U.S. leads world in file swapping

Although The U.S. makes up the majority of the world’s peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file sharing population, and Canada is the fastest-growing nation of file-swappers according to a new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), experts say that the findings do not represent the entire file sharing picture.

While 55 per cent of Internet P-to-P file sharers originate from the U.S., according to the study, “Peer To Peer Networks in OECD Countries”, the numbers of file sharers in Germany (10 per cent ) and Canada (eight per cent ) continue to grow. However, the study also points to data that shows the U.S. share in the global P-to-P user base plummeted nearly 24 per cent between January 2003 and January 2004, as P-to-P software has become more popular in Europe.

The data comes from a wide variety of sources including polls conducted by Pew Internet and American Life, a non-profit Internet research project, and BigChampagne LLC, an online media measurement company.

Although he has yet to examine a final copy of the OECD study, which was released Dec. 3, BigChampagne co-founder and chief executive officer Eric Garland pointed out several factors that are key to comprehending and interpreting P-to-P statistics that the OECD study does not mention.

The study says that “owing to increasing lawsuits by the record industry and the rapid adoption of commercial on-line music sales, the number of people in the United States swapping music has declined by half since mid-2003.” Garland said that there was not a huge drop in P-to-P file swapping following the lawsuits, but instead file sharers have become more savvy and download files without sharing them.

Fred Von Lohmann, the senior intellectual property attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties on the Internet, agreed with Garland. Lawsuits are not substantially decreasing popularity of file sharing because file sharers know how to avoid lawsuits, he said.

“It is hard to measure who is just downloading, or ‘leaching’, and peer-to-peer measurements do not give a picture of how many people are pure downloaders,” Von Lohmann said. Both Garland and Von Lohmann estimated that there could be upwards of 100 million P-to-P file swappers worldwide. However, the definition of P-to-P is itself elusive.

BigChampagne only measures the activity of file-sharing communities of at least 50,000 people, and therefore users sharing files over smaller LAN connections such as on small college campuses are not included in the research. “The definition of the file sharing universe is editorial — what really constitutes as peer-to-peer? I don’t know,” said Garland.

Indeed the definition of P-to-P file sharing is rapidly changing according to the OECD study, as file sharers are now commonly trading full movies and software programs, whereas pioneering P-to-P programs such as Napster only allowed for the trade of MP3 audio files. While audio files made up 63 per cent of P-to-P shared files in 2002, that number was down to 49 per cent in 2003, largely as a result of the higher bandwith available to download larger movie and software files faster, the study said.

Among those who are still sharing files on major P-to-P communities according to the OECD study, Canadians are increasing in number at the most rapid pace, as their share in the global P-to-P user base jumped by 4.5 per cent from 2003 to 2004. Canada is also the only country included in the OECD study in which over 1 per cent of the total population uses P-to-P networks.

Yet despite the hike in P-to-P usage outside the U.S., Von Lohmann doubts that Canadian and European recording industries will follow the lead of their contemporaries in the U.S. by filing large-scale lawsuits against individual file sharers. “Europeans are more comfortable with taxing P-to-P systems than filing lawsuits” he said.

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