U.S. file swappers swell 500 per cent

Fueled by word of mouth and more than a few young men, file swapping alternatives to Napster Inc. have experienced user growth of nearly 500 per cent from March to August of this year, according to a report released Wednesday by Jupiter Media Metrix Inc.

Although free-file sharing pioneer Napster has been mired in legal battles and kept offline since last July for copyright infringement, its successors are clearly on the rise. The number of unique home users of these file swapping alternatives have increased 492 per cent, from 1.2 million in March to 6.9 million in August, Jupiter reported.

Napster alternatives Morpheus (operated by MusicCity Networks Inc.), KaZaA Media Desktop (a service of Consumer Empowerment BV, also known as FastTrack) and Winmx led the pack, with a high number of users between the ages of 12 and 17 and a strong male audience.

Morpheus had 2.3 million users in August, followed by KaZaA Media Desktop with 1.3 million users and Winmx with 1.2 million users.

Morpheus experienced a 186 per cent increase in users from June to August of this year, while KaZaA boasted a 157 per cent increase and Winmx swelled 91 per cent over the same period.

Coming in at number four was file-swapping renegade Aimster, with 927,000 users in August, up 74 per cent from June.

Collectively, 31 per cent of the users of file-swapping alternatives were between the ages of 12 and 17, and 43 per cent were males 18 and over. Twenty-six per cent were females 18 and over. Aimster boasted the highest number of users between 12 and 17, however, with 41 per cent of its audience near high-school age. Morpheus had the greatest number of males 18 and over at 47 per cent.

Word of mouth is driving these new Napster alternatives, Jupiter analysts reported, and as they grow, the value of their networks will increase as they gain more bandwidth and content.

This is all bad news for the major record labels and movie studios who are struggling to keep control of their copyright content, as well as launching their own legitimate online services. In fact, the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) teamed up to sue the operators of Morpheus and KaZaA, as well as MusicCity and Grokster earlier this month.

Jupiter Media Metrix, in New York, is at http://www.jup.com/.

Napster, in San Mateo, Calif., is at http://www.napster.com/.