Music Downloaders Say: Nope, No Pirates Here, When they Look in the Mirror: Aargh Matey- Pew Survey

Digital music users are adamant: downloading music from the Internet without paying is not tantamount to theft. Further, artists’ and labels’ copyrights simply aren’t an issue.

Digital music users are adamant: downloading music from the Internet without paying is not tantamount to theft. Further, artists’ and labels’ copyrights simply aren’t an issue.

Those are two findings from a survey just released by the Washington, DC-based Pew Internet in American Life Project, an independent non-profit research firm funded by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts. The research firm, for which Lee Rainie serves as director, arrived at the result based largely on a random-digit phone sample of 238 US music-downloading Net users, conducted between March and August. Because of its small size, the survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 7 percentage points.

While the sample of music downloaders is small, the numbers, Rainie says, remain very interesting. They indicate that 78 percent of Internet users who download music to computer hard drives don’t regard the practice as theft. Further, a majority of users from a wider sample of the general Internet population hold the same view; 53 percent of Net users who have not downloaded music also don’t consider the practice stealing, compared to 31 percent who do think it is a form of theft.

“Whether they are Internet users or not, the young, the highly educated, and the relatively affluent support downloaders’ right to get music online for free,” says the report, “Downloading Free Music: Internet Music Lovers Don’t Think It’s Stealing.” In addition, 61 percent of music downloaders say they don’t care if the music they are capturing is copyrighted, the survey found.

“I think it’s interesting to begin to wonder whether people’s values are being influenced by this technology that makes it incredibly easy and cost-free to get content,” Rainie told Newsbytes today.

Despite that comment, though, he cautioned that it is not the role of his research firm to steer Web users toward anyone’s particular idea of correct ethical thinking.

“We are meant to be a research center that is analytical,” he said. “We are looking at the way the world is and trying to interpret it in useful ways. But there is no agenda, either at the Pew Charitable Trusts or at my research center to say this is the way the world ought to come out, or this is the way the Internet ought to operate, or this is the moral stance that we think is right for users and seller and distributors. It’s not advocacy oriented.”

Nonetheless, Rainie said that the timing of the report’s release is intentional. On Monday, opponents in the Napster case go back to court to determine whether a stay of injunction that would effectively shut the site down will be lifted or extended.

“The reason we paid attention to this area, of course, is because there is such an urgent legal situation and it is quite timely in the debates that are going on in legislative halls, as well,” Rainie said. “The only reason we looked at this is because it is so important in the bigger story about intellectual property and what happens to it in the Internet age. And we put it out this week because the Napster case is going to resume on Monday.”

In other findings, the study – which is at least partly based on an earlier survey of 12,751 people, 6,413 of whom proved to be Internet users – projects that:

– 22 percent of Internet users, or about 21 million Americans, have downloaded music online.

– 54 percent of music downloaders, or more than 11 million Americans, have used Napster.

– 45 percent of music downloaders have used

– 69 percent of music downloaders have used Napster,, or both.

– Only 7 percent of Internet users have used Gnutella.

– The current average Napster users’ library of songs contains 140 downloaded tunes.

One of the key problems that the record companies face, the survey suggests, is that it does not have the support of key consumers and “tastemakers.”

“In the general population, young, affluent, and highly educated people are the most likely to back the argument that those who download free music online aren’t doing anything wrong,” the study says.

According to the report, 64 percent of US users ages 18 to 29 think downloading music is OK, compared to 43 percent of all those between ages 30 and 49, and 28 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds. Forty-seven percent of those in the general public whose household income exceeds $75,000 per year say that downloading music is not stealing, compared to 37 percent of people in households making less than $30,000, the report states. And 45 percent of college graduates are pro-downloaders, compared to 25 percent of citizens who have no high school diplomas.

“You might think that downloaders will just rationalize their behavior and say, ‘Of course it’s not stealing,’ because they don’t want to say that they’ve done something bad,” Rainie notes. “But even people who don’t download – the young in particular, the affluent and the well-educated – even if they don’t have online access are pretty supportive of the idea that downloaders are not thieves.

“And those are the trendsetters and tastemakers for our culture. So it’s interesting to see how this idea is sort of broadly embraced,” he said.

Yet, despite the arguable moral ambiguity of the average Napster user, the study also determined that music downloaders show evidence of being pirates with a conscience.

“It’s not like it’s wholesale thievery,” he said, pointing to a finding that 69 percent of users eventually buy some of the music they download, though by no means do they buy it all.

“There are significant numbers of people who told us that they went out and bought the music at least on occasion,” he said. “That combined with the fact that the CD industry has not lost any money this year – in fact, it’s made a nice chunk of change – suggests that the commercial impact of this stuff isn’t very great at the moment.”

But neither does Rainie argue that the recording industry’s attempts to defend itself in court are specious. “It’s a legal argument and I think it’s legitimate for them to be thinking that, even though this is not an issue for us commercially now … they’ve got to be worried about that,” he said.

Asked about the small sampling size, Rainie said that the relative lack of music downloaders surveyed serves to demonstrate that the habit of taking music off the Web has more notoriety at present than genuine popularity. While the survey estimates that Napster alone gives users access to about 1.5 billion swappable songs, a relative handful of users as of yet indulge in the sharing of them.

“There’s some sense that this is vastly going on in the Internet population, when in fact, just 22 percent of Internet users do it,” Rainie said. “And in a survey that we conducted over the course of the month, (238 users were) all that we could find. That’s why the margin of error has to be adjusted as it is. … So even though it’s really popular with lots of folks that you and I know, it’s still not something that is widely embraced in the broader Internet community.”

But then again maybe it has to do with the very recent barage of Gestapo like busts and raids that have made the headline news as of late, which has kept the generally eager to talk, less than willing. Hmm?

The report is to be published online at the Pew Internet and American Life site,

Author: Kevin Featherly

News Service: Newsbytes


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