By Richard Menta 8/1/03
Interesting results from a survey released today by the Pew Internet and American Life project. It is interesting because it specifically focused on the file trading population that is old enough to vote, excluding minors. According to Pew two out of every three adult file traders don't care if they are violating copyright laws or not.
This is a staggering number of people considering how many swap music and movies on the Net these days. The survey estimates that there are 60 million Americans who trade files, 35 million of them (more than half) over the age of 18. Overall, this comprises 29% of all Internet users.
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Maybe most interesting were the results the came from the 30 to 49 years old range, an age range that runs counter to the common stereotype of file traders being rebellious teenagers and college students. The results showed that 61% of Americans between 30 to 49 years old were unconcerned about violating copyrights.
Younger Americans, aged 18 to 29, were even less concerned with 72 percent saying the were not worried about copyrights. Of that group, Full-time students were the least concerned with 82 percent saying they were not worried.
These results stayed consistent even when Pew broke it down by sex and racial makeup. According to Pew, differences between blacks, whites and latinos as well as between men and women showed no significant deviation. The same was true even when they broke up the respondents by income group.
The results for this study was completed before the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) made the announcement that it was going to seek and destroy individual file traders, taking them to court and suing them for a surreal $150,000 per song.
What does the RIAA think of this report? They called the Pew study outdated. Hmmm, I guess they feel that their pogrom against the few file traders they plan to sue as the first "examples" is already working so well a survey conducted just this past March, April, and May is already obsolete. How they can come to such a conclusion I can't say because they won't start taking anyone else to court until the fall. They seem confident it is succeeding.
``We believe that the most powerful deterrent is the message that uploading or downloading copyrighted works without permission is against the law,'' the RIAA said in a statement. ``We have worked hard to educate the public about what the law says and potential consequences, and other studies have shown that that message is beginning to take hold and will serve as an effective deterrent.''
I think their efforts only succeed in pissing off the paying consumer even more. In that respect, maybe the REASON two-thirds of file traders don't care about copyrights is that they have no love for the supposed copyright holders. Read any of the tens-of-thousands of postings on Slashdot for specific file trade stories and you immediately see that many people are quite "educated" on the ethics of file trading and the ethics of the media industries. They debate these points, going into intelligent detail for all vewpoints including the RIAA's and the MPAA's (see here and here for the two most recent examples on Slashdot). In the end consumers see a pattern of industry abuse that negates even the fair and cogent arguments made by the media lobby organizations.
And that is a matter of PR, something that is hard to accurately measure, yet wields significant impact on any business. Surveys can indeed be rendered obsolete quickly under circumstances of significant change. I don't know if the most recent RIAA actions constitute significant change in their favor. The actions are aggressive, yes, but the RIAA has taken file traders to court in the past with no effect except the continued escalation of the very thing they wish to stop.
We will know how effective this latest record industry campaign will work several months down the road if Pew conducts this same survey again. My guess is the numbers will stay roughly the same. It could go down, supporting at least some success with the record industry's actions.
It could also go up, continuing the trend of the last few years.
Two other recent surveys on file trading - one by the Yankee Group and the other by Nielsen Net Ratings - have not cleared this matter up any better. Both were taken in response to the recent RIAA warnings and both came up with opposite results and conclusions (see File Trading up 10% or Down 15%? for details).
This survey was based on a sample of 2,515 adults contacted through random telephone calls. The margin for error was plus or minus 3 percent. The full methodology of the survey is described here.
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File Trading up 10% or Down 15%?