Miscellaneous Ramblings

Scientific Analysis of Internet Music Piracy

16 June 2000 - Charles Moore - Tip Jar

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released results of its Internet Tracking Report on MP3 music traffic.

The report by Director of Research Susannah Fox and Research Specialist Amanda Lenhart notes that 13 Million Americans "freeload" music on the Internet, and that one billion "free" music files now sit on Napster users' computers.

The report is available for download in Adobe PDF format.

Some other interesting statistics revealed in the Pew survey:

  • Despite the popular association of college students with music piracy, 42% of freeloaders are between the ages of 30 and 49 and tend to be those with a lot of experience online.
  • More than one in five Internet users (21%) have never downloaded music files.
  • Listen.com, the firm that provides the MP3 search engine for Lycos, suggests that as many as 500,000 authorized MP3 files are available on the Internet.
  • Since August, 1999, Napster went from zero to 10 million users (claimed). It took America Online more than six years to get 10 million users.
  • About 5,000 users are sharing files on Napster at any given time, and between 500,000 and 600,000 song files are available on those users' computers.
  • The average Napster user has approximately 100 music files that she or he shares with others, indicating that as many as 1 billion MP3 files exist in the Napster system.
  • Gnutella, another file sharing protocol that does not use central servers, experienced a19% increase in users from the first of April week to the second.
  • Gnutella has no company behind it, and no central servers, so it is a very difficult thing to "shut off" or regulate. Gnutella's creators, Justin Frankel and Tom Pepper, were ordered by their employer to remove Gnutella from the Web within hours of its posting; by that time that time about 10,000 people had downloaded the software, ensuring its continued existence and proliferation despite its lack of visible financial support.
  • One Gnutella variant, Freenet, allows both the user and the holder of files to be anonymous. Once a file of any type is put onto FreeNet, there is no way to suppress or retrieve it. The files are constantly shuffled through the hard drives of each user, so no one user will know what is on his computer at any one time, making it impossible to track the origin of any particular file. Freenet's London-based Irish creator, Ian Clarke, calls it "near-perfect anarchy."
  • People who use software like Napster or Gnutella make up 14% of all Internet users, and are 64% male (36% female), predominantly white, and 79% have had Internet access for two or more years. Nearly half of freeloaders are between the ages of 18 and 29. Almost 1 in 4 (23%) of all Internet users under thirty have freeloaded music. Only 9% of freeloaders are over 50.
  • 72% of freeloaders are daily Internet users.
  • Two-thirds of freeloaders have at least some college education.
  • Almost a third (31%) of students under 30 with Internet access have freeloaded.
  • There are also 15 million "Song Samplers" who listen to music online via streamed audio or Internet radio but do not save music files.
  • 52% of song samplers are women; 48% are men.
  • Song Samplers are older than the freeloaders, with 46%, between ages 30 and 49, and 20% over 50, and less than a third(31%) between 18 and 29.
  • More than three-quarters of Internet users (79%) have never downloaded a music file.
  • 62% of Internet users have never listened to or downloaded music online.
  • 40% of non-listeners have come online in the past year.

The survey's authors note that Napster, Gnutella, and their clones have "turned copyright law on its head," and threaten to "render much of copyright law, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), moot."

"Some predict that Napster, Gnutella, and FreeNet are the beginning of a process that will conclude with all music and information being free to all," they observe.

Another possible scenario is for Napster, et al., to begin charging a monthly fee to users, who would then be entitled to download all the music they want. A percentage of the fees would be remitted to record labels and the artists.

A survey by the research group Webnoize, entitled Napster University: From File Swapping to the Future of Entertainment, notes that more than half of college students surveyed who use Napster would be willing pay as much as US $15 per month for the service.

Taking an authoritarian tack, a Democratic Party think tank called the Progressive Policy Institute has been lobbying Congress to strengthen the DCMA to facilitate prosecution of people who use digital technologies for piracy.

However, the Pew survey authors point out that such a solution "could not be applied to Gnutella and FreeNet, two decentralized services that would be virtually impossible to bring under any kind of control or centralized registration regimen."

Recently at the 3rd MTV-Billboard Asian Music Conference in Hong Kong, industry leaders projected that the music industry could triple its profits by embracing the Internet, but only if new international regulations are put in place to ensure piracy does not erode the new profit cash cow.

"We need an adequate legal framework," Jason Berman, chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry was quoted saying. "If nothing else, what the Internet does is globalize your business, and the idea of having 50 or 60 different copyright regimes simply will not accommodate that kind of business."

The Pew survey notes that looming on the horizon is MP4 technology, which will allow compression of very large files, such as full-length movies, books, and large software applications, putting the publishing, movie, and software industries coming under the same threat from the Internet that the music industry perceives itself as being now.

This is doubtless why Disney Corp's Michael Eisner was found last week lobbying a Congress Committee investigating electronic copyright issues,

According to a report on The Register, Eisner declared, "Any threat to . . . the copyright industry is a threat to the overall American economy."

Eisner predicted that, "As broadband connections progress, movies will be next." And indeed that will very likely be the case, but Eisner's proposed remedy is something out of Orwell's 1984.

"Piracy is a technical problem which must be addressed with technical solutions," The Register quotes Eisner saying. "We need assurance that the people who manufacture computers and operate ISPs will cooperate...." - obviously encouraged to do so by the heavy hand of the law.

I think The Register's Thomas C Greene sized the issue up wonderfully with these comments in a report on the Pew survey:

"Interestingly, a sizable portion of these 'freeloaders' were found to go out later and buy the music they had sampled on line, putting the lie to MPAA claims that piracy is about to bring civilization to its knees. The RIAA is obsessed to the point of comedy with the frustration of having its rules broken, without considering whether such rules might be standing in the way of increased revenues.

"Indeed, Napster and Gnutella may turn out to be the two best music-marketing gimmicks yet devised, if only the RIAA would take its head out of its ass long enough to realize it."

Well said. LEM

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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