Between February and March, the number of people who reported that they download music files increased to an estimated 23 million, compared with 18 million between November and December, according to a study released Sunday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That's an increase of 27 percent within a matter of months.
"It is a substantial increase, but since this is the first jump we've seen since the decline last year, we are hesitant to place a lot of weight on it. Typically, we see very little change in the number of Internet users in the various activities they engage in," said Mary Madden, a Pew research analyst and co-author of the report.
The research firm found that while the number of people downloading music has increased, they are turning to various alternatives to avoid the wrath of the music industry.
"Last January, we reported that after the recording industry lawsuits were launched into the public eye, there was a considerable drop in the percentage of Internet users who said they were downloading music or sharing files," Madden said. "And while its clear that the industry's legal campaign has made a lasting impression in the minds of American Internet users, we are also seeing evidence that a segment of users are simply moving away from the most popular and highly monitored file-sharing networks and are instead using alternative sources to acquire files."
Kazaa, for example, lost approximately 5 million users between November and February, the report showed. But smaller file-sharing applications, such as iMesh, BitTorrent and eMule, posted an increase in the number of users. And on the paid music front, more than 11 million U.S. users visited six major music download sites, according to the report.
Overall, 14 percent of people surveyed between February and March said they no longer download music files. That figure is comparable to Pew's survey in the November to December period.
File-sharing music lovers were stunned last September, when the Recording Industry Association of America announced it had filed 261 lawsuits against alleged file swappers.
The lawsuits marked the first time copyright laws were used on a large scale to place some of the liability and risk on ordinary computer users.
Most people who download music still rely on file sharing, Madden said. She noted that 31 percent of people surveyed indicated that they download music through file-sharing networks, while 17 percent use paid services.
"And a substantial portion is also finding other sources for their music, such as musicians' Web sites or e-mails," she added.