. I’m prepared to pay for that.

In any case, other aggregators than record-label-controlled ones like Spotify are catching up quickly with similar services. The record label part of copyright industry will need to adapt entirely or be gone within a decade. They can’t behave like they’re selling a product when we’re only prepared to pay for a service.

Book publishers may have an even shorter expected lifespan, depending on how quickly reader tablets catch on. Movie and game publishers have a bit more inertia. For now.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Staffan

    I think you missed an important detail in the article you linked to about the Kindle store and the predominance of writers unaffiliated with the traditional publishing industry: it says “In fact, out of the top 25 best-selling INDIE Kindle writers, only 6 were previously affiliated with a publishing house.” That doesn’t say anything about how unaffiliated writers compare to those who are still under contract.

  2. Partito Pirata (@partitopirata)

    RT @Falkvinge: Streaming will undo the #copyright industry’s status as gatekeeper middleman: #infopolicy

  3. Luís Carvalho (@FatGiant) (@FatGiant) (@FatGiant) (@FatGiant)

    RT @falkvinge Streaming is the Copyright Industry’s Approaching Train at the End of the.. #infopolicy

  4. Michael Pettersson

    “Book publishers may have an even shorter expected lifespan, depending on how quickly reader tablets catch on. Movie and game publishers have a bit more inertia. For now. ” Quote from your article above.

    If they are smart and invest in the new technology rather then fight it they have every chance to prevail. Ultimately they could reinterpret them self as “media access companies”. These could provide services similar to Pandora mentioned in your article but expanded to any type of type of media as long as it can be delivered electronically.

  5. Werner

    “At what point does YouTube’s streaming turn into illegal downloading?”

    First, there is no such thing as illegal downloading. There is violation of copyright law,. In your YouTube example, you would violate Swedish law as soon as you copy the FLV file from your browser’s cache folder to somewhere else. Ridiculous, yes.
    The law says that temporary copies of data as a part of a “techincal process” do not constitute copyright violations.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      First, there is no such thing as illegal downloading. There is violation of copyright law,

      While technically true, isn’t this splitting hairs? It’s like saying there is no such thing as speeding, but there is violation of speed limits.

      You can download bitstreams, and you can break the law when doing so. To me, it logically follows that in the cases you do so, you download illegally. Am I missing an important aspect here?

      Further, this has not been tested in a court of law — the “temporary” aspect is usually applied to routers, switches, et cetera. Microseconds. I am quite unsure that the indefinite time before closing a webpage would qualify as temporary — as it is, well, indefinite. A week is not microseconds.


      1. Andrew Norton

        Actually, it has been tested in a US court.. In 2006, cable company Cablevision was sued by studios for their network-based DVR. in 2007, a Federal court said that the system, which made a copy temporarily to stream (0.8s, iirc) was a copyright violation. The appeals court overturned it, thankfully, and the SCOTUS later declined to hear the appeal.

    2. Magnus

      No, he wont violate any law by moving, or copying, that flv-file. The law says:

      12 § Var och en får för privat bruk framställa ett eller några få exemplar av offentliggjorda verk. (.cut.) Exemplaren får inte användas för andra ändamål än privat bruk.


      Everyone is alowed, for private use, copy one or a few copies of published works … Copies may not be used in other purposes than private use.

      If the law was not written this way, it would be illegal do record a TV show for later viewing, or the use casette tapes in the eighties. It would even be illegal to photograph out in the streets since every advert on the street contains pictures under copyright, pictures that you copy with your camera when you take a picture.

  6. Urban Sundström

    Artikel in Swedish about aggregators who help small band to get on Spotify.

    Regards, Urban

  7. Streaming is the Copyright Industry’s Approaching Train at the End of the Tunnel

  8. NingúnOtro

    While streaming or downloading make technically no difference regarding the final availability of the complete file on a general purpose computer at the receiving end… they do require clearly differentiated setups at the server side.

    And differentiated technical setups can be subject to differentiated legal setups. Targeted legislation could focus on the liability of those responsible for streaming servers, and force them out of business if they stream content that is not properly licensed.

    Thus, they could sue anybody serving non-licensed content on a streaming server… based on the supposition that the responsible person has to know quite well what he is doing in order to operate the server, and can thus not claim innocence like any standard web browsing individual. Streaming server setups are also more expensive than a webpage with links… so they can apply pressure because there is more to be lost.

    After that, if they stick to only providing their content through streaming… they can claim that any version of their content available through other means is illegal distribution of copyright protected material, and they can go after bittorrent and direct download sites.

    1. Nox

      “they do require clearly differentiated setups at the server side.”

      Not really. Setting up partial downloads isn’t hard and once you have that you basically have your streaming service.

      The major difference is in how the player they supply handles the content.

    2. Magnus

      “Thus, they could sue anybody serving non-licensed content on a streaming server”

      That is the copyright law of today..

      1. NingúnOtro


        RTFC (read the fucking comment). The clearly differentiated setups are not only technically, but also legally and commercially different. It is on the mix of all those aspects that they play, and you should not think only from your technically skilled point of view. You might be able to technically set up a streaming server, but have you given the budgetary needs a thought? And once you engage money and liability… do you not care about the legal tricks that might get you to loose it? Fear is what they use to keep you from trying…, fear and uncertainty is what they spread to stem the tide of truth and ethics that harms their “business as usual” and increasing profit margins attitude.

        Lawmaking is about curbing mass statistical trends, do not think about them from the viewpoint of the single skilled individual because there are not enough of these around to matter more than standard deviation.

        The major difference… is most think about things from a pointless individual viewpoint, mostly their own, and fail miserably to check reality.


        Yes, obviously, BUT… that is why they want to make all other alternatives either illegal or highly unpractical, and THIS SOMETHING is what they are fighting for.

        That’s what we have to realise if we want a global strategy to fight back, instead of improvising poor reactions to the battles THEY cherry-pick at their convenience.

      2. NingúnOtro

        Guess I made my comment just in time not to be accused of idea theft 😉 .

  9. Kevin Davidson (@MetalSamurai) (@MetalSamurai)

    RT @glynmoody: Streaming is the #Copyright Industry’s Approaching Train at the End of the Tunnel – "Streaming changes what we pay for"

  10. Me Éric Franchi (@IPTechLawCanada)

    Online Music : Streaming is the Copyright Industry’s Approaching Train at the End of the Tunnel

  11. Anaka

    Amanda Hocking is not one of the best selling authors on Kindle store, she is one of the best selling indie authors on Kindle.

  12. Steve Russell (@sparkrussell)

    Streaming is the Copyright Industry’s Approaching Train at the End of the Tunnel via @ziteapp

  13. Thomas

    I am not sure I understand, please help me.
    You are willing to pay someone for “sorting” music for you and recommend new stuff to listen to?
    You are not willing to pay someone to copy the music, which seem reasonable?
    But are you willing to pay someone to actually produce the music for you?
    Or perhaps a more correct question. Are you willing to pay for the joy of listening to music?

    1. Scary Devil Monastery

      It isn’t exactly rocket science. Copying music is the matter of pushing one link and two buttons. The labor involved is finished in seconds and entails less effort than putting your shoes on.

      Delivering a searchable index where your media is pre-sorted, categorized and rated instead of you having to manually sort a thousand mp3 files according to artist, genre, music type, beat speed and instrumentation saves you several days of work or more.

      Are we willing to pay someone to produce the music?
      This has been explained time after time after time again, but ok:

      Trent reznor from Nine Inch Nails published an album – Ghost I-IV – which he offered free for downloading. Then added it to for the price of about 5$. 2008 amazon published it’s best seller list and lo, the album he’d given away for free topped the list with one million sales in one year – of which he kept over 50% as net profit.

      So an artist who manages his own brand name well can net himself 25 million dollars in a year on a “free” product.

      The fact of the matter is, any “pirate” tends to be an enthusiast which is why he downloads. Enthusiasts are, generally speaking, all too willing to pay their idols. Through web-paged flattr or paypal buttons, or through just visiting their webpages and generate ad revenues. The number of business models which exist for an artist – or anyone who manages to make a powerful brand out of their name – are staggering. And there is a solid will to pay.

      Tiger Woods earns less cash from his actual tournaments than it takes him to travel to them, but every step he makes on the green made him several thousand dollars in advertizing. George Lucas traded away all his rights to royalties for his first star Wars films and became filthy rich through the merchandizing because people wanted Darth Vader-masks and C3PO action figures. The list goes on.

      Spotify is a bad solution but did manage to both net a solid revenue and to cut filesharing of music by some 25% which no other method has managed to achieve.

      But if you’re asking whether there is a will to pay the artist by purchasing an overpriced CD of which the artist gets a few % of the net earnings? Nope. no way.

      1. Thomas

        A long reply – but more focused on the selling side.
        The question was simply if you, or mr Falkvinge, are willing to pay for the joy of listening to music.?
        Not so much about your opinion on the business models for entertainment companies.

      2. Scary Devil Monastery

        “The question was simply if you, or mr Falkvinge, are willing to pay for the joy of listening to music.?

        I did, at one time or another, purchase 90% of the songs in my mp3 collection if that’s what you’re asking. As did most of the pirates i know and most of my downloading friends.

        One of the things which pushed me into becoming a politically active pirate was the fact that i would have to spend another thousand crowns on renewing my old vinyl ABBA collection to CD/mp3 form and thus pay the artists in question two or three times over, despite already having purchased the “license” to listen.

        Which is one of your problems right there. If i buy a storage media and that means i own it and whatever is on it, then it’s my property to do with as i see fit, including taking backups or sharing it with all and sundry. If i lose it, i’ll have to obtain a replacement.
        If i only buy the license rights, then i’m fully entitled to download and rip anything for which i’ve already paid once. Everything else is double-dipping. and highway larceny.
        A lot of economists have written large studies casting the entire concept of intellectual property in doubt for just this reason – at the end you are left with a situation where the consumer spends cash without any rights or guarantees pertaining to the goods he has obtained.

        Am i, specifically willing to pay to listen to music? I do. Most pirates do. We spend, according to government-sponsored studies in three or four countries, on average, between two and four times as much money on media and entertainment of various kinds than the people who never download a single thing. Why do you think spotify succeeded? Why do you think Falkvinge is a paying subscriber to a music service (pandora)? Why do you think you’ll find a higher proportion of pirating downloaders in the paying audience of a live performance by a factor of five or more than you do in the general public who can’t be arsed to ever attend a concert?

        Your question was answered before you asked it, had you but read it. People who download are insatiable enthusiasts and we do spend a great deal of cash in order to support our hobbies.

        What prompts people to download is far more nuanced than simple “greed” though. Imagine anyone at all putting up with having to pay two or three times over for the use of a product? You’ll always end up with ingenious people finding ways to obtain that product or an equivalent without involving you at all.

        This, among other things, is why we propose a different business model – you just cannot make the current one work while at the same time keeping it reasonable.

        Everything else regarding the practical impossibility of retaining control over information once it’s been released, for instance, Well, those parts are very true, but they simply add another layer of complete invalidation of the current model. At the root cause is the fact that the current business model by it’s very nature alienates even the most hardcore and pay-happy fans at one time or another.

    2. Scary Devil Monastery

      Oh, and as a side note…any artist carried by, for example, Sony, i just wouldn’t buy. I might be willing to support the artist but never to let as much as a single cent end in the pocket of the idiots who add malware to their records (the root kit) and reconfigure the products you’ve already bought from them to reduce functionality (the PS3).

  14. Thomas

    @ Scary Devil Monastery

    I don’t know whether I should be sorry to make you disappointed or happy to bring you good news. But there never was a problem to copy your old vinyl collection to another format – or to download the MP3 files without paying for them.
    It’s perfectly legal – no worries whatsoever.
    And yes, you can even share the copies with your family and friends.

    If that is the reason that you are an active political pirate, well, the good news is that your political ambitions has already been realized 🙂
    The bad news is that you have with all the fancy rhetoric fought against the windmills. As cool as to take the streets fighting for the right to drive on the right side of the road, not on the left side…..

    1. Scary Devil Monastery

      Actually, that’s the problem. It isn’t legal.

      Or, to clarify, if i try to do that without hiding behind a VPN I will be among those hunted day and night by our friends from ifpi. Should they then pull MY ip adress out of the hat i’ll be finding myself in court with the bisarre practical reality of having to prove my innocense instead of my accusers having to prove my guilt.

      Which means if one of my old CD’s can’t be found from my attic storage or my vinyl collection isn’t complete from my basement, or i fail to produce a decades-old receipt, i will be branded as a criminal and be forced to pay a fine most likely in excess of what it would cost me to sponsor an ABBA reunion tour.

      You are quoting what the law ought to say, not what it practically says today.

      And no, that’s just the first, most visceral reason i’m a politically active pirate. The concept of intellectual “property” in itself is another issue, copyright in it’s current form, yet another.
      If i had to peg the one, most prevailing reason right now it would be the way copyright enthusiasts have lobbied in regards to items such as net neutrality, jurisprudence, and even international treaties such as ACTA and the computer retention directive.

      Those individuals and organizations who lobby for and back such madness have become a threat to the private lives, inalienable rights as citizens and human beings, of every internet user on this planet. The idea that any persons right to being unsurveilled and unregistered without due cause because a bunch of people are sharing information across a network is preposterous – and yet it’s happening.

      And so right now the issue is that i have come to believe the idea of intellectual property and personal freedoms have become completely irreconcileable. One or the other has to be completely abolished. I’d prefer this to be IP rather than the other way around. Because people will keep right on filesharing for as long as they have the ability to communicate at all, and the industry won’t quit the lobbying as long as there are two people left exchanging files considered “proprietary”.

      In order to defend ordinary simple rights like the right not to have your privacy invaded without due cause or the right not to be investigated when you are under no suspicion of a crime, we either have to put citizen’s rights activists on the barricades every five years in order to fend off another ACTA or Data Retention directive…or we have to end that war by abolishing IP altogether.

      In that sense i’m currently a pirate simply because i do not want to have to see yet another abolishment of civic rights roll around every few years without so much as a word in protest.

  15. Thomas

    Well, what do I know? I am just reading at the website from STIM:
    I guess they should know?
    Hope that Swedish is ok 🙂

    “Det är redan idag fullt lagligt att dela med sig av musik på många sätt. Exempelvis får den som har köpt en cd-skiva eller betalat för nedladdning av en låt kopiera den musiken till sina vänner via internet eller på cd-skivor, så länge det sker i begränsad omfattning och utan att man tar betalt för det”

    This is covered by special “media tax” that’s been around since… well ages.
    So no need to worry – just download or copy.
    But watch out for the windmills – remember Don Quixote 🙂

  16. Scary Devil Monastery

    And that’s a great thing if i happen to know someone who actually possesses, for instance, the actual recording i’m looking for. Of course, asking that question on the net will net me any of dozens of ways to obtain a copy from a kind random stranger – all of which is highly illegal.

    Of course, please take note of what your quote says – “så länge det sker i begränsad omfattning”. As long as it’s reasonably limited it’s ok.
    The strange thing is that this should cover bittorrent, as participant in a bittorrent cluster shares a single file less than half a dozen times on average.

    The problem is simple. According to the law each and every person is fully entitled to share his media between any and all of his friends and family – but if sufficiently many people do this, you end up with infinite distribution almost immediately. If I’m very casually aquainted with someone in a chat group, news group or open skype session is he allowed to toss me a copy? If so we’re right back to infinite file sharing once again. Which naturally means even further restrictions on what we may communicate or not.

    The response of the political body as spurred on by the media industry has thus been to effectively abolish that law for roughly 90-95% of it’s most common usage.

    As for the windmills…let me kindly point out that today international trade treaties have begun to contain mandated mass surveillance of the citizenry. The Swedish IPRED law bypasses big parts of the judicial process altogether. Both Sweden and the UK have managed to turn their laws regarding copyright infringement into a total farce where it’s in all practical terms suddenly up to the accused to prove his innocence instead of the other way around,

    I see no windmills here. What i do see is a massive swathe of new laws and regulations aimed at undercutting my rights to keep my communication with others confidential although i’m under suspicion of no crime.

  17. Thomas

    Scary Devil Monestary wrote:
    “What i do see is a massive swathe of new laws and regulations aimed at undercutting my rights to keep my communication with others confidential although i’m under suspicion of no crime.”
    It reminds me of facebook, LinkedIn and all the dating sites and other communities that we all so happily are joining.

  18. Scary Devil Monastery

    You mean the difference between, say, voluntarily visiting a nudist beach and laws requiring every citizen, voluntarily or not, to go naked?

    That’s a rather flawed argument. Seriously enough that i’m wondering whether you’re asking the question just in order to provoke reactions.

    The fact that people using facebook and similar pages have chosen a venue where they do in fact sign over any created content to Mark Zuckerberg has absolutely no relation to a law requiring every citizen to sign over their private and personal information to the state. I invite you to a quick thought regarding the rather serious differences between free choice and no choice.

    The data retention directive, to name just one effect, will be turning every cell phone into a state-owned GPS tracker.

    There’s a large difference between reasonable intrusion – putting an electronic surveillance device on a sentenced criminal as an alternative to a prison sentence – and something so completely unreasonable as placing the same surveillance method on every citizen in the country.

    Intercepting the mail and comunications of a person under reasonable suspicion of serious crimes by order of a prosecutor is also reasonable. Placing the personal comunication of every citizen under the same oversight is not.

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