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A study, released this week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, finds that the percentage of Americans involved in music file-sharing has droped by almost a half since the RIAA started a “scorched earth” policy of suing consumers. A nationwide survey of 1358 Internet users from Nov. 18 to Dec. 14 found that 14 percent had downloaded music that month. By comparison, 29 percent had downloaded files in a comparable period last March. The decreases are most dramatic in those groups – college students, for example – which have historically been most actively engaged in file-sharing.

The researchers read these numbers as indicating the degree to which the legal actions have intimidated consumers, though they concede that some people may be much less open to report downloads now than they were before the legal actions started and thus the results may exaggerate the shift in actual behavoir.

The announcement of these results comes as the record industry announced that record sales last year slipped by only 1 percent, slowing a three year cycle of declines in music purchases.

The one-two punch of legal download services and legal action against file-sharing seems to be having at least a short term impact on record industry revenue and consumer behavior. What we need to be looking at, however, is whether it may also be having a negative impact on consumer relations which can come back and haunt the record industry down the line.

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