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For the established music recording and distribution industry, the appearance of Napster, the first P2P network software, was a disruptive event of unprecedented dimensions. Napster was created in September by then 18 year old Shawn Fanning as a software application aimed at simplifying the process of finding and sharing music files online.

File exchanges within the Napster network were limited to MP3 files because this format effectively reduces file sizes while maintaining most of the original sound quality, thereby making songs and albums easily tradable even with slower Internet connections. Due to its strong representation in the media and its user-friendly mode of operation, the system gained enormous popularity and generated a huge selection of downloadable music. The accusations against Napster, Inc.

Napster, a so-called first-generation P2P network, used central, company-owned servers to generate and maintain lists of connected users and the music files they provided. While the actual file transactions were conducted directly between the users, these central servers also facilitated the connections between users and initiated the music file downloads.

Napster, Inc. In this line of argumentation, individual network users were factored out as not being an integral part of the system and not responsible for the copyright violations. The recording industry feared that the generalized criminalization of music consumers would cause massive public relations problems and refrained from prosecuting Napster users. As a result of this lawsuit, an injunction issued in March ordered Napster to prevent the trading of copyright-protected music on its network.

In July of the same year, Napster had to shut down its entire network in order to comply with the injunction. By the time Napster was shut down, the concept of P2P networks, partly due to the many media reports covering the lawsuit, had gained vast popularity. Several new P2P networks had been created, some of which were based on highly efficient and completely decentralized architectures.

These networks were no longer restricted to music files, but allowed the sharing of all different kinds of media formats. The applications operated on various underlying data-transmission protocols, were no longer dependent on central servers, or encrypted the shared data. All these measures made it increasingly harder for the recording industry to shut down the networks through legal actions. Facing this new generation of P2P networks, the recording industry decided to revise its strategy. Instead of merely continuing the unpromising battle against the hydra-like P2P network applications, the new tactic extended the target to individuals who swap copyright-protected songs or movies through the networks RIAA, In , a few weeks after U.

The lawsuits were based on allegations of violations against U.

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These acts prohibited the circumvention of original copyright protections and allowed the criminal prosecution of sound recording copyright infringements including by digital means , even where no monetary profit or commercial gain is derived from the infringing activity. The program gave P2P network users the chance to avoid prosecution by signing a notarized Clean Slate affidavit.

The legal campaign was initiated mainly to generate headlines, to draw public attention to the issues of copyright violations and their enforcement, and to ultimately deter the mass of Internet users from signing up to P2P networks. As the counterpart of the legal actions, the Clean Slate Program had a similar purpose. It was designed to further increase public awareness about the illegality of unauthorized uploading and downloading on P2P networks. The new strategy turned out to be so successful that the RIAA soon came to the conclusion that the goal of educating the public was sufficiently reached and decided to discontinue the campaigns RIAA, Moreover, a fifth of those who continued to share files online said they are doing so less often because of the lawsuits.

These numbers suggest that the new campaign was in fact a considerable success. Four years down the road, however, the question has to be asked if its impact on P2P communities has sustained. How has the popularity of P2P networks developed since the lawsuits against users were filed? What do the most recent data on file sharing communities reveal about the current composition of their population?


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None of the above questions has so far been raised in the scientific literature. In part because file sharing communities are based on relatively new technical innovations, sociological articles analyzing their developments are scarce. The most recent study on illegal file sharing was conducted by Sameer Hinduja in Hinduja administered a survey asking about engagement in copyright infringements over P2P networks to undergraduate students at a Midwest university.

The study was designed to examine the applicability of three main criminological theories, but did not analyze the general population of file sharing networks. To this point, no sociological study has examined P2P communities since the shutdown of Napster and the slump of The present study aims to close this gap in the literature. It provides empirical answers to the aforementioned questions by analyzing the most recent data on file sharing. It further seeks to examine the appropriateness of the common equation of music downloading and file sharing.

The Music Industry on (the) Line? Surviving Music Piracy in a Digital Era

Music downloading and file sharing are two separate activities intersecting only when music files are shared. Oftentimes, file sharing networks are used to obtain files other than music, and music is downloaded through channels different from P2P networks. The two activities are usually treated synonymously in the extant literature, most likely due to the predominance of music files in the early file sharing networks.

Given the absence of prior empirical research on the topic of the present study, its hypotheses cannot be formulated a priori but have to be derived from the results of the exploratory analysis. All three datasets were collected through telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates between March and January The data collection was based on a random-digit sample frame of telephone numbers selected from telephone exchanges in the continental United States.

To compensate for the known biases in telephone interviews, the sample data are weighted in the analysis. The demographic weighting parameters for each dataset are derived from a special analysis of the most recently available Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the U. Using an iterative technique that simultaneously balances the distribution of all weighting parameters, these parameters are compared with the sample characteristics to construct representative sample weights. The study analyzes data from three waves of the tracking survey. The second tracking survey was fielded between November 19 and December 14, , shortly after the first lawsuits against P2P network users were filed.

During that time 2, adults in the U. It was conducted between January 13 and February 9, with 2, adults, 1, of which were Internet users. The error margins of the two latter surveys were calculated to be the same as in the spring survey. Independent variables. For the analysis of the sociodemographic characteristics of persons who share files online and download music files, the variables gender, race, age, income, educational attainment, student status, Internet experience, and Internet connection speed are examined.

Student status is selected based on literature suggesting that file sharing is particularly prevalent among college student populations Hinduja, The variables age, income, educational attainment, and years of Internet experience are all recoded into grouped categories. Age is divided into three cohorts: young adults years , middle-aged adults years , and adults 50 years and older.

The variable educational attainment is recoded into four types: less than high school, high school graduate, some college, and college degree or more. The same coding procedure is applied to information on years of Internet experience. Depending upon their years of experience, Internet users are grouped into three categories: 3 years or less, 4 to 6 years, and 7 or more years. Race is measured with three indicator variables White, Black, and Hispanic, with White as the reference category. Except for the income variable, all other variables contain only small amounts of randomly missing data that are excluded from the analysis.

For the income variable, missing values are replaced via linear interpolation to preserve sample size while avoiding the even higher reduction of variance that is caused by mean substitution. The last valid value of the case before the missing value and the first valid value of the case after the missing value are used to interpolate the missing value Little, ; Schafer, Dependent variables.

In the extant literature, it is common practice to equate the sharing of files with the downloading of music. Equating these two activities is problematic because it overlooks that file sharing is not restricted to music files. Many P2P network users share video, application, document, CD-image, picture or archive files, but refrain from swapping music to avoid prosecution.

Also, many Internet users who download music do so from a variety of sources. Aside from obtaining the files through P2P networks, they also download music files from legal online music services such as iTunes or buymusic.


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For this reason, the present analysis examines file sharing and music downloading as two separate activities. This upward trend suggests that the initial effectiveness of the campaign is wearing off. The fear of being indicted for copyright violations was less present in than it was at the end of Despite occasionally renewed media coverage of new lawsuits, the legal campaign has clearly lost some of its deterrence effect.

This pattern also suggests that the legal campaign was, at first, very successful in raising awareness for the illegality of music downloading without the permission of the copyright holder, but that this initial awareness has decreased significantly in subsequent years. When contrasting the distinct trends in music downloading, the developments in file sharing show a very inconsistent pattern. Here, the lawsuits did not have the same deterrence effect. Even though file sharing became slightly less popular overall between March and November it decreased only insignificantly by 0.

While approximately one-fifth of all Internet users had been using file sharing applications in March , this fraction increased to one-fourth in January The surprising finding is that a larger fraction of Internet users indicated having downloaded music than sharing their files online, probably due to the fact that at the time many file sharing programs did not require their users to share their files in order to be able to download and many users already employed other sources than P2P networks to obtain their music files.

The comparison of developments in specific sociodemographic groups reveals further interesting details. In contrast to this finding, the popularity of file sharing shows a reversed relation across genders. In , female Internet users had a higher percentage of file sharers among them than did males.

The racial composition of file sharing community members and music downloaders has developed differently, too. A peculiar finding is that during and , the percentage of Black persons who download music had largely remained unchanged it even decreased by 0. In the same time period, the two other racial groups showed an increase in the percentage of music downloaders a significant 6.


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  • Among all sociodemographic variables in the analysis, age is the factor with the largest differences between the single groups. The youngest group has by far the highest fractions of file sharers and music downloaders. The percentage of file sharers in this age group has remained relatively stable over the course of the three surveys. The increase of file sharers in the older cohorts can be partly attributed to maturation. File sharing communities came into existence around seven years ago and many of the young people who shared their files early on are now in the group of persons over thirty.

    The differences between the age groups are even more dramatic for music downloading than they are for file sharing. The large difference between younger and older Internet users in their music file downloading activity is not surprising, but simply mirrors the generally higher interest younger people have in the consumption of music. A counterintuitive pattern emerges when looking at the distributions of file sharers and music downloaders in the various income groups. In spring , the two lower income segments had the highest percentage of file sharers among them.

    In , the correlation between income and file sharing reversed. Nevertheless, the lowest income group still had the largest fraction of music downloaders. A possible explanation for this finding is that higher income groups are more likely to have a fast broadband connection, which allows them to share larger video, CD DVD image, or application files in P2P networks. The slower modem connection in many lower-income households limits the file sizes that can be downloaded in a reasonable time to smaller files such as music, text, or picture files.

    The distributions of file sharers and music downloaders among persons with different educational attainments show a pattern similar to the income groups. The relation between educational attainment and file sharing, however, had reversed, too. A possible reason for the reversed relation between education and file sharing might be that the later generations of file sharing programs require more expertise to be operated successfully, while many other sources for music downloading remain easily accessible.

    Technical difficulties might be a possible reason for the differences in file sharing and music downloading between the higher- and lower-educated groups. This reason, however, is mere speculation and requires further investigation with different data. The trend curves of the two activities also show large differences between students and persons who are not in college.

    In spring , almost one-third of all full- and part-time students were sharing files online and almost half of them were downloading music. Both fractions were approximately twice as high as they were for persons who are not in college. A possible explanation for this slight decline is that many students use Internet connections provided by their colleges to access the Internet, and many schools started monitoring and blocking file sharing ports in recent years.

    The last sociodemographic characteristic included in the analysis is the years of Internet experience. Here, little differences appear between the groups. Obviously, the campaign had the highest impact on persons who were less familiar with the technical details of file sharing networks. Reasons for no longer sharing files and technical alternatives to P2P networks.

    Aside from sociodemographic developments within online file sharing communities and the population of music downloaders, the analysis examines reasons Internet users provide for discontinuing downloading music files through P2P networks and technical alternatives used to obtain music files. Unfortunately, these items were not included in the surveys and, thus, cannot be analyzed over time. Still, the distributions in the January survey hold valuable information about the motives of Internet users.

    The main reasons for Internet users to stop downloading through P2P networks are of practical nature. These results, however, must be interpreted with caution because this variable has large amounts of missing data and each response category has very few observations. Therefore, the outcomes cannot be generalized accurately to the larger population.

    The lower part of Table 2 lists all different sources Internet users access to download their music files. It had no influence on the illegal downloading through MP3 players, emails, or instant messages, three sources that, when combined, are employed by a larger percentage of Internet users than are P2P networks. Discussion and Conclusion. Summarizing the findings of this study, it can be concluded that in order to adequately address the impact of the enforcement of copyright laws on file sharing communities and the popularity of music downloading, file sharing and music downloading have to be analyzed separately.

    Equating the two activities conceals important differences and does not allow valid conclusions about either.

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    This important circumstance has so far been overlooked in the sociological literature on file sharing communities. The separate analysis of the two activities allows a much more detailed examination of the effect legal prosecution of music copyright violations has had on file sharing networks. The results show that Internet users are well aware of the circumstance that legal prosecution is only targeting the sharing of music files. P2P network sharing was even more popular in than it was before the lawsuits against music downloaders were filed.

    This indicates that Internet users continue to swap video, application, and other copyright-protected files. Furthermore, the analysis revealed that the effect of the legal prosecution of music downloaders was not long-standing, but has been slowly wearing off since the campaign was started in Practical reasons to stop are equally important, if not more important, for the decision to no longer download music than is the fear of being sued.

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    It caused significantly fewer users to stop downloading than did the fear of being indicted for copyright violations. Technical alternatives to P2P networks also play an important part in the downloading of music files. The increasing popularity of broadband connections, MP3 players, and instant messaging applications plays a more and more important role for the illegal downloading of music files. Of particular conceptual relevance is the circumstance that the three PEW datasets analyzed in this study did not distinguish between legal and illegal file exchanges.

    This distinction, however, would have been important for the present study because the renewed popularity of P2P networks might be at least partially attributable to more legal files being shared in modern P2P networks. Other datasets need to be analyzed in order to isolate the change attributable to the availability of legal downloads and the impact legal online sources have on music downloading in P2P networks. The January survey contained only a very limited number of items that allow assessing the attitudes and opinions of Internet users towards the legal prosecution of online copyright violations.

    A detailed investigation of the opinions and beliefs of Internet users requires that additional items be asked. For example, it could be asked how familiar Internet users are with the current copyright laws and regulations, whether they think that these laws do a good job in protecting the rights of artists, or if they see these laws as mainly protecting the rights of those who sell art instead of the artists themselves.

    Other important aspects that would further specify the opinions of Internet users about legal matters are the degree to which Internet users believe that copying or sharing of any type of electronic files for non-commercial purposes should be legal, if they pay for the music they download, and to which extent and in which ways they support the artists whose music they are downloading. Today, the RIAA is no longer the only industry organization targeting illegal downloading.

    Future studies should examine the successfulness the efforts employed by the MPAA and the role that increasingly popular legal download alternatives have for the pirating of copyright-protected material. Denegri-Knott, J. Social Science Computer Review, 23 1 , Hinduja, S. Mathewson, and P. Dodd , The Social Life of Money , Eyal and E. Ferguson , The Ascent of Money. A Financial History of the World , Filippi and P.

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