Music content theft surges after lawsuits

The number of people downloading music illegally surged a month after recording companies began suing hundreds of music fans, a marketing research firm has confirmed.

The amount of U.S. households downloading music from peer-to-peer networks rose six percent in October and seven percent in November after a six-month decline, according to a study of computer users in 10,000 U.S. households conducted by The NPD Group based in Port Washington, New York.

Twelve million individuals reported getting music on the free networks in November, up from 11 million in September, NPD said in a separate, bi-monthly report.

Previous surveys dating back to May—when 20 million people said they were downloading music from file-sharing networks—showed a steady decline in the number of file-sharers.

The apparent increase in music file-sharing could merely be seasonal, as new album releases before the holidays heightened demand, speculated Russ Crupnick, vice president of The NPD Group. He also noted that less media coverage of the recording industry’s lawsuit campaign could have figured into the increase.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed more than 380 copyright infringement lawsuits against individuals across the country since last September and reached settlements for thousands of dollars with hundreds of individuals since.

A survey released in December by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and comScore Media Metrix reported that since May, the percentage of U.S. Internet users who download music was down by half, to 14 percent. The same report also found declines in usage of popular file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and Grokster.

But NPD’s findings mirror data from other file-sharing tracking firms, such as BigChampagne, which says traffic on file-swapping networks like FastTrack and Gnutella has continued to rise.

“It’s important to keep in mind that file sharing is occurring less frequently than before the RIAA began its legal efforts to stem the tide of P2P file-sharing,” Crupnick said. “We’re just seeing the first increase in these numbers.”

A spokesman for the RIAA said the group’s anti-piracy are on the right track, regardless of the NPD study. More lawsuits against file-sharers are coming, he added.

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