Despite well-publicized music industry litigation, US peer-to-peer usage has returned to July 2003 levels, reports claim – but music-business executives are using download-data to measure music trends.

An article in yesterday's Miami Herald explains the cloak-&-dagger relationship between the music business and peer-to-peer services.

It explains that music business execs pay close attention for illegal song downloads in terms of assessing music fads and demographics: "While the music industry publicly flays KaZaA and other file-swapping services for aiding piracy, those same services provide an excellent view of what's really popular with fans," this report explains.

Services such as BigChampagne are harnessed by the labels to assess what songs resonate with consumers, and on occasion download figures show labels which tracks should be released as singles.

"The ultimate goal is what it always has been in the record business: Sell more music."

Label execs using such services don't agree that the value of such information helps justify piracy: "I definitely don't like to spin it that piracy is OK because we get to look at the data. It's too bad that people are stealing so much music,'' said Maverick Record's head of new media Jeremy Welt. "That said, we would be very foolish if we didn't look and pay attention to what's going on."

Some labels are placing advertising on file-sharing services, while one label – Artemis – has acquired technology that lets it release singles on such services that play for free once – if a music lover likes that track they pay 99 cents to acquire it.

"My feeling is there's a promotional value to exposure,'' said Artemis Records Chairman Danny Goldberg.

On the rise

Piracy-monitoring firm ITIC reports that its monitoring systems "started reporting a number of KaZaA users that is now equivalent to what it was on July 2003".

"We observe that the KaZaA population is growing again after a long recession," the analysts state. ITUC estimates damage done through music piracy against the music business as worth $706.43 million in February 2004.