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File-Sharing Dips After RIAA Threat

With the threat of litigation hovering over the heads of online music swappers, Nielsen//NetRatings is reporting a sharp drop in file-sharing on P2P networks.

While copyrighted music files are still available for download on the P2P networks, statistics from Nielsen//NetRatings show that traffic dropped more than 15 percent in the first week after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) warned of plans to file "thousands of lawsuits" against individual computer users.

On Kazaa, for instance, upload/download traffic dipped by one million unique visitors during the week ending July 6, a decline of 15 percent since the RIAA's warning was issued on June 25, Nielsen//NetRatings said.

The drop is traffic was not limited to Kazaa. MusicCity.com's Morpheus file-sharing application barely drew 231,000 unique visitors during the week ending July 6, a 15 percent drop from the previous week. File sharing fans logging onto iMesh declined 16 percent, recording 214,000 unique visitors, while BearShare did not make Nielsen//NetRatings' reporting cutoff after the legal warning was announced, the Internet measurement firm said.

"With the negative publicity and threat of steep fines, some surfers appear to be backing off," said Nielsen//NetRatings analyst Greg Bloom. "However, with millions of loyal users, these applications aren't likely to go offline in the near future," Bloom added.

A spokesperson for the RIAA told internetnews.com the ultimate measurement "is not the day to day traffic on peer to peer sites, but rather the long-term growth and success of the legitimate online music marketplace."

"That's what this enforcement is all about," the spokesperson declared, insisting the RIAA was committed to filing lawsuits against users who share "substantial" amounts of copyrighted digital music. The lobby group is busy collecting evidence and a slew of lawsuits could be filed as early as the middle of August.

The RIAA has urged users of file-sharing programs to disable file-uploading capabilities and take steps to block copyrighted music from being pirated. "This will not only keep strangers out of your hard dive, it will keep you from getting sued," the group warned.

Even as the RIAA is flexing its muscles to stamp out digital music piracy, the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is demanding major changes to copyright laws to get artists paid and make file-sharing legal.

The non-profit group launched the "Let the Music Play" campaign, which included a call for users to own the rights to share music. "Copyright law is out of step with the views of the American public and the reality of music distribution online," said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "Rather than trying to sue people into submission, we need to find a better alternative that gets artists paid while making file sharing legal."