Online music plays a new tune

Online music plays a new tune

Recovering Kazaa users are everywhere. They might be fearful of the recording industry’s litigious rampage. Perhaps they’re tired of pop-ups and promotions. Maybe they went straight to Apple’s iTunes or Musicmatch. Or perhaps they’ve just gone further underground for their digital music.

Kazaa’s file-sharing software is still used by more than 20 million people, according to research from ComScore Media Metrix; that number is down from almost 35 million users less than a year ago. But the steep decline doesn’t mean the death knell is ringing for free and illegal online music. Paid music services may be growing, but so are some of the smaller peer-to-peer services. And many Web surfers are finding new sources and new methods for trading music online.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began filing lawsuits against alleged file swappers last September, and calls the suits an effective deterrent against piracy. So far, 2454 individuals have been sued.

“The barometer of success for us is not the day-to-day traffic on any particular pirate peer-to-peer network,” RIAA director of communications, Jonathan Lamy, said. “There will always be a degree of piracy online, just like there is always piracy on the street.

“The idea here is to create an environment where legitimate online music services can flourish. We look at whether we are facilitating the expansion of the legitimate online music market, and so far it’s been very encouraging.”

Researchers confirm that file sharing appears to be on the decline. “Our long-term tracking indicates that the usage of peer-to-peer services is down compared to a year, or a year-and-a-half ago,” the president of music and movies at researcher NPD Group, Russ Crupnick, said.

However, peer-to-peer usage had been quite stable for the last six to nine months.

Use of peer-to-peer services is down slightly in a recent survey by the Pew Internet Project and ComScore Media Metrix. ComScore also noted a drop in the use of the WinMX file-sharing service, said senior analyst, Graham Mudd. In December 2002, the service had an estimated 7.5 million unique users. By February, that number was down to less than 6 million users.

However, ComScore notes an increase in the use of several smaller, lesser-known peer-to-peer networks, such as BitTorrent and eMule.

BitTorrent, for example, had slightly more than 200,000 unique users in November 2003. By February, the number was just under 400,000. “There has been some speculation that these services have lower visibility, and it may be more difficult to track users,” Mudd said. “More savvy Net users may be switching to these applications because they think they can fly under the radar.”

The RIAA, however, disputes that assumption.

While BitTorrent’s usage almost doubled over three months, it remains small. Clearly, not everyone uninstalling Kazaa and WinMX was moving to an alternative service, Mudd said.

“The pickup in smaller applications does not make up for the overall decline in peer-to-peer usage,” he said.

Some users are switching to legal services, such as iTunes, which celebrated its successful first year in April. Apple estimated iTunes sold 70 million songs in its first year.

ComScore’s Mudd agreed iTunes’ success was impressive but said users of legal music services were not all repentant file swappers. “The drop-off in peer-to-peer is not necessarily being picked up by the paid services,” he said.

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