Are the RIAA's Lawsuits Working?

The number of U.S. Internet users downloading music files from peer-to-peer networks has significantly dropped in recent months. That's according to a new study, which proposes that recording industry lawsuits against individual downloaders could have contributed to the fall.

The percentage of Americans claiming to download music from the Internet fell from 29 percent, or about 35 million people, in May of last year to 14 percent, or 18 million people, in December, the Pew Internet & American Life Project said in a study released Sunday. Furthermore, while 4 percent of U.S. Internet users were recorded as saying that they downloaded music files in a survey conducted from March through May of 2003, only 1 percent of users said the same in the latest survey conducted from November through December.

Pew conducted the nationwide study last November and December through a phone survey of 1358 Internet users. The group released the results in conjunction with comScore Media Metrix, comparing the figures with a study it conducted in March and April of 2003.

Copyright Crackdown

The recording industry's recent crackdown against illegal P-to-P file sharers could be one factor behind the recent decline in P-to-P downloading, Pew says. The Recording Industry Association of America 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, according to Pew.

While the Pew study revealed that one-fifth of those surveyed said that they are downloading less music due to the suits, other factors could have contributed to the decrease in file sharing such as the emergence of new paid download sites, Pew says.

Use of free P-to-P applications such as Kazaa, WinMX, BearShare, and Grokster dropped in November compared to a year ago, according to data released by comScore Media Metrix. Meanwhile 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," comScore analyst Graham Mudd says.

For example, use of Kazaa significantly dropped off one month after the RIAA announced its first round of suits, Mudd says.

The Driving Factor?

While other factors certainly could have contributed to the decline in music downloading, the RIAA suits "seem to be the driving factor," Mudd says.

The RIAA agrees. In a statement released Monday, RIAA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mitch Bainwol says that the study was "another encouraging indication that we are on the right track."

"We must continue on this course," Bainwol adds.

The reinforcement of the RIAA's strategy could spell bad news for some users and critics who have fought against the subpoena campaign on the grounds that it violates user privacy.

However, 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.

While the two sides look locked in the argument over whether the campaign is fair, the Pew study seems to indicate that it is working.

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