By Richard Menta 3/16/03
The music and movie industries have stepped up their campaigns to label people who trade files as pirates who steal from artists and violate the law. It's not working. The public is saying "Talk to the Hand".
The truth is until this issue winds its way to the Supreme Court, US law will remain unclear on this issue. In the 80's, the second highest court in the land ruled it was a crime to record your favorite TV shows as it violated copyrights. We taped anyway and the Supreme Court eventually reversed the lower court order. But what if the Supreme Court sustained that order? Would we have thrown out our VCR's or seen our past taping actions as criminal?
Lower courts can spit out rulings for the next decade that support entertainment industry claims, but as they say you can't legislate morality. Research from Ipsos-Reid validates this saying as it shows that a significant percentage of Americans feel file trading is OK.
The latest finding from TEMPO, the company's quarterly study of digital music consumer activities, shows almost one-fifth of the US population over 12 has downloaded music in the last 30 days. Of that number only 21% feel that free downloading hurts artists. Only 9% feel that downloadling a file is wrong.
Below are the results of Ipsos-Reid's most recent analysis of the attitudes of the vast amounts of people who actively download. It was taken from a national sample size of 1,112 respondents age 12 and over:
"With recent efforts underway to redefine the role of copyright and fair-use in the digital age, this data clearly shows that current U.S. downloaders are interpreting both the motivations and legality of their actions on their own terms," said Matt Kleinschmit, a Director of the TEMPO research program. "This suggests that copyright enforcement efforts are unfortunately being misinterpreted by these consumers, and additional education and awareness on the importance of intellectual property rights in this new era of content distribution may be necessary."
I disagree with Matt's assumption that additional education may be necessary. I think consumers are very aware of what they are doing and have made concious and informed decisions regarding the morality of downloading music and movies. This includes a greater knowledge of the machinery that runs the entertainment industry, something described in numerous newpaper, magazine and TV news articles as an outgrowth of the newsworthyness of the online music issue.
Many consumers have been struggling with this since the earliest days of Napster. Read the response posts to the myriad of news stories that online trading spurred in the last few years and you will find some pretty detailed and well formulated arguments on both sides of the file trade debate. Americans are not just downloading files, they are examining it, debating it, and studying it. You will find cohesive arguments from teens as well as from people in their 40's and 50's (a perfect example, Slashdot picked up this very article and has recorded 500 opinions on it so far --editor 7:52 PM).
The 40 million Americans Ipsos refers to are relatively well-versed regarding the scope of their actions. The majority do not think it is illegal or immoral. Still, Ipsos's results do show some unsurity in consumer attitues. 91% percent feel that file trading is OK, but only 39% feels that making copies of music and passing it on to friends is OK.
What is most clear is the disconnect between consumer and producer. The scary truth for the record companies is that there is a new distribution method that can take the artists directly to the consumer, a medium that disengages the record industry as middlemen. The record labels still offer the powerful marketing muscle an artist needs to break through the white noise caused by tens-of-thousands of other artists clammoring to be heard, but distribution is where their business model exerts its most control and thus power.
That is why they are fighting to save it. But their efforts, for the most part, seem to be falling on deaf ears.
You can view the Ipsos-Reid press release with charts here
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