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File Sharers Go Beyond P2P

  |  March 23, 2005   |  Comments

Americans pessimistic about government's ability to curb illegal file sharing.

Approximately 36 million Americans, or 27 percent of Internet users, download music or video files. About half have done so outside of traditional peer-to-peer networks (P2P) or paid online services, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

A full 28 percent (10 million people) say they obtain music and video files via email and instant messages. Another 19 percent of current music and video downloaders (7 million adults) say they've acquired files from someone else's MP3 player.

Pew used the term "download" generically in the survey, without differentiating between legal and illegal means of acquiring video and music files online.

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"The findings of this study suggest that people looking to download video or music files are certainly willing to look beyond peer-to-peer networks and paid download services," said Mary Madden, research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,421 adult Internet users conducted between January 12 and February 9, 2005. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Pew conducted the survey to create a snapshot of public sentiment before the MGM v. Grokster file-sharing case begins Supreme Court proceedings on March 29. The key issue is whether providers of P2P file-sharing technology are liable for illegal use of copyright music and video files by people who use their services. P2P companies were victorious in prior decisions upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"It will be interesting to see the reaction from the public and the technology companies," Madden said about the significance of the pending case. "It we see a ruling favoring entertainment companies, it might be more difficult to find third party software that allows you to rip music files off an iPod or an MP3 player, for example. Also, we may see a lot more copy protection on files, where it would cost less if you want to use the file one time only, and more if you want to use it for a month."

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Despite the attention file-sharing will command this spring, Pew found a 42 percent of Americans believe government efforts will be ineffective in reducing file-sharing. Broadband users were much more pessimistic about government regulation; 57 percent of respondents with high-speed connections say there's not much Uncle Sam can do.

Other key findings include:

  • 49 percent of all Americans (and 53 percent of Internet users) believe firms that own and operate file-sharing networks should be held responsible for the pirating of music and movie files.

  • 18 percent of Americans believe individual file sharers should be held responsible; 18 percent said they didn't know who should be held responsible, or refused to answer.

  • The percentage of music downloaders who have tried paid services has grown from 24 percent in February 2004 to 43 percent in the current survey.

  • The percentage of Internet users who download music files, legally or illegally, has increased from 18 percent in February, 2004 to 22 percent in the current study. The peak level measured by Pew was 32 percent, recorded in October 2002. Pew notes respondents may now be less likely to report P2P usage due to associated stigma.

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