Tune pirates on run

RIAA lawsuits help, but problems remain

The RIAA’s lawsuits against digital pirates have led a to a decrease in the number of people illegally trading music online — but they are pushing the most dedicated downloaders onto new peer-to-peer services that make it even harder to track them.

That’s the conclusion of a study by the non-profit Pew Internet & American Life Project. Recent survey by the group found that 14% of Internet users say they previously downloaded music files but don’t do so anymore, and one-third of that group, around 6 million people, attribute the decision to the RIAA’s legal campaign.

In addition, 60% of non-downloaders do not plan on starting because of the threat of RIAA lawsuits.

The total percentage of people who say they’ve ever downloaded music increased slightly from November to March, but that percentage, 18%, is still far lower than at any time before the RIAA suits began in September (some people are probably lying about never having downloaded music, while as the number of people who go online increases, the percentage who have downloaded music would naturally decrease). The recent increase can in part be attributed to growth for iTunes and other digital music stores, which accounted for 17% of downloading activity. P2P services accounted for 31% of online downloads, while 24% was from emails or instant messages, another category that primarily represents illegal file-sharing.

While iTunes reached over 50 million downloads last month, Pew wasn’t able to track any direct correlation between the effect of the lawsuits and activity in the small but growing space of digital music stores.

“Our data clearly shows that public sensitivity to these issues has been raised,” said Pew research specialist Mary Madden. “But there’s nothing to suggest this strategy has increased sales or will do so in the long-term.”

Findings are in line with others that have noted small increases in P2P activity after a big drop when the RIAA lawsuits started. Another study by researchers at Harvard Business School and the U. of North Carolina, however, reported that there is no discernible impact of illegal file-sharing on music sales, despite RIAA claims to the contrary.

Working with Internet traffic measurement company comScore Media Metrix, Pew also found that 5 million fewer people are using Kazaa, the most popular P2P program, than a year ago. That news is tempered, however, by growth for newer P2P applications like BitTorrent and eMule that make it more difficult for copyright holders to identify users.

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