A recent Columbia University survey found, in fact, that 70 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they had bought, copied or downloaded unauthorized music, TV shows or movies, compared with 46 percent of all adults who’d done the same.
Certainly law enforcement has gone after scofflaws like these, hitting them with fines and, in some cases, even jail time. Congress is considering controversial anti-piracy bills that would, among other things, forbid search engines from linking to foreign websites accused of copyright infringement. And there are lawsuits pitting media heavyweights against Internet firms — notably Viacom’s billion-dollar litigation against YouTube.
What if they and advocates for maximum online access could persuade the entertainment industry to loosen its tight grip on its coveted, copyrighted material — quite the opposite of what the industry is trying to do right now?
Like it or not, that’s how a lot of people of his generation view the situation. And some experts think they’re gaining clout, as they insist on easy access to music and other content while the Internet world loudly protests anti-piracy legislation that it says unfairly puts the responsibility of policing piracy sites on search engines and other sites.
“We’ve seen the emergence of a real social movement around these issues,” says Joe Karaganis, vice president of The American Assembly, a public policy institute at Columbia University, which oversaw the recent survey, funded by a grant from Google.
He’s talking, in part, about “blackouts” staged by popular Internet sites that included Wikipedia, the user-generated online encyclopedia, and Reddit, the social news website. With support from Google, Facebook and Twitter, they were protesting the proposed federal anti-piracy bills.
Not wanting to mar his law school record, Mikkilineni pays for the songs, movies and TV shows he downloads. But he does so grudgingly. “Right now, they want us to pay multiple times for the same content,” he says, complaining that that’s not reasonable.
“iTunes changed the landscape for music because it made it far too convenient and much easier than downloading music through alternative methods (even illegal ones),” says Matt Gardner, an information technology student at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
But even more than convenience, a recent study at Duke University found that cost was the major factor that drives college students to copy entertainment content illegally. Researchers there found that the lower the students’ income, including their parents’ income, the more likely they were to search for free, illegal options.
Cornell University is one institution that has experimented with this. From 2004 to 2006, an anonymous donor paid for two years’ worth of Napster service for Cornell students, but students ultimately declined to have their student activity fees raised to continue the service because the music couldn’t be played on all devices, according to the Duke study.
The song becomes the ad, MacDonald says. Or a movie on the small screen becomes the driving force for a line of merchandise or drives the wish to see it again on a big screen in 3-D or at a special theater event. A free clip from a TV show seen online draws viewers to the show.
He notes that music companies already take a cut of money made from concerts, merchandise and endorsements. So he thinks that should, at the very least, offset the cost of the recorded music to consumers, who’ve been increasingly willing to pay big prices to see artists live.
Nice thought, but not realistic, says Thomas Carpenter, general counsel for legislative affairs for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a union that represents people working in the entertainment industry.
As it stands, he says 90 percent of the earnings that a musician currently makes under a recording contract is tied directly to royalties from sales, including lawful downloads. For actors, he says, it’s about 50 percent.
“It really is a failure to come up with practical, reasonable models for sales and distribution,” says Michael R. Graham, a Chicago attorney who specializes in trademark and copyright law. “There’s a real disconnect.”
Popular options, so far, include online music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. Others point to movie and TV services such as Netflix, though some complain that content on Netflix’s online streaming service is still too limited. Hundreds of thousands of people also quit Netflix last year after it started charging more to those who wanted both the streaming service and DVDs sent to them in the mail — another indication of just how much impact the public can have in these matters.
Viacom Inc. is appealing a lower court ruling that found YouTube, Google Inc.’s popular video sharing service, is protected from copyright infringement claims. Viacom claims that YouTube is making millions when people post copyrighted videos —including some shows Viacom owns. YouTube says it forces people to remove the content when discovered, as the law allows.
Whatever happens, college student Omar Ahmad says the entertainment industry has to realize that people his age aren’t likely to change their piracy habits, even with the threat of more serious punishments that Congress is considering.
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- What Is SOPA? Anti-Piracy Bill Explained
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