But the overall percentage of people who say they currently do so has inched back up since November, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said in a study Sunday.
A third of the former downloaders — nearly 6 million — say they stopped because of the highly publicized lawsuits filed by the recording industry since last summer against more than 1,000 users.
Many of the lawsuits have led to settlements of thousands of dollars each. Legally, recording labels can demand $150,000 per song for copyright infringement.
Men and users ages 18-29 were the ones most likely to stop, the survey finds.
The study does not distinguish between music downloaded illegally and songs bought through authorized sites such as iTunes. Seventeen percent of the current downloaders did say they are using paid services, though not necessarily as their exclusive source of online music.
Among those who have never downloaded music, three in five users — women more likely than men — say the lawsuits are enough to persuade them never to do so.
Even many of those still downloading music — 38 percent — say they are doing so less frequently because of the lawsuits.
Nonetheless, the random telephone-based study conducted in February finds that 18 percent of Internet users say they now download music over the Internet, an increase from 14 percent in a pre-Christmas survey.
And the percentage of Internet users who say they share their music, video and other files with others over the Internet increased to 23 percent in February, from 20 percent in the Nov. 18-Dec. 14 survey.
Still both sets of numbers reflect decreases from last spring.
The February study of 1,371 Internet users has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
By Anick Jesdanun