Sean Parker’s Phantom Trillions of Illegal Downloads


Sean Parker, the ruthless cocaine-snorting villain played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network–also known in the real world as a successful VC and co-founder of Napster–thinks legally purchased music will never catch up to pirated downloads. He made the case at a Daily Beast conference Friday, where he contended fancifully that streaming services like Spotify are viable because they have consumers “by the balls.”

There’s just one problem with Parker’s argument: It’s based on some drastically inflated figures.

Parker argued that consumers are unwilling to pay for music, and that the industry should instead focus on areas they’re actually willing to spend cash: convenience and accessibility. “The war on piracy is a failure,” said Parker, prescribing a subscription model of unlimited streaming as one possible fix. “Look at the data: Somewhere between four trillion and 10 trillion songs are illegally downloaded every year.”

Wait, between four and 10 trillion songs are pirated annually? Considering that Internet penetration just hit reached two billion users globally, that’d mean users are downloading between 2,000 and 5,000 songs illegally every year. BitTorrent is popular, but not that popular.

According to a 2008 digital music report by the IFPI, an estimated 40 billion tracks are shared illegally each year–a far cry from the figures Parker cited.

Still, bad numbers don’t entirely discredit the Napster co-founder’s argument. The vast majority of music–more than 90%–is indeed pirated. We just think that if you’re making an argument for why Spotify is a viable service, your numbers should at least be in the right ballpark.AC