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RIAA condemns research that shines positive light on pirates

Research that suggests torrent users spend more money on music than the average consumer has been branded by the RIAA as "misleading."

Researchers recently presented a paper that suggested U.S. pirates buy roughly 30 percent more music than those who do not file share. The Recording Industry Association of America wasn't best pleased and has responded by stating the research is "misleading."

Originally reported last month by TorrentFreak, the research came from the American Assembly, a public affairs group affiliated with Columbia University.

Joshua Friedlander, RIAA's vice president of research and strategic analysis, decided to refute the study in a blog post on Monday:

Some commentary has misleadingly reported that people who use P2P services like BitTorrent buy more music than non-users, implying that there's some sort of causation. In reality, the comparison is unfair -- what it's comparing is people who are interested in music with people who might not be interested at all.

In short, Friedlander argues that file sharers are inherently more interested in music and therefore may buy more music than other groups -- but that this does not equate to the idea that file sharers are shoring up the industry. In addition, he said, it is unfair to compare pirates to Baby Boomers, the elderly, or people who prefer to stream music through services like Pandora. Those groups may be less likely to purchase music than the younger age group who often pirate, he added, and so it is wrong to glorify file sharers who, by implications in the study, are keeping the music industry going.

Friedlander also pointed to data offered up by NDP Group, which said:

The average P2P user spent $90 per capita on music in 2004 -- now they spend $42 (CDs, downloads, subscriptions). This was during the same period when the number of files illegally downloaded per capita was rising.

Spending in the music industry is falling, but it is not only due to the rise of torrents. It is also due to a fragile economy and cutting expenditure on "luxury" items. In addition, as legal music services rise, it can be far cheaper to subscribe rather than purchase a number of individual albums, something that was a common occurrence a decade ago.

Engagement may have little to do with it, setting aside the argument that improving music access means more artists are discovered and that a user may find more albums they would like to buy.

However, even if P2P users buy more music than the "average" consumer, other variables come into play -- from copying and ripping music, exchanging files on hard drives, and the use of cyberlockers. In reality, file-sharing cannot be analyzed purely from BitTorrent usage -- but it does give you a rough idea of how popular torrent downloads are. For example, data-tracking firm Musicmetric has reported that in the first half of 2012, 97 million BitTorrent files were downloaded, of which 78 percent were albums, and 22 percent were individual songs.

Despite attempts to prevent consumers from accessing Web sites where they can download illegal copies of music, films, and games, The Pirate Bay is still extremely easy to access despite Internet provider blocks and Google's recently altered search algorithms to downrank sites hit with copyright claims. Likewise, proxies and mirror sites spring up every day, and it takes no more effort to pirate a song than the archaic method of copying a television show onto a blank VCR tape.