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Napster Downloads Reported Off By 36 Percent In April

The number of songs swapped on Napster fell by more than a third, down 36 percent, in April from March as the company’s court-ordered filters blocked more pirated files, but nearly 1.6 billion MP3 files still changed hands.

Technology research firm Webnoize said in a report this week that the number of files traded on the Napster service has steadily declined, from a peak of 2.79 billion in February to 2.49 billion in March and 1.59 billion in April.

MP3 is a compression format that turns music into small digital files. It has spurred an explosion in the sharing of songs online over the past two years, with Napster by far the most popular service.

On March 5, a federal court ruled that Napster must block the trading of copyrighted files on its system in response to a lawsuit by the world’s five biggest record companies: Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music, Sony Music, AOL Time Warner’s Warner Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG’s BMG.

Since then, Napster has instituted a screening mechanism designed to block the trading of files by artists ranging from ABBA to Frank Zappa, constantly tweaking the filters to detect intentional misspellings.

“The number of files shared per user has fallen by more than 80 percent since the filters were put in place,” said Webnoize analyst Matt Bailey. At the beginning of March, 220 files per user were available; by the end of April, only 34.

The average number of simultaneous Napster users had also fallen to 1.06 million by the end of April, down 16 percent from March.

“At this stage the amount of music available is pretty minimal compared to what it used to be,” said Bailey. “It’s only a matter of time before we see further drops in the number of users.”

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