The number of people downloading music illegally surged a month after recording companies began suing hundreds of music fans, a marketing research firm said Thursday.
The number of U.S. households downloading music from peer-to-peer networks rose 6 percent in October and 7 percent in November after a six-month decline, according to a study of computer use in 10,000 U.S. households conducted by The NPD Group.
In a separate, bimonthly survey, 12 million individuals reported getting music on the free networks in November, up from 11 million in September, NPD said.
Previous surveys dating back to May — when 20 million people said they were downloading music from file-sharing networks — showed a steady decline in the number of file-sharers.
Russ Crupnick, vice president of The NPD Group, speculated the apparent increase in music file-sharing could merely be seasonal, as new album releases before the holidays heightened demand. He also said less media coverage of the recording industry's lawsuit campaign could have figured into the increase.
The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 380 copyright infringement lawsuits against individuals across the country since September and reached settlements for thousands of dollars with hundreds of individuals since.
Consumers might also have been tapping into the free networks to compare how they sized up to the new crop of legal digital music services, Crupnick said.
"It's important to keep in mind that file sharing is occurring less frequently than before the RIAA began its legal efforts to stem the tide of P2P file sharing," Crupnick said. "We're just seeing the first increase in these numbers."
Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Washington-based RIAA, which coordinates the industry's anti-piracy campaign, said that effort is on the right track, regardless of what the NPD studies show.
"For us, the ultimate measurement of success has been, and continues to be, creating an environment where legal online music services can flourish," Lamy said in a statement. "All indicators point in the right direction — sales of CDs, legal downloads and awareness that file sharing copyrighted music is illegal — have all increased."
More RIAA lawsuits against file-sharers are coming, he added.
NPD's household data sample is representative of all U.S. households and has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5 percent, NPD spokesman Lee Graham said. The firm's bimonthly survey is based on 5,000 respondents, age 13 or older, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent, Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD said.
Recent studies of online music piracy, which the recording industry largely blames for a four-year slide in overall music sales, haven't always shown the same upward trend in file-sharing.
A survey released earlier this month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and comScore Media Metrix found that since May, the percentage of U.S. Internet users who download music was down by half, to 14 percent. The same report also found declines in usage of popular file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and Grokster.
But NPD's findings mirror data from other file-sharing tracking firms, such as BigChampagne LLC, which says traffic on file-swapping networks like FastTrack and Gnutella has continued to rise.