According to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the number of music downloaders using peer-to-peer networks has . Currently, 21 percent of downloaders use networks such as Kazaa or Grokster for music or video, compared with the 58 percent who downloaded music from file-sharing networks in February 2004.
By contrast, other methods of swapping music are gaining ground. iPods, along with instant messaging, blogs and other sources, are becoming a popular music transfer tool. Eleven percent of former file sharers admitted to having downloaded songs from other people's iPods or other MP3 players in the past, compared with the 15 percent of downloaders who currently do.
In theory, Apple Computer's iPods are one-way only, allowing users to load music onto the devices, but not download it to another computer. However, a number of third-party software programs make this kind of iPod-swapping possible. Many other MP3 players serve more directly as an external hard drive, from which songs can be uploaded and downloaded for friends at will.
"Digital audio players like the iPod that can store thousands of songs and other files are emerging as an alternative way to access media files and avoid some of the potential risks of peer-to-peer usage," the report said.
However, the report hints that the number of peer-to-peer users could in fact be far higher: "Respondents may now be less likely to report peer-to-peer usage due to the stigma associated with the networks."
Broadband, it seems, is likely to encourage criminal behavior.
"These broadband users who have high-speed access at home and at work represent a leading edge of content consumers and content creators, and are among the most likely to have used peer-to-peer services," the report says.
Nevertheless, legal downloading is putting its pirate cousin in the shade, in terms of growth. The report found that 43 percent of downloaders have tried legal sites, compared with 24 percent in 2004.
A small percentage of Internet users have fallen out of love with the downloading scene as a whole and now no longer get their music from the Net at all. Eleven percent of all Internet users once got music online but don't any more, with 44 percent of those previously using Kazaa and illegal alternatives and another 25 percent having lost interest in legal sites like iTunes, according to the study.
"Among all former music and video downloaders, 28 percent volunteer that the main reason they stopped was because they were afraid to get in trouble or heard about the," the report concludes.
Fifteen percent of ex-downloaders said they quit because they were getting too many viruses, pop-up ads and other PC problems as a result of their online music activity.
Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.