Music downloading plunges

The recording industry’s legal campaign against Internet song-swappers appears to be having its desired effect.

A new survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project and comScore MediaMetrix shows that the percentage of Americans who download music online has been cut in half since the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, sued hundreds of peer-to-peer users last year.

Mary Madden is a researcher at Pew Internet, which surveyed about 1400 people for this report.

MADDEN: This was the biggest drop that we’ve ever seen for any Internet activity that we measure. The drop was from 29 percent of all Internet users who downloaded music in our March through May survey to 14 percent of Internet users in our most recent survey in November and December of 2003.

Does your data suggest that is directly because of the RIAA lawsuits?

MADDEN: No, there’s not a direct causal relationship going on here. However, we did ask a specific question of those Internet users who continued to download and share files. We followed up and asked them specifically if the lawsuits had had an impact on the frequency of their downloading, and 18 percent of those Internet users … said indeed they were sharing files less often in recent months because of the lawsuits. However, we certainly need to monitor this in the future. This certainly isn’t the end of the story. This could be a temporary drop.

Big Champagne, a company that measures peer-to-peer activity, consistently maintains there has been no drop-off since the RIAA lawsuits. It measures actual activity on peer-to-peer networks, while your data measures what people say they’re doing, right?

MADDEN: Correct. And so a portion of those who respond to our questions may indeed just be less likely to admit to downloading now. However, organizations like Big Champagne are looking at overall activity, whereas we are talking to individual users. I think we can both be right at the same time, which is to say that the overall number of people doing this might be less. But the people who continue to download might be doing so at more intense levels.

Separate data from comScore Media Metrix appears to confirm that fewer people are trading music online.

Dan Hess is company vice president.

HESS: In June of this year, we saw KaZaA, which is the leading file sharing application, on more than 34 million pc’s in the U.S. alone. As of November, that number had dropped down closer to 25 million.

What does your data show about the use of legitimate pay-for-download services like i-Tunes and the new Napster?

HESS: In November, we saw 3.2 million Americans visiting Napster.com, and that service had only been re-launched since October. And Apple’s i-Tunes brought in close to three million people itself in November. The RIAA, which represents record labels, says it is heartened by the studies but says it will file more lawsuits against music swappers this year.

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