While the record labels thunder and roar that the music industry is choking at the hands of illegal downloading, music piracy and file-sharing, an interesting report has surfaced that suggests that the major labels know something that they don’t want you to know – that online piracy may not be the biggest concern.

The revelation follows on from reports that record labels were withholding funds awarded to artists by the court handling a major case involving torrent website, The Pirate Bay, and were instead using the money for anti-piracy campaigns; with artists not getting a cent of a reported $AU 650,000.

We’d take this information with a grain of salt, but Torrent Freak has reported on a leaked presentation from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that finds that online file-sharing from peer-to-peer networks isn’t the largest source of illegal music acquisition in the United States, but instead that traditional ‘offline’ music sharing and swapping was a larger concern.

The confidential report reveals that 65% of all music files are “unpaid” but the vast majority of these are obtained through offline swapping – namely hard drive trading, burning and ripping CDs – was the main source of piracy, while the methods of distribution that the RIAA has been making noise about, cyberlockers such as the recently shut down Megaupload; are only a marginal source of pirated music.

Torrent Freak alleges that they received a copy of presentation sheets which included charts and graphs of surveys of music sources and where music files came from. The data presented in the RIAA document supposedly comes from global market researcher NPD, who were commissioned to produce the report titled, Digital Music Study, which up until now had been shielded from public viewing.

While a press statement from NPD using the results demonstrated a decline in music acquisition and illegal sharing through peer-to-peer services (like BitTorrent), it did not place those figures in a larger context. The graphs demonstrate that two thirds of all music acquire in the United States is ‘unpaid’,  but a large proportion of that share belongs to offline sharing.

In total, only 15% of all acquired music (both paid and illegally) comes from peer-to-peer file-sharing and just 4% of that figure from cyberlockers.

It’s also interesting to note that between 2010 and 2011, Peer-to-Peer downloading dropped from 21% of music acquisition to 15%, while paid downloads jumped from 16% to 19%. Another bizarre trend is the drop in hard drive trading, from 23% to 19%, while ripping other people’s CDs grew a whopping 6% from 21% to 27%.

The conspiracy thickens with the chart allegedly marked ‘confidential’, with Torrent Freak suggesting that the RIAA doesn’t want the shocking data let out for public viewing – for fears that it will paint a sour picture in their crusade against online piracy. The music website puts it best when it ponders, “even if all online music piracy disappeared tomorrow, more than half of all music acquisitions would be unpaid.”

Of course we’re not saying that music piracy isn’t a problem. But the recorded music industry have been running around telling us the sky is about to fall in, painting a dire picture and using their scare tactics to justify hardline crackdowns and judicial and lobbying efforts that must make even the North Koreans blush.

Such hardline tactics include a recent ruling where, after years of hounding a Boston University student, the US High Court ruled in favour of the record labels, refusing to reduce the student’s $US 675,000 fine for illegally downloading 30 songs.

It’s a distressing pattern in music piracy cases worldwide, including the aforementioned Swedish case involving The Pirate Bay in which court damages intended for artists were being diverted to the pockets of IFPI Sweden.

Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde – one of those convicted in the trial – commented on the news saying that as far he knew “no money ever won in a lawsuit by IFPI or the RIAA has even gone to any actual artist,” adding a final acidic barb: “It’s more likely the money will be spent on cocaine than the artists that they’re ‘defending’.”

Canadian artists also missed out on royalties and damages when the country’s supreme court overturned a decision that disallowed royalties of music contained in music and videogames to be awarded to musicians and song publishers, a decision that was good news for internet service providers and bad news for songwriters and owners of copyright.

While across the pond, some of the UK’s biggest music A-listers – including Led Zeppelin, The Who and Queen – drafted an open letter to British PM, David Cameron, urging for intervention on search engines like Google, claiming they make it easier for users to illegally download music.

Closer to home, New Zealand’s recently introduced anti-piracy laws have essentially halved incidences in the country – but the country’s record industry isn’t satisfied with the progress of the new ‘three strike’ policy. Following on from Japan’s drastically rewritten copyright laws that now severely punish individuals who breach copyright infringement.

So before you believe the bullshit, look at the figures.

Because the laws the record industry are writing for our politicians – changes to copyright and communications laws that threaten the very basic principles of free speech and the internet – are far more dangerous than a few free MP3s; especially when the labels aren’t even sharing their war chest with the musicians they’re apparently working so hard to defend.

View one of the charts from Torrent Freak’s allegedly leaked report below:

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