Free music downloading is hotter than ever, said researchers on Thursday who found more than 3 billion files were downloaded on four leading file-swapping services in August, topping Napster at its peak.
Several peer-to-peer services, which enable users to trade music, video and other files over the Web, have sprung up recently to fill the void left by song-swap service Napster, which has seen activity die due to music industry lawsuits.
“Despite the millions of dollars spent trying to kill off pirate networks, the popularity of peer-to-peer file-sharing continues to grow,” said Matt Bailey, the Webnoize analyst who led the study into peer-to-peer services.
“Peer-to-peer users are getting more free content than they ever did through Napster,” he said.
According to Webnoize, the top four file-sharing systems – FastTrack, Audiogalaxy, iMesh and Gnutella – were used to download 3.05 billion files during August, according to research firm Webnoize.
This compares with the 2.79 billion files downloaded using Napster in February 2001 – the controversial service’s peak month before it was slapped with an injunction that restricted much of the service’s downloading activity.
Webnoize said music tracks still make up the bulk of all downloads, although bootleg films and software applications are counting for an ever-increasing part of the file-sharing mix.
The world’s biggest record labels – including Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music, Sony Music, AOL Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG’s BMG – first sued Internet song-swap service Napster in December 1999 for copyright infringement.
And in recent weeks, all the big Hollywood studios have announced video-on-demand initiatives to avert a similar situation in their industry.
Bailey said he expects these peer-to-peer networks will continue to grow strongly in coming months with the help of returning college students, who are active peer-to-peer users.
“For the recording and motion picture industries, the peer-to-peer problem is about to go from bad to worse,” Bailey said.