Penny For Your Thoughts

By Published on .

Americans voice their opinions on intellectual property rights violations.

The temptation to do something we know is wrong (but seemingly harmless) is sometimes irresistible. Occasionally we just want to experience the thrill of getting away with the act. Case in point: You just have to own your own copy of The Matrix after renting it from the video store for the fifth time. So you clandestinely tape a copy of theirs. The Matrix is now available for your viewing pleasure whenever you wish, for free. Problem is, you've just broken the law.

It's okay, though, nobody's going to be strung up by the thumbs just yet. That was only an attempt to set the stage for this month's poll on Americans' attitudes toward intellectual property and copyright violations. In an exclusive survey for American Demographics by market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, 1,000 people told us if they know "anyone" who has ever copied computer software not licensed for personal use (8 percent), copied a pre-recorded videocassette (14 percent), copied a pre-recorded audio cassette or compact disk (28 percent), downloaded music free of charge from the Internet (20 percent), or photocopied pages from a book or magazine (46 percent).

It seems that more men hang out with copycats than women: 12 percent of men say they know someone who has copied computer software, for example, whereas only 5 percent of women do. And young folk are more likely to report knowing someone who has downloaded music from the Internet or copied any of the previously listed media formats. For instance, 22 percent of 18- to 34- year-olds know someone who has copied a pre-recorded videocassette versus 3 percent of the 65 plus age group.

Surprisingly, wealthy households - those who should be able to afford an original - are the most likely to fraternize with copiers. A full 78 percent of respondents residing in a household with an annual income greater than $100,000 know someone who has copied pages from a book or magazine compared with 31 percent of those from households with incomes under $25,000. Makes one wonder: Is that Prada purse for real?

But what about the moral implications? The fact is that duplicating software, pre-recorded videos, audio cassettes, CDs, and printed material without permission is often illegal and a violation of someone's intellectual property rights. While the survey reveals that a majority of people think that copying software and videocassettes is wrong (73 percent and 60 percent, respectively), 60 percent say they might consider copying computer software themselves, and 62 percent would consider copying a pre-recorded videocassette. When it comes to music, only 18 percent say they would never dub an audio cassette or CD, even though 43 percent acknowledge that doing so is wrong. Free Internet downloads, however, are apparently another story: 18 percent won't do it, but only 29 percent say it's wrong.

Not surprisingly, people will do whatever they think they can get away with. The survey reveals a correlation between the percentage of respondents who believe a copier is likely to face legal action for a particular act and the percentage of them who say that the act is "wrong." For example, 32 percent of respondents say that software duplicators could get caught and face legal punishment and 38 percent say "copying software is wrong. I wouldn't do it." On the opposite end, only 9 percent say that someone photocopying pages from a book or magazine could get caught and 10 percent say the act is wrong.

Despite an increasing crackdown on illegal copying and downloading - such as the band Metallica's lawsuit against Napster - 65 percent of those surveyed believe that downloading music from the Internet, free of charge, will increase in the coming years. Fifty-eight percent think that copying computer software will also increase. In fact, more say that copying of all sorts will increase rather than decrease in the years to come. With that, it seems businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place: How can they afford to allow would-be paying customers to copy their property for free and still earn a profit? Perhaps a compromise is in order: 30 percent of respondents told us that if a company gave away at least some type of media content free of charge, their impression of the company would be more favorable. The young, college-educated, and wealthy are most receptive to this concept. In other words, you don't have to feed your customers a free lunch, just give them a byte.

Most Popular