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Commentary: File-swapping's fear factor

A survey shows that the threat of jail or fines would stop many young people from downloading movie and music files. But slowing piracy alone is not enough.

Commentary: File-swapping's fear factor
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET News.com
July 17, 2003, 1:30PM PT

By Josh Bernoff

In our recent survey of online youth, 68 percent said the threat of jail or fines would stop them from downloading. But movie and music companies must focus on legitimate sales as well as prosecution.

We recently completed an online survey of 1,170 twelve- to 22-year-olds about downloading and CD burning. Youth attitudes are critical; people younger than 20 buy 22 percent of all music CDs. Here's what we found.

• Downloading and CD habits begin at age 12. Of online kids ages 12 and 13, some 38 percent downloaded a song in the past month; they averaged 14 song downloads per person per month. Among 18- and 19-year-olds, 63 percent download, with an average of 23 songs per teenager. A 12- or 13-year-old with a CD burner makes an average of 3.7 CDs per month; this rises to 4.4 CDs for those ages 20 to 22.

• Movie downloads rise, too. While movie files take hours to download, 11 percent of online youth have downloaded one in the past month. Movie downloading peaks at 20 percent among online 18- and 19-year-olds.

• Fear would stop downloaders. More than two-thirds of downloaders agreed on this point: "If there were a serious risk that I would go to jail or have to pay a fine for downloading music, I would stop." Even among the most defiant group, 18- and 19-year-olds, 61 percent said that fear of prosecution would stop them.

The lawsuit strategy
We fielded our survey just after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced legal action against file sharers, a strategy that appears to be working. But slowing piracy alone is not enough. Music and movie companies should:


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• Prosecute often and publicly, including youthful file sharers. Teens think that downloading is risk-free. Fear won't stop file-sharing, but it will slow it down--based on our survey, many youths will think twice. To boost deterrence, the RIAA should announce its successes regularly, including suits against youthful offenders. Film companies should emulate Universal Studios, which prodded U.S. attorneys to prosecute a New Jersey man for making "The Hulk" available online.

• Create legitimate distribution. Young people think that record companies are out of touch. Here's a typical comment: "Music companies have put out crappy music at a very high price..it sucks to pay $18 for a CD that costs maybe $1.50." To attract them, labels must support companies like Listen.com, Roxio/Napster and Apple as they create subscription-free download services with CD burning. Film companies must supply movies to cable video on-demand and online services like Movielink--preferably within a month or two of theatrical release.

© 2003, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.

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