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Bootleg music downloading a thing of the past? Not so, study says

October 02, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • Fans of the Pirate Bay website in Stockholm protest a Swedish police raid. The site once billed itself as the world's largest source of BitTorrent files.
Fans of the Pirate Bay website in Stockholm protest a Swedish police raid.… (Peter Sunde )

Americans downloaded nearly 760 million songs using the BitTorrent file-sharing network in the first six months of this year -- surpassing the number of digital tracks purchased over that same period, according to a new report.

BitTorrent's technology allows Web users to share large files by downloading small pieces from many computers at once. Although not all music available on BitTorrent is pirated the majority of the songs delivered through the network are not licensed.

The findings of London researcher Musicmetric suggest that turning to the courts to block access to sites that facilitate illegal downloads -- as happened earlier this year in Britain, where Internet service providers were ordered to block access to the Pirate Bay -- is doing little to deter piracy.

"There was no significant change in the number of illegal downloads," said Marie-Alicia Chang, Musicmetric's co-founder and head of business development. "In other words, if people want to combat it ... singling out certain services isn't really going to do anything."

The U.S. continues to lead the world in BitTorrent use, based on Musicmetric's examination of individual file downloads.

Americans used the file-sharing network to grab 97 million albums and singles in the first half of the year (assuming an album contains 10 tracks, the total number of song downloads would exceed 759 million). By contrast, U.S. consumers bought 698 million digital singles in that period, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Gainesville, Fla.; Albany, Ga.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Lexington, Ky.; and Tallahassee, Fla., lead the nation in per capita downloads. But big cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago lead in total BitTorrent use.

The most popular downloads read like a Billboard chart. They include L'il Wayne and Drake's "The Motto," Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne" and Big Sean's "Finally Famous." In Los Angeles, rapper Tyga, music producer and DJ Skrillex and the rock duo The Black Keys are more popular than elsewhere in the country, based on BitTorrent downloads.

Online piracy decreased slightly in countries where people have access to licensed streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, which serve as alternative sources for free online delivery of millions of songs. Spotify is available in five of the 10 countries where use of BitTorrent is shrinking -- including Britain and the U.S.

"If you’re trying to kill piracy by whatever means, whether it's by legal means or by creating new ways for consumers to get content, you need to know if you're having any effect," said Gregory Mead, Musicmetric's co-founder and chief executive. "We report the numbers."

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