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Illegal Music Downloads Uptick

There's no doubt the music industry has won a few battles lately against music pirates, but news out today suggests the war is far from decided.

According to The NPD Group, music downloading via peer-to-peer (P2P) services increased 14% from October through November of 2003. That followed six straight months of decline during the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) legal campaign against pirates, which has so far resulted in more than 300 lawsuits.

Russ Crupnick, vice president of the independent NPD Group, says there may be several reasons for the uptick in downloading. Among them: the inevitable dropoff in publicity from the RIAA's campaign, more leisure time for students during the holidays, and the launch of several high-profile legal music downloading services.

Besides Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes service, which has captured nearly three-quarters of the legal download market, companies as diverse as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , Roxio (Nasdaq: ROXI  ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) have jumped into the game. This, says Crupnick, may be causing consumers to check out the unauthorized P2P services in order to compare song availability.

Still, the RIAA can't be too heartbroken over today's news. "It's important to keep in mind," says Crupnick, "that file sharing is occurring less frequently than before the RIAA began its legal efforts to stem the tide."

It seems the RIAA also has accomplished its goal of raising awareness of what's legal and what's not, and promises more lawsuits are coming. However, the legal campaign seems to have more of an effect on lighter downloaders, according to NPD Group, and those households still sharing files are downloading even more than before.

It looks like we'll need several more months, at the very least, before we have a clearer picture of the viability of the RIAA's efforts.

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