The Download Tide May Have Ebbed
Dan Ackman, Forbes.com, 08.05.03,
Music downloaders tend not to care about the copyright implications of their acts, but there are fewer people doing it than is generally imagined, a recent survey indicates.
Just 29% of U.S. Internet users have downloaded music files and just 12% both download and share music files from their PCs with others, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The rest, 62% of Internet users, do neither. These percentages have stayed fairly constant over the last few years, while the music industry has battled the problem by threatening downloaders with legal action and by creating for-pay music services.
But despite the massive publicity and legal action surrounding Napster, Kazaa and more recently Apple Computer's iTunes service, attitudes about copyrights haven't changed much. The report, entitled "Music Downloading, File-sharing and Copyright," found that just 27% of users who download music files are "concerned" about copyright, 67% don't care and 6% said they don't know enough or don't have a position on the issue.
The study conducted by the not-for-profit Pew Internet and American Life Project notes that the same 29% of Internet users reported downloading in 2001. Since the number of Internet users overall has continued to grow, so has the number of downloaders. But the problem seems relatively contained. In Napster's heyday, it claimed 60 million or even 70 million users. This claim seems wildly overstated if the Pew survey is correct. The study does not address the persistent question of whether, or to what extent, downloading has impacted sales of prerecorded CDs.
Of those who download, most say they do it so they can listen to the music at any time. It's not clear whether these downloaders are doing anything illegal. If, for instance, a computer user "downloads" his own CD onto his own hard drive so he can access it a different way (some would call this act "uploading"), that would seem to create no copyright implications. If, however, the user is downloading files he "shares" from other computers, that's exactly the type of conduct the record industry is desperate to reduce.
The survey indicates that just 12% of Internet users download music or video files and allow others to download files from their computers. Another 17% download such files on to their computers but do not allow others to "share" with them.
In recent years, the record industry and its trade group, the Record Industry Association of America, has combated this problem through litigation and publicity campaigns.
The RIAA says it will file civil lawsuits against individuals who use programs like Kazaa, and it has issued hundreds of subpoenas to Internet service providers to find out who is doing what. Laws that provide for damages could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, though actually enforcing these laws has proved near impossible. Some ISPs, like SBC and Verizon Communications , have gone to court to attack record-industry subpoenas.
Downloading is most popular among people in their 20s. This is the only age bracket for which downloaders are a majority at 52%, compared to 51% two years ago. Downloading is more popular in the lower income brackets, among people with three or more years of Internet experience, and among people with less education, the survey says. More than 80% of people aged 18 to 29, and a similar percentage of students, said they did not care about copyright protection. In the higher income bracket of $75,000 or more, 61% said they weren't worried about the status of songs on their hard drives.
Services like EMusic and Pressplay have attacked the piracy problem from a different direction, encouraging downloaders to buy individual songs for slightly less than a buck each--allowing users to buy just what they want, which is what downloaders have said they want all along.