Did Limewire shutdown really cause P2P music infringement to drop 30%?

On Copyfight, Alan Wexelblat picks apart the widely reported story that P2P music sharing dropped 30 percent when Limewire shut down -- pointing out that the drop began two years ago, and Limewire only shut down three months ago. Alan's got some alternate hypotheses for the reported drop in file-sharing.
To cut NPD a small amount of slack here, they do admit that former LimeWire users are moving to other sharing networks. But really, this is just marketing puffery. NPD has no idea what caused the drop in self-reported file sharing over the past three years. Maybe it was that people thought it was an increasingly bad idea to admit that they used LimeWire to random marketers when there was a relentless stream of bad headlines about LimeWire.

Or maybe - and here I think is where there's an interesting story Sandoval might have written - people are sharing music by new means. Look, for example, at music-sharing via Twitter, or how about a video that's over a year old telling people how to share music on social networks?

I like TorrentFreak's take on this, too: if it's true that "music piracy" has dropped 30 percent, then we should have seen some sort of concomitant rise in music sales. And if there wasn't one, well, does that mean the music industry is wrong that "piracy" is the cause of its financial decline?

CNET (and others) Get It Wrong, Miss the Actual Story


  1. I personally think it has a lot to do with streaming sites. Ever since the Pandoras, Slackers, and Groovesharks rose to popularity I haven’t had the need to download a thing.

  2. More likely? People have been using Pandora, Grooveshark, Live.fm, Or even more commonly, YouTube, to listen to music.

    1. Listening to music on YouTube is the equivalent to watching TV through your neighbours window.

      I’d rather not bother.

  3. >> does that mean the music industry is wrong that “piracy” is the cause of its financial decline?

    duuh, winning!!

  4. There’s also all the recent music streaming websites and softs. I, for one, have completely stopped pirating music since I got Spotify Premium : it’s just a lot more convenient for me to type a band/track/album name on my phone and listen to it right then and there. For 10€ a month, it’s really the best deal you can get. (Not available to USAians, alas).

  5. My music acquisition (legal or otherwise) has dropped dramatically since I discovered Pandora. It gets me the music I like while always keeping the mix fresh and interesting, plus giving me instant access to new music. With this kind of convenience, messing around with individual music files is starting to feel like a hassle.

  6. To the extent that the study addresses video (does it?), it should not discount the effect that sites like Hulu and Netflix have had on piracy rates. The lesson here is that consumers want commercial options, but if you make them hard, then they will resort to piracy. Not out of a desire to “steal,” but because content providers make it difficult for people to enjoy media in the way that consumers wish to.

  7. The hardest hit market due to Limewire’s shutdown is the botnets. Everyone I’ve ever known to run Limewire had their machine compromised in one way or another. Same with Kazaa back in the day. What a security nightmare!

  8. The big downloaders realizing that when they have 500 albums they haven’t gotten around to listening to maybe downloading more isn’t really an effective use of their time/resources.

  9. Pandora actually had the opposite effect on me – bands I found on Pandora make up the bulk of music I’ve purchased in recent years (usually via iTunes).

    Of course, I can’t use Pandora anymore (in Canada), so I can no longer find music I want to buy easily (radio is horrible, random podcasts and websites are too much work – Pandora was like an extended advertisement that I enjoyed hearing… apparently the music industry isn’t interested in my money).

    1. Can you proxy into Pandora? I’m in the states, so it confuses me they’ve cut off Canada, but I like to think there are ways around this wall.

  10. If a precis of the study only reports two data points, you can’t conclude that the drop occurred over the entire period, all you can conclude is there are two data points. Without intermediate data points you don’t know if the figures were steady until three months ago, or steadily dropped over the past three years, or dropped three years ago and then held steady, or even increased until a year ago and then started dropping…

    What’s the original study say? Well, if it was from NPD, you probably have to pay several thousand dollars to see that. Pity.

  11. Rumor has it that there are music blogs where you can follow links to download obscure albums and hard-to-find tracks from certain online storage providers (cough cough Mediafire).

  12. I think of it as network traffic between unsynchronized sources. (think r-sync)

    There will be a peak of traffic in the beginning while all the data stores synchronize themselves.

    Once all the file sharers have a library with all the required data (music to their taste), the only traffic that will flow on the network is NEW data (also to their taste). In a ‘perfect’* situation the network traffic flow would be reflective of the rate of new music being released that is to the taste of the network which at the moment is probably near zero. e.g. “its Friday and tomorrow is Saturday then Sunday”.

    When new file sharers joining the network with empty data repositories they need to fill them and thus a spike in traffic will occur while they do this.

    Overall, once the network is sync’d (everyone has all the music to their taste) the traffic across the network will decrease…….

    Given the system is so large this would take years and I’d estimate that the steady state is somewhere around 20% of peak – but hey I’m just some guy eating his breakfast.

    *perfect in the 6th grade science sense, not perfect in the eyes of the RIAA.

  13. @jmzero can you use last.fm in Canada (they’re out of the UK so perhaps you can) I actually prefer them to Pandora, though they’re similar in a lot of ways.

  14. I doubt this comment will make it online, but here goes.

    I’d like to thank the record companies for behaving so abhorrently, by ripping off artists, dodging taxes, terrorizing people who share files, and otherwise acting like criminals for basically getting me to rarely if ever try to go out and listen, let alone buy new music.

    Thanks to them, I DON’T scour the internet looking for cool new bands to listen to. Thanks to them, I’ve come to the realization that the risk, however small and unlikely, simply isn’t worth the reward, which amounts to wasting my time.

    Here’s the thing: you DON’T need music to live and enjoy your life; there are many other things you can spend your time doing; things that don’t involve worrying about getting sued.

    The same goes for all media. At the end of the day, most of it is garbage, and the best of it can often be had for free.

  15. I think it’s because everybody downloaded a metric shite-ton of music and now they’re all done.

    1. I think you’re right: I personally have a ton of music and don’t feel the need to download more. Or buy more, for that matter.
      Maybe in a while I’ll burn some more of my precious, overpriced canadian bandwidth for music, but not today. Today its all about the torrentbutler.com

  16. An earlier press release from NPD Group seems to undercut exactly what they are talking about here. On 3/31/09 they released a report that says, among other things:

    “…teens (age 13 to 17) acquired 19 percent less music in 2008 than they did in 2007. CD purchasing declined 26 percent and paid digital downloads fell 13 percent compared with the prior year. In the case of paid digital downloads, 32 percent of teens purchasing less digital music expressed discontent with the music that was available for purchase, while 23 percent claimed to already have a suitable collection of digital music.”

    “The downturn in paid music acquisition was matched by a downturn in the quantity of tracks downloaded from peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, which fell 6 percent in 2008. The number of teens borrowing music, either to rip to a computer or burn to a CD, fell by 28 percent.”

    “NPD’s music tracking surveys noted sharp jumps in teen’s usage of online listening sources and satellite radio in 2008. More than half of teens (52 percent) listened to online radio in 2008, compared to just 34 percent in 2007. Downloading or listening to music on social networks also saw a large increase – from 26 percent in 2007 to 46 percent in 2008; satellite radio listening among teens increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 31 percent in 2008.”

    Their own study would indicate that the decline in illegal downloads started as early in 2008 and was matched by a decline in paid downloads and CD sales, and had more to do with the rise in online radio than anything else.


  17. I’m still waiting for someone to come up with the virtual equivalent of the local record store. I’d frequent a site where I could read extensive artist bios and album reviews (like allmusic), and have the ability to listen to full songs at decent quality (like Pandora, last.fm, bandgeek, etc) and then be able to purchase from my own account (like Amazon), but nobody has been clever enough to offer all of this on one site.
    Hell, I’d even be happy with a site where you could sample full songs at decent quality, and then it would limit your account to samples after x number of plays, after which you could purchase varying levels of quality files at relative prices.
    The other way I have been finding interesting new music has been through my Internet Radio, which I think is the coolest gadget in the world. I discovered Kaizer’s Orchestra (Norwegian) by sampling a random station from Norway.

  18. Next thing you’ll tell me is that the rise of P2P filesharing coincided with the decline of pop music radio in the 90’s.

    Rush Limbaugh caused music piracy. Get him.

    1. Too true – once you have the entire Beatles catalog you don’t need to download it again.

  19. I remember music sales growing by leaps and bounds after Napster was shut down. Oh wait… no pretty much the opposite happened.

  20. CNET… Get It Wrong

    CNET is actually pretty good at getting things wrong. For example, jacking up MacFixit and Versiontracker in sloppy, disrespectful (deleting longtime users ratings, etc.) acquisitions.

  21. I love the internet. Since the bad ol’ days of mp3 sharing through IRC to the latest additions like web locker file sharing, people have and will always find new ways to distribute stuff.

    1. I love the internet. Since the bad ol’ days of mp3 sharing through IRC to the latest additions like web locker file sharing, people have and will always find new ways to distribute stuff.

      Someone took time and money to create that “stuff” you distribute. Not some corporation, not the RIAA, but an artist trying to make ends meet. I doubt most people who are downloading the music of artists and never paying for it would walk into a record store and try to steal physical copies. But they feel anonymous online. Anonymous and entitled to an artist’s hard work for free. I just don’t get that attitude. But we’re stuck with the devaluation of music now.

  22. All the good stuff got downloaded over the last years, and nobody wants to even download the 30% shit that gets produced anymore? I still believe in humankinds overall taste, see.

  23. P2P users have probably grown tired of having their computers compromised by mal- and spyware, and from being run out of WiFi hotspots when their P2P clients cut off everyone else’s connection to the access point.

    1. This one data point contradicts your unsupported assumption. I’ve never had malware or spyware as a result of p2p data sharing, nor from any other source. Anecdotes are useless as data, but are great for knocking over unsupported assumptions.

  24. lol, I thought that limewire died YEARS ago.

    However I’d be happy to believe that limewire getting shut down would cause the number of illegally downloaded music to drop – the target audience for classic P2P and torrents/usenet is VERY different.

    Your average mom and pop or teenage user that uses limewire isn’t going to go fiddling with scary pirate technology. It’d probably be enough to put the willy’s up ’em and get em buying CD’s again.

    Remember there is no ‘typical copyright pirate'; everyone does it, they just do it in different ways.

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