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P2P Use Losing Popularity?

With the Supreme Court set to hear MGM vs. Grokster Tuesday morning, more than half of all Internet users believe peer-to-peer (P2P) firms should be held responsible for the pirating of music and video files, according to a new national survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The report says 53 percent of Internet users favor holding the P2P companies legally responsible for the illegal file swapping that occurs on their networks. Some 18 percent of all Americans think individual file swappers should be held responsible and 12 percent say both companies and individuals should shoulder responsibility.

The respondents were far more divided, however, on whether any government action will reduce the amount of illegal file swapping. The survey results show that 42 percent believe government efforts to curb copyright theft "would not work very well."

The survey also shows that Americans are increasingly swapping files outside of traditional P2P networks or paid online services.

The national survey results shows that approximately 36 million Americans (27 percent of all U.S. Internet users) say they download music and video files. Of those downloaders, about seven million say they swap files through iPods and MP3 players. In addition, 10 million report swapping files via e-mail or instant messaging.

In all, according to Pew, 48 percent of current downloaders have used sources other than P2P networks or paid services to get files. Beyond MP3 players, e-mail and instant messaging, other alternative sources include music and movie Web sites, blogs and online review sites.

"We've seen the recording industry lawsuits deter some peer-to-peer users and many have migrated to paid music services. But the most striking new observation is the incidence of workarounds and alternative ways people are using to trade files," study author Mary Madden said in a statement.

Madden said this "privatization" of file-sharing is taking place even as the number of Americans using paid online music services is growing and the total number of downloaders is increasing. But it's not happening at nearly the level that existed before the recording industry began to file lawsuits against suspected music file sharers two years ago.

The percentage of Internet users who say they download music files has increased from 18 percent in February of last year to 22 percent in January. The total number of downloaders continues to rest well below the peak level of 32 percent registered by Pew in October 2002.

According to Pew, current file downloaders are now more likely to say they use online music services like iTunes than they are to report using P2P services. The percentage of music downloaders that have tried paid services has grown from 24 percent in 2004 to 43 percent in the most recent Pew sampling.

Pew cautions, however, that "respondents may now be less likely to report peer-to-peer usage due to the stigma associated with the networks."



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