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Downloaders Fighting Back

Despite lawsuits, traffic on file-sharing sites is booming

It’s been the summer of fear online because of the music industry’s
campaign to sue file traders. But after millions of instant-message
warnings, some 1,600 subpoenas and at least 261 lawsuits, there’s
been no discernable effect on piracy. Traffic on Kazaa dipped
thirty-five percent after the Recording Industry Association of
America announced its new anti-piracy initiative, according to
Nielsen/NetRatings. But roughly 4 million users each week are still
on Kazaa, and many of them are beyond the reach of the law.

One reason the RIAA strategy is having a limited effect is that
the organization can pursue only file traders violating U.S. laws.
Even if all Americans stop sharing their record collections on the
Internet, millions of files would still be available from foreign
swappers. Some forty percent of peer-to-peer users hail from
overseas. And other national music-trade groups, like those in
Britain and Australia, have said they have no current plans to file
U.S.-style lawsuits.

Another factor keeping illegal music alive is the RIAA’s
strategy of pursuing only the most egregious uploaders — those
offering roughly 1,000 files from their hard drives. According to
the Internet research firm BigChampagne, eighty-six percent of all
file sharers have less than 200 songs available. “The record
industry is perpetuating the belief that relatively few
supersharers are responsible for all trading, and by yanking their
participation, the networks collapse,” says BigChampagne CEO Eric
Garland. While Kazaa traffic slowed during the summer, usage was
steady on Morpheus and increased on smaller file-sharing networks
such as BearShare.

The threat of lawsuits hasn’t caused traders to go legal,
either. After Apple’s iTunes music store sold 1 million songs in
each of its first two weeks in business, purchases have plateaued
at an average of 500,000 downloads per week. Meanwhile, the Windows
download site BuyMusic.com has yet to take off. It hasn’t even
generated enough traffic to rank on Nielsen’s weekly
most-visited-sites charts.

“How we view success is not the day-to-day ticktock of file
sharing,” says an RIAA representative. “Ultimately, we hope fans
will migrate to legitimate services.”

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