Napster rivals' rise is bad news for labels

ITworld.com |  Business

Occupied and knocked offline by legal battles, Napster Inc. is rapidly losing users who are seeking their free song-swapping fix wherever they can find it, according to a report released Friday by Jupiter Media Metrix Inc.

While this is bad news for Napster, it could be even worse news for the record labels. This fragmentation of users across different song-swapping applications will only make record labels' attempts to litigate copyright infringements more difficult, the technology research company noted.

With the splintering of market share it will be "very difficult, if not impossible, to litigate against (copyright infringement) in the same way," Jupiter Vice President and Senior Analyst Mark Mooradian stated in the report.

Ironically, the fact that users are abandoning Napster might lead to consumers getting what they want -- free music.

According to Jupiter, the amount of time spent on battle-weary Napster plummeted 65 percent from February to June of this year.

While users spent 6.3 billion minutes on Napster in February, when the site was at its heyday, that number dwindled to just 2.2 million minutes in June, Jupiter reported. Meanwhile, the site's unique users dropped 31 percent over the same period, from 26.4 million to 18.3 million.

Jupiter's findings took into account home users in 14 leading wired countries, comprising more than 85 percent of the Internet-using population worldwide. The 14 wired nations surveyed were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.

In the U.S. alone, however, where Napster has the largest audience, Jupiter found that time spent on the site dropped 70 percent from February to June, spiralling from 3.9 billion minutes to 1.1 billion minutes.

While Napster has languished as the company has been wrestling with record labels over the protection of copyright music, a band of file-sharing usurpers have gained ground, including five newcomers that have appeared since January.

Contenders Bodetella, Audiogalaxy Inc.'s Audiogalaxy Satellite, iMesh.com, Inc., Lime Wire LLC, Free Peer Inc.'s BearShare and thirty4interactive LLC's Napigator have been given a boost by Napster's demise, Jupiter said.

The two most popular Napster rivals are Bodetella, a client designed for the file-sharing network Gnutella, and Audiogalaxy, according to Jupiter.

Bodetella maintained its 1 million unique users between January and May while Audiogalaxy boasted 978,000 unique visitors in May, a 78 percent increase from March.

If Jupiter's report is any indication, users may find that the more they spread out on the Web, the longer free music-swapping will survive.

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