New surveys cited in Napster injunction request

Statisticians get ready to rumble

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When the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed for an injunction against Napster with the US District Court in San Francisco this week, they also submitted what they call 'statistical analyses' to bolster claims that Napster users are depressing music sales.

"(Nearly half) of Napster users described the nature of its impact on their music purchases in a way which either explicitly indicated or suggested that Napster displaces CD sales," the RIAA explains.

"The highly regarded Field Research Corporation conducted a study of 2,555 college students who were Internet users. In a report submitted by E. Deborah Jay, Ph.D., the study shows a direct correlation between Napster use and decreased CD sales," according to the RIAA.

The Register's request to speak with a representative and obtain by fax a company backgrounder from this highly regarded research organisation went ignored; and the Field Research Web site, sadly, is devoid of content.

Another survey used by the RIAA, this one by music marketing outfit SoundScan, is said to detail Napster's adverse effect on music sales near universities.

"Data strongly suggests that on-line file sharing has resulted in a loss of album sales within the college markets....Sales at stores near colleges and universities have declined significantly," SoundScan CEO Michael Fine told the court via a prepared statement.

A call from The Register to the SoundScan press office, also asking to speak with a representative and obtain by fax a company backgrounder, likewise went ignored.

We had quite a few questions for SoundScan: we wanted to know, for example, how long their study has been going on; whether on-campus shops, which might offer student discounts, were included in the survey (if they were not, that in itself could account for lacklustre sales "near" campuses); whether the survey was conducted according to proper protocols or is merely a recap of raw data showing a slump in sales which could have a hundred other possible causes.

We also wanted to know what sorts of relationships might exist between SoundScan and the RIAA, to assure ourselves that there couldn't possibly be a conflict of interest lurking anywhere behind these data.

Again rebuffed, we took our questions to the source; and, predictably, the RIAA, too, ignored The Register's request for further information. "They're kinda busy," a receptionist explained.

So we returned to a recent survey by the quite disinterested Pew Charitable Trust which found a good deal less music piracy going on than the RIAA hype would suggest, as we reported here.

Additionally, the Pew survey follow-up suggested that Napster users continue to buy music. "We did get a sense that people are using Napster to sample music," Pew Internet and American Life Project Research Specialist Amanda Lenhart told The Register, though she hastened to add that this was not determined rigorously during the initial survey.

Still, we remain a good deal more confident in anecdotal data from disinterested third parties such as the Pew Trust than statistical tours de force by quite interested first parties such as the RIAA, and hope the judge dealing with the injunction request does too. ®

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