Europe: Haven For File-Sharers

Gretchen Gallen
EUROPE – File-sharers in the United States have endured an onslaught of bad press over this past year, lawsuits filed on behalf of the entertainment industry, and the dubious distinction of being content pirates. But in Europe, file-sharing has never been more popular and safe, according to a recent study.

Nilsen/NetRatings released information Monday stating that the U.S. has officially been surpassed as the world's most active file-sharing hub, due in part to rising fear over prosecution from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Additionally, a study put out earlier this year by Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corporation, stated that file-sharing activity in Europe has been growing at a rapid rate and has been causing serious problems for broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) because of the amount of bandwidth file-trading drains off networks.

"As well as being a big problem for record labels and the Hollywood studios alike, Internet service providers are beginning to suffer too under the heavy weight that file sharing imposes on their networks," said Olivier Beauvillian, an analyst for Jupiter Research. "Not wanting to take on the file-sharing networks in court, the best solution for broadband service providers to address this issue would be to impose monthly data limits on their subscribers."

Jupiter Research stated that based on information from many of Europe's broadband providers, 75 percent of their combined subscribers used file-sharing networks, and more than 50 percent of their traffic generated from file-sharing.

Nilsen/NetRatings estimates that 9.35 million Europeans used Kazaa file-sharing software or visited the Kazaa web site, compared to 8.24 million Americans.

Between March and October, the amount of American file-sharers now accounts for around 7 million users, half of what it formerly was, the study states.

File-sharing activity on eDonkey and WinMX are also more heavily trafficked by Europeans than Americans, the study stated, but Nilsen/NetRatings did not produce any exact data on files traded over other Internationally based file-sharing companies.

Despite being dogged by lawsuits and efforts by the entertainment industry to shutter its doors, Australia-based Kazaa is the undisputed leader among other file-sharing companies, according to Nilsen/NetRatings.

Kazaa's popularity overseas has a great deal to do with a stronger density of broadband users in countries like Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France, and a nearly absent fear of getting caught and sued for trading copyrighted content over the Internet, which has been a mounting concern for U.S.-based file-sharers.

In Germany alone, Kazaa claims an estimated 1.95 million surfers

According to the Foundation For Information Policy Research (FIPR), Europe is merely experiencing the quiet before the storm and that it is next in line for legal action over file-sharing copyrighted material without permission or paying royalties.

FIPR warns that the EU Directive, being coined the 'EuroDMCA' (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is scheduled for debate by the European Parliament in the coming months and could possibly shift the global file-sharing terrain to more closely resemble the U.S.

If the draft is approved, enforcing copyrights, patents, and trademarks in Europe would become much easier. Record companies would be able to obtain personal identity information on European file-sharers and pursue legal action.

The EU Directive has met with a great deal of controversy. The entertainment industry is giving its full support, however, the telecommunications industry sees it as a violation of personal information.

According to some critics, the EU Directive would make the business environment in Europe very hostile to phone companies and ISPs, which would become liable to legal harassment, equipment seizures, and legal injunctions. The EU Directive could also undermine the roll-out of future information society services in Europe, critics contend.

FIPR has called on the European Parliament to reject the EU Directive.

But until then, European ISPs are combating the issue on their own. ISP T-Online has imposed monthly data limits for broadband subscribers, and Jupiter Research estimates that by the end of the year data limits will be the rule, not the exception.

"This means that for the first time, broadband users will have to start thinking carefully about what they are downloading and how much data they might be using," Jupiter states. "If they exceed their monthly data limit they will be liable to pay for extra data."