Occupied and knocked offline by legal battles, Napster is rapidly losing users who are seeking their free song-swapping fix elsewhere.

This could prove the record industry's worst nightmare, as millions flock to a increasing number of far less controllable systems.

According to a report released on Friday by research firm Jupiter Media Metrix, the amount of time people spent on battle-weary Napster plummeted 65 percent in the first half of this year.

While users spent 6.3 billion minutes on Napster in February, when the site was at its heyday, that number has dwindled to just 2.2 billion minutes in June. Meanwhile, the site's unique users dropped 31 percent over the same period, from 26.4 million to 18.3 million.

This is bad news for Napster, but it could be even worse news for the record labels. The more music-swapping programs there are in circulation, the more difficult it becomes to sue them all. Or, in Jupiter's words (skip this bit if you're easily bored), this fragmentation of users across different song-swapping applications will only make record labels' attempts to litigate copyright infringements more difficult.

Ironically, the fact that users are abandoning Napster might lead to consumers getting what they want — free music.

While Napster has languished as the company has been wrestling with record labels over the protection of copyright music, a band of file-sharing usurpers have gained ground, including five newcomers that have appeared since January.

Contenders Bodetella, Audiogalaxy's Audiogalaxy Satellite, MusicCity's Morpheus, iMesh, Lime Wire, Free Peer's BearShare and thirty4interactive's Napigator have been given a boost by Napster's demise, Jupiter said.

The two most popular Napster rivals are Bodetella, a client designed for the file-sharing network Gnutella, and Audiogalaxy, according to Jupiter.

Bodetella maintained its one million unique users between January and May while Audiogalaxy boasted 978,000 unique visitors in May, a 78 percent increase from March.

If Jupiter's report is any indication, users may find that the more they spread out on the web, the longer free music-swapping will survive.