What is Stream Ripping?

Illegal music downloads happen all the time

A file dialog box stating 'Downloading MP3s' with a progress bar.

Epoxydude, Getty Images

Piracy and illegal music downloads have been an ongoing issue online for a long time. It used to be that users shared illegal files via file-sharing software, but the methods of illegally downloading music are continually evolving. One popular trend, known as stream ripping, uses specialized software to rip a track from an online streaming service

Here's a look at what stream ripping is and how it works, as well as the legal issues associated with it. 

What Is Stream Ripping?

Stream ripping involves ripping a track from a streaming platform before converting it into a downloadable file that the user can use offline for as long as they want. Then a user can access it without having to go back to the streaming service. Having such a file also means you can easily share it between other devices or users. 

To understand stream ripping, you need to understand what constitutes a streaming platform. These are services such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Music, Spotify, and various sports streaming services that offer music and video online. 

Stream ripping means that someone can listen to a music video on YouTube, for instance, before ripping it so they can listen to it offline, away from the service. Similarly, it's possible to do that with other forms of media such as a new episode of a TV show or a sporting event. 

How Does Stream Ripping Work?

Stream ripping requires software that can save the streaming media to a file so that you can access locally on your computer. It's also known as destreaming.

Some software uses the website link (or URL) of the streaming media and records it from there. Others are even simpler than that, merely capturing the content from your desktop as if it were a screencast. YouTube is one of the most commonly used streaming services by stream rippers as it has such a wealth of different content. However, there are also tools for Spotify, Apple Music, and various other popular streaming platforms. 

Many different software tools will achieve this result, but that doesn't mean they're legal to use. At least not unless you have legal permission from the copyright holder of the music track you're ripping. 

Why Do People Use Stream Ripping Software?

One survey found that people come up with many excuses for why they rip streams. Some say they already own the music in another format, while others want to be able to listen to it offline. Another reason cited is that they can't afford to pay for it. 

Ultimately though, it's still affecting artistic industries and potentially stalling creativity. 

What Legal Issues Are There?

Making an unauthorized copy of someone's intellectual property is copyright theft. 

Stream ripping is the fastest growing form of infringement according to the 2016 Music Consumer Insight Report published by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. 

While it's seen as a victimless crime by many, that's far from the truth. It's still a form of theft and negatively affects many professionals. It's difficult to quantify how many millions of tracks are ripped this way, but musicians, performers, and music distributors are certainly taking a hit on royalties.

Much of that is because individual streams are fractions of cents, but they add up fast. Even more so when taking into account that the legal way of doing things is to then buy a song via iTunes or Amazon rather than 'ripping' it.

What Is a Better Alternative to Illegal Music Downloading?

  • Buy your favorite music tracks on iTunes or Amazon Music so you can play them offline and on other devices.
  • Use a music streaming service that has an offline mode.