Legal action curbs US music downloads

The number of US internet users downloading peer-to-peer music files has fallen significantly in recent months, partly as a...

The number of US internet users downloading peer-to-peer music files has fallen significantly in recent months, partly as a result of  recording industry lawsuits against individual downloaders, a study has claimed.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project said the percentage of Americans claiming to download music from the internet fell from 29%, or about 35 million people, in May 2002 to 14%, or 18 million people, in December.

Furthermore, while 4% of US users were recorded as saying that they downloaded music files in a survey conducted from March to May 2003, only 1% of users said the same in the latest survey conducted from November to December.

Pew conducted the nationwide study last November and December through a phone survey of 1,358 internet users. The group released the results in conjunction with comScore Media Metrix, comparing the figures with a study it did in March and April 2003.

The recording industry's recent crackdown against illegal P-to-P file sharers could be one factor behind the recent decline in downloading, Pew said. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) expanded its antipiracy campaign last September, issuing a wave of subpoenas against individual users believed to be downloading copyright protected music. The record industry group has since filed 382 lawsuits against users for "egregious" copyright infringement.

While the Pew study revealed that one-fifth of those surveyed said that the suits acted as a deterrent, other factors could have contributed to the decrease in file sharing, such as the emergence of new paid download sites.

Use of free P-to-P applications such as Kazaa, WinMX, BearShare and Grokster have fallen in the past, according to data released by comScore Media Metrix, while new paid download sites such as the revamped and the expanded iTunes music site for Windows-based PC users have aimed to take up the slack.

"I definitely believe that the RIAA suits contributed to the increased use of paid music sites," said comScore analyst Graham Mudd, adding that use of Kazaa significantly fell one month after the RIAA announced its first round of suits.

RIAA chairman and chief executive officer Mitch Bainwol said that the study was "another encouraging indication that we are on the right track".

The recording industry claims that it is on fertile legal ground for protecting its copyright works thanks to provision laid out under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, allowing it to subpoena internet service providers for the names of alleged illegal file traders.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

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