Illegal music downloads dropped in 2012, says report

Online and offline sharing of copyrighted music took a nosedive last year, according to NPD.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
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Fewer people are illegally downloading and sharing music, NPD Group said in a report today.

Among those surveyed for NPD's "Annual Music Study 2012," 40 percent who illegally downloaded music via peer-to-peer services in 2011 said they had stopped or decreased their illegal downloads in 2012.

Overall, the number of illegally downloaded songs from P2P services dropped by 26 percent in 2012 from 2011.

Part of that was due to an overall decline in the use of P2P services. At the 2005 peek of P2P file sharing networks, 33 million people used them. For 2012, that number totaled 21 million.

The trend extended beyond P2P services.

Songs burned and ripped from CDs owned by friends and family fell by 44 percent from 2011 to 2012. The number of music files shared from hard drives decreased by 25 percent. And the amount of songs downloaded from digital lockers dropped by 28 percent, based on the people surveyed by NPD.

Why the drop in music sharing? NPD cited three reasons.

First and foremost, the rise of free music streaming services has sliced into the popularity of illegal music downloads. Half of the people polled who had stopped or cut back on their illegal downloads said they did so because of the increase in free and legal music streaming services.

Second, the music industry's legal tactics have forced many P2P sites to close shop. One of the most prominent examples was Limewire, which shut down almost two years ago after a lawsuit found the company liable of copyright infringement.

And third, a fair number of P2P sites have proven a bit too risky, offering viruses and spyware as part of the price to pay for free music.

Almost 20 percent of the P2P users surveyed said they stopped or reduced their downloads because their favorite site went offline or the sites they used created problems with viruses and spyware.

"In recent years, we've seen less P2P activity, because the music industry has successfully used litigation to shut down Limewire and other services," Russ Crupnick, NPD's senior vice president of industry analysis, said in a statement. "Many of those who continued to use P2P services reported poor experiences, due to rampant spyware and viruses on illegal P2P sites."

NPD's "Annual Music Study 2012" report was based on consumer surveys conducted last year.

Clarification at 8:03 a.m. PT: The years compared has been fixed. The survey compared 2012 and 2011.