File Sharing on the Rise: Pew Study

By Jon Newton 3/24/05

The percentage of people who download music files has increased, says a new US study.

With the March 29 Grokster v MGM Supreme Court case looming, Americans are sharply conflicted over whether or not government enforcement against music and movie file sharers will work, with broadband users strongly believing a government crackdown wouldn't succeed, says a Pew Internet & American Life Project national survey.

Jon Newton

The Supreme Court panel will decide if the makers of p2p applications should be held liable for "illegal" uses of copyrighted music and videos shared by those using their software.

A district court has already ruled the p2p companies aren't responsible, and this was upheld by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. But the members of the Big Four record label and Big Seven movie studio cartels are back again, trying to have these decisions over-turned.

Some 42% of respondents believe "government efforts" wouldn't "work very well," says the survey of 1,421 adult Internet users conducted between January 13 and February 9. However, 38% thought the opposite.

"Among broadband users, though, views are more skeptical about government anti-piracy efforts," Pew states. "Some 57% of broadband users believe there is not much the government can do to reduce illegal file-sharing, compared to 32% who believe that enforcement would help control piracy."

Current downloaders are now more likely to say they use online music services than they are to report using p2p services, it continues. The percentage of music downloaders who say they've tried "paid services" has grown from 24% in 2004 to 43%.

But, "It's very difficult to get reliable information on topics like music file sharing," Eric Garland, ceo of p2p research company Big Champagne, told p2pnet. "And it's particularly challenging in a climate of aggressive litigation, proposed legislation and what the RIAA calls 'education'.

"It's difficult to extract good data from respondents on these things."

Supporting this, "respondents may now be less likely to report peer-to-peer usage due to the stigma associated with the networks," says the study.

In the meanwhile, the percentage of Net users who download music files has increased from 18% in February, 2004, to 22% in January this year, says Pew, hastening to add, "Still, this number continues to rest well-below the peak level (32%) that we registered in October 2002."

Forty-nine percent of Americans and 53% of internet users believe firms that own and operate file-sharing networks should be deemed responsible for the pirating of music and movie files, says the report, going on that 18% think individual file traders should be held responsible and 12% say both companies and individuals should shoulder responsibility.

“Almost one in five Americans (18%) say they do not know who should be held responsible or refused to answer the question,” it states.

Against that, 36 million Americans say they download either music or video files and about half say they’ve have found ways outside of traditional p2p networks or paid online services to swap their files.

The ‘privatization’ of file-sharing is taking place as more and more Americans use paid online music services, and the total number of downloaders is increasing, “though not nearly to the level that existed before the recording industry began to file lawsuits against suspected music file sharers in mid-2003,” says Pew.

Broadband users are more skeptical about government anti-piracy efforts. Some 57% of broadband users believe there is not much the government can do to reduce illegal file-sharing, compared to 32% who believe that enforcement would help control piracy.

Digital audio players are emerging as an alternative way to access media files and avoid some of the potential risks of peer-to-peer usage and 19% of current music and video downloaders say they've copied files from someone else’s player, 15% report it as a current practice, and 4% say they used to do it, states the report.

Email and instant messaging are other significant sources and 20% of current downloaders say they now get music or video files this way, while 8% report having done so in the past, says the study, continuing:

"Other music-related websites like online magazines or musicians’ homepages have attracted 23% of the downloading crowd at one time or another, with 17% reporting this as an active source. And despite intense interest in the emergence of music and movie blogs, just 7% of downloaders say they ever get material at these sites, with 4% doing so currently."


Jon Newton is the editor of and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.


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