Even after all the court cases and lawsuits meant to curtail illegal downloading, nearly 10 million people in April 2004 still used peer-to-peer file-sharing services, compared with about 7.5 million in September 2003, according to Big Champagne, a market research and marketing consulting firm.
Similarly, some peer-to-peer users maintain yesterday's Supreme Court ruling probably will have little or no effect on their downloading activities.
''It might have an effect in the long run if there's less peer-to-peer to be used because of it, but for now, it's not going to change what I do when I sit down to my computer," said Jairus Pryor, a musician and independent music promoter and longtime peer-to-peer user in Ottawa, Canada.
Still, of greater concern is the ruling's impact on technological advances since the court's decision declared companies that make software enabling the distribution of free music and movies can be held liable for the illegal downloads by its users.
It's clear that the ruling ''will restrict innovations," said Nicholas Reville, codirector of Downhill Battle, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that supports alternative methods of music and film distribution. ''Companies will be afraid to move ahead -- not just with [peer-to-peer] projects, but new kinds of technologies like iPods that have a lot of flexible uses. The ruling clearly puts tech companies on the defensive. This is a case of an old industry blocking innovations by a new, much larger industry simply because they're more organized and better at lobbying."
The court's decision, Pryor said, ''illustrates that copyright is broken to the point where a company like Apple could get sued into oblivion for their 'Rip. Mix. Burn' campaign," referring to Apple's 2001 promotion for a computer that included a CD-RW drive for burning CDs. ''What it means is a lot of companies either will not release tools or will only release tools under very tight conditions where they know they won't be held liable for damages."
Jacob Julius, a student in Everett, Wash., said he is more concerned with the ruling's ability to ''stifle creativity" rather than its impact on his downloading habits.
Julius said that he thought the record companies have been too vigorous in their legal pursuit of music downloaders and file- sharing services, and continuing to download music ''is a nice way of telling them, 'We're not going to stop, no matter what you do,' " he said. ''There's still servers set up in Europe that can't be gone after, and I don't see peer-to-peer dying anytime soon."
As a teenager in Nashua, Alisha Brizicky was a frequent user of Napster, when that then-free service introduced to the masses peer-to-peer file sharing. She eventually downloaded about 2,000 songs -- until a court ruling shut Napster down. She moved on to Kazaa, but various firewalls and other deterrents at her school, St. John's University in New York, made getting free downloads ''very frustrating." She now uses iTunes to legally download songs on her iPod.
''If they'd never ruled against Napster and it was still running, I assume I'd still be using it," she said. ''Now, it's just easier to use iTunes."
Still, despite the availability of legal downloading services, lawsuits against illegal downloaders, and rulings against file-sharing, few expect peer-to-peer service to disappear.
''When Napster went down, it didn't make a bit of difference," Pryor said.
Renée Graham can be reached at email@example.com.