The number of people actively sharing files over the Internet using peer-to-peer systems has almost halved since Napster--one of the most popular services--stopped allowing song trades, according to a study released Monday.
According to market research firm Jupiter Media Metrix, the number of Europeans regularly swapping files on the Internet has fallen from more than 8 million in February to just over 4.6 million in August, after Napster's file-trading service had been effectively shut down.
The company was ordered by a federal judge in July to remain offline until it could show that it was able to block access to copyrighted works on its file-swapping network. Because Napster has barred file trading while it works on a secure, proprietary MP3 format, called ".nap," direct comparisons to other file-swapping services are difficult. Some people still use Napster's software to tap into alternative song-swapping networks or to listen to music previously downloaded.
Napster remains the most popular online music destination in Europe, according to Jupiter Media Metrix's figures, and not one of the alternative services appears to have filled the void left by Napster.
Legitimate music sites MP3.com and NetBroadcaster only attracted 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent respectively of the European online population in August. Peer-to-peer sites such as MusicCity's Morpheus and Audiogalaxy attracted in turn 2.2 percent and 3 percent. But even in its reduced state, Napster attracted 4.7 percent of European surfers.
"The strength of Napster is testament to the popularity of sharing music over the Internet but also to the fact that consumers expect music to be free on the Web," said Mark Mulligan, a Jupiter Media Metrix analyst and author of the report.
As well as the overall drop in people using peer-to-peer services, file sharing as a whole has become a fragmented market. In February of this year, 12 peer-to-peer services shared a combined audience reach of 16 percent in Europe, compared to August 2001 when 17 sites share a diminished audience reach of less than 8 percent.
Staff writer Matt Loney reported from London.