Campus attitudes: a microsample

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I was chatting with someone today about a column that explored whether unauthorized downloading was ‘theft’ when he offered a tidbit of insight into the feeling on college campuses. My source (I’m being vague here to protect his students’ anonymity) teaches a college class on new media business models, and he surveys each new group about their media consumption and attitudes. Bear in mind, this is a group of students interested in the media business. So you’d think there would be some degree of sensitivity toward copyrights. Nevertheless, this year’s respondents said they download music regularly through file-sharing networks and other unauthorized sources, while buying music from iTunes intermittently (64% said they did so 1-4 times per month, with 5% saying more than 5 times). They were also asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 how nervous they were about being punished for illegal downloading, with 1 being ‘not concerned’ and 7 being ‘extremely concerned.’ Two-thirds answered with a 1 (43%) or a 2 (24%). Only 4% put down a 5 or 6, and none went all the way to 7.

Given the frequency with which the students admitted to using file-sharing networks, these results can safely be interpreted as a nose-thumb to the RIAA. This isn’t too surprising -- reporters have been writing anecdotal pieces for several years questioning the deterrent value of the major record companies’ lawsuit campaign against file-sharers. The numbers, after all, aren’t on the RIAA’s side. Even though thousands have been sued since 2003, the targets represent a tiny fraction of the people downloading illegally. If these students are truly representative of those preparing to enter the media industry -- the ones who should be most aware of the labels’ anti-piracy efforts -- you have to wonder what return the RIAA is getting on campus from its investment in attorney fees.

The RIAA logo is courtesy of the Recording Industry Assn. of America.