NPD Group reports that 12% of US web users accessed P2P services in Q3 of 2010 but this had dropped to 9% by Q4. This marks a continued drop from the 16% who accessed such sites in 2007.
Much has been made of the timing, given that LimeWire, one of the biggest P2P services, was taken offline in October. In the long-running case against LimeWire, it was revealed that 93% of its traffic was made up of unlicensed files.
NPD analyst Russ Crupnick said, "LimeWire was so popular for music file trading, and for so long, that its closure has had a powerful and immediate effect on the number of people downloading music files from peer-to-peer services and curtailed the amount being swapped."
NPD added that the average number of files downloaded by individual P2P users halved from 35 in Q4 2007 to 18 in Q4 2010. It claimed that 16m people used P2Ps in the final quarter of last year, down from 28m in the same period in 2007.
The NPD study was based on self-reporting by respondents and its statistical findings must be understood within that context. It was also found in the immediate aftermath of LimeWire's closure that traffic on other P2P services increased. At the time, TorrentFreak reported that services such as MP3Rocket and BearShare saw their traffic increase as soon as LimeWire went offline.
This all suggests a significant level of displacement happening, where habitual P2P users simply move onto other unlicensed services rather than migrate to legal alternative or stop filesharing altogether.
There are also wider factors at play such as the rise of cyberlockers and VPN (virtual private networks) that make it more difficult to detect where and how frequently unlicensed content is being exchanged online.
Earlier this month, LimeWire reached a settlement with music publishers but the damages sought by labels remain unresolved. The judge in the case recently dismissed labels' moves to secure a separate fine for every single infringement by a LimeWire user. Instead, Judge Kimba Wood stated that labels were entitled to a single statutory damages award per infringed track, imposing a cap on the potential damages that LimeWire must pay out.
The NPD report comes as the Digital Economy Act in the UK faces renewed challenges from ISPs. Talk Talk is opposing its implementation, claiming the act in incompatible with EU law.