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A vinyl copy of the album "Music From the Big Pink" is hiding somewhere in a cupboard under my stereo, unspun for at least a decade (though I have kept my turntable).

A band known simply as The Band recorded it in 1968. One of the songs, the enigmatic "The Weight," contains the lyric, "Take a load off, Fanny/ take a load for free." Perhaps, like Nostradamus, The Band was peering into a future when music lovers would be taking a (down)load for free.

A new study out this week shows that despite the legal troubles of Napster, downloading music off the Internet continues to grow at a quickening pace, shooting up 40 percent during a recent six-month period. Not surprisingly, teenage boys lead the way: almost three-quarters of these with Internet access have downloaded music.

But among the surprises:

* 15 percent of Internet users over 50 years old have downloaded music.

* People across all income categories, from poor to rich, grab free music off the Net.

* 31 percent of those who record free tunes say they don't care that they are copyrighted.

* Newcomers (online less than six months) were nearly as likely to download music (29 percent) as those who'd been online three years or more (33 percent).

And in a chilling finding for record companies, the report said other non-Napster file-swapping services and simple ruses like changing the spellings of titles ("want that Bruce Springsteen hit, "Bawn in the USA"?) are going to continue to confound efforts to make music on the Internet pay.

The study is available from The Pew Internet and American Life Project at www.pewinternet.org. Write to us at entertainment@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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