How to protect your music against piracy

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Five years ago, I was of the opinion that protecting your music from piracy on a case-by-case basis was a waste of time.

You could get a Google alert on Monday notifying you that some site had just posted your MP3s for free, and if you wrote to that site’s owners asking them to remove the music, by Tuesday there would be two more Google Alerts in your inbox.

Trying to address each instance of piracy could quickly become a game of whack-a-mole, and meanwhile you’ve got gigs to play and music to promote.

Besides, isn’t piracy a form of exposure? Shouldn’t you be happy that people want to download your music for free?

Well, that’s debatable, for sure. Some labels and artists have really been hurt by music piracy, while others have been able to build their careers around free music on torrent sites. Like most things in this industry, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for distribution, pricing, and copyright issues. It comes down to you, your fans, what you’re willing to deliver, and what they’re willing to pay for (and how and when).

If you see it as a plus that your music, even when unauthorized, is widely available for free online, great — no need to combat piracy! Hopefully those fans are compensating you in other ways (coming to see you live, telling friends, following you on Instagram, creating UGC videos with your songs, etc.)

But if you DO want to remove your music from pirate sites, things have changed quite a bit in the last few years, and you’ve got options…

Fighting music piracy: do it yourself, or pay for help?

The paid approach — Check out services such as AudioLock and Muso that offer music piracy protection. For a fee they will scan the internet, find unauthorized instances of your music being offered for free, and issue “takedown requests” on your behalf. The Association of Independent Music created this comparison chart for anti-piracy services, if you want to see how each company’s pricing and services differ. Also, read this AudioLock Vs. Muso user-comparison from indie label Untitled Music.

The DIY approach — If you’re only worried about protecting a small catalog of songs, the services mentioned above might be an affordable solution. But, if hiring a service to issue takedown requests is out of your price range, or if it just rubs you the wrong way to think that you need to pay someone to make sure no one else can steal your music… well, the do-it-yourself approach might be the answer.

For help, I talked to Joel Andrew, my friend at CD Baby who handles copyright issues.

[DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind, this is not legal advice, and you may wish to consult an attorney when addressing copyright infringement and music piracy.]

Joel explains that it’s relatively easy to draft and send the takedown requests yourself: “Most pirate sites that I have communicated with have been really helpful, actually, and are quick to remove the content of independents.”

When is it worth it to issue your own takedown requests?

Should you write to every pirate site posting your music?

Here’s what Joel has to say:

Most pirate sites that I see go through a one year cycle: initially they show up with my music on a beautiful looking website; a few months later and they add a whole bunch of ads on the pages; then another few months on and pop-up ads start happening; then either the website goes down or the dreaded hidden downloads/viruses start happening.

My personal opinion is that it’s not worth a lot of effort to remove my content from places where the website itself is chasing the users away (pop-ups and viruses).

But, the websites that continue to operate year after year are of higher value, and are probably worth the effort, as users keep going back to those sites. The longer a pirate website stays attractive (from a design perspective), the more of my attention it deserves.

How to issue your own takedown request

Takedowns are usually sent via email. 

It’s a boilerplate notice (called a DMCA takedown notice, more information available here) and even non-US based websites frequently comply with the notice.

I head over to the website, scroll to the bottom and try to find some sort of contact information. There’s often a “DMCA Notice” or “Takedown Notice” or “Legal Contact” link. Send an email to that address and hope for the best. I’ve found the less threatening and more cooperative the initial notice, the more likely I am to get a response.

Here’s my caveat: the DMCA takedown notices include some heavy legal claims. I encourage you to discuss the boilerplate notice that you put together with an attorney.  Many states have a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts program (Oregon’s is and there are Musicians’ Unions all over the place that are usually happy to help.


Have you had experience issuing DMCA takedown notices? Have you worked with an anti-piracy service? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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