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Ed Sheeran is UK's most pirated artist of 2012

New study of illegal downloading ranks the United Kingdom second in the world, with Manchester named the nation's piracy capital

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Published: Monday, 17th September 2012 at 1:30 pm

A new study of illegal downloading via online service BitTorrent has ranked the United Kingdom second in worldwide piracy activity, behind the United States.


The Digital Music Index, compiled by monitoring service Musicmetric, has found that the UK’s total downloads during the first half of 2012 stands at 43,263,582 - compared to the US peak of 96,681,133. Of the UK's downloads, 78% were albums and 22% singles which, if each album is assumed to contain ten songs, would leave the estimated individual song total at approximately 347m.

Unsurprisingly, London topped the list of illegal downloads per UK settlement, with 4,565,502 files. But it’s the levels of piracy based on downloads per person that provides a more comprehensive insight.

Manchester’s 1.3m illegal downloads earns the city the title of piracy capital, with Nottingham, Southampton, Liverpool and Sheffield rounding off the top five. It is interesting to note the significant student presence in the list’s top ten (which also includes Cardiff, Leeds and Leicester) - a factor which helps to explain their high piracy levels.

Ed Sheeran’s + (Plus) topped the list of illegal album downloads, claiming first place in 459 of the 694 cities, towns and villages surveyed. The album was illegally downloaded an average of 55,512 times every month, with legal sales of the album hitting the 448,000 mark for the first half of 2012.

But Sheeran’s chart dominance was not unanimous, with the Isle of Wight’s most downloaded artist listed as American jazz crooner Louis Armstrong, while Great Yarmouth and the Oxfordshire village of Kidlington plumped for teen bopper Justin Bieber.

Completing the top three album downloads are Rizzle Kicks’ Stereo Typical and Rihanna’s Talk That Talk, the latter holding the position of world’s most pirated release with 1,228,313 downloads for the first half of 2012.

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing service allowing speedy transfers by dividing data into small chunks, allowing users to download large files simultaneously from multiple accounts before reassembling them at the end. Torrents are bundles of files and can be legal, but the majority of albums listed in the survey’s findings are not legally available via BitTorrent. The survey does not allow individual users to be traced as the data remains anonymous.

The Pirate Bay - self-billed as “The world’s most resilient BitTorrent site” was one of the world’s largest websites, but its facilitation of illegal downloads led to it being blocked by UK internet service providers earlier this year.

Following the release of the survey, Matt Mason – executive director at BitTorrent – stated: “These figures show for the first time that blocking The Pirate Bay had zero effect on piracy. It’s short-sighted to think that we can simply tell people to stop and they will.”

Gregory Mead, chief executive of Musicmetric said: “The challenge for copyright holders is to find ways to monetise music files torrented online. Clarity on the drivers between social media, file sharing and gig activity is what can deliver the industry and in our report these are being put under the microscope for the first time, which could prove a major turning point for the music industry.”


And Nigel Davies, a partner at music industry law firm, Davenport Lyons, advised, “These figures bring real context to the downloading debate, although I don’t think people always full appreciate what they’re doing or the damage it does to songwriters and artists – the very people music fans wouldn’t want to steal from.”


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