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Music piracy on the decline as digital music sales grow

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Maybe music executives can finally stop singing the blues. Music piracy is on the decline, analysts say, while an industry group said digital music sales in 2012 drove global music industry revenues up for the first time since 1999.

It’s not a very big gain for the music industry — just 0.3 percent to $16.5 billion — but even that small uptick may be a sign that digital music has finally put the industry on the path to recovery. Digital music and services, the report said, grew 9 percent in the past year. That comprises digital downloads, as well as newer subscription services such as Spotify and ad-supported services including Pandora.

“No doubt, this is welcome news,” said Recording Industry Association of America spokesman Jonathan Lamy, who said over half of the industry’s revenues come from digital services now. “We are starting to turn the corner, and that’s great news for the business and fans.”

Not only have free or low-priced streaming services given music lovers easy access to their favorite tunes, the NPD Group found in a separate study that broader access to music is also driving fewer people to download songs illegally. These services have gained some industry support because they allow consumers to get the music they want while still supporting artists, record labels and others in the industry.

In its annual music study, the analysis group found that consumers are sharing less illegal music across the board. Not only is the volume of illegally downloaded music files over file-sharing networks down 26 percent compared to the previous year, so is the number of people who burn and rip CDs, swap music files on hard drives and download music from digital lockers.

The NPD Group said that a crackdown on sharing sites and questions about their safety, combined with the rise of easy, legitimate music streaming has fueled the decline. Nearly 20 percent of users, the group said, have stopped using these sites because they’ve been shut down or because of issues with spyware and viruses.

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