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Young Brits are confused about legality of file-sharing

Young people continue to download as much copyright-infringing music as ever and are still confused about their liability for copyright infringement, a study of their music habits has found.12 Aug 2009

The survey of over 1,800 British 14 to 24 year-olds found that 61% of them engage in illegal music file-sharing. It found that the young people assumed they would not be caught unless they were downloading large amounts of music.

The survey was conducted on behalf of music trade body UK Music and the proportion of people downloading music illegally has remained almost unchanged from a similar study conducted last year. The research found that 83% of those who do download do so at least every week.

The research discovered that peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing over the public internet is only one of the ways that young people transfer music to one another, though.

"Sending or receiving music via email, Bluetooth, Skype or MSN is particularly prevalent, as is the sharing of hard drives," said the report. "57% of respondents say they have copied someone else's entire music collection."

The 1,800 young people were taken from two locations, London and Manchester, and split into two age groups, 14 to 17 year-olds and 18 to 24 year-olds.

Though the people surveyed were aware that there were legal implications for their downloading behaviour, the survey uncovered uncertainty about what those were.

"Few respondents expressed much concern at being caught file sharing and there is widespread confusion over who gets caught and how they might get caught. There was a widespread view amongst the teenage groups that there were simply too many people doing it for there to be a realistic chance of getting caught, said the report. "And a view which was common to both the older and younger groups was that it was only those who were downloading large amounts of music who were being caught."

"There is a large degree of confusion as to how file sharing is being policed and the consequences of being caught file sharing. The earlier legal actions against file sharers which were widely reported in the media some years ago are still referred to and are generally seen as ongoing despite the fact that no actions have been taken over the last few years," it said.

Of those people who did not do any illegal downloading only 23% said that it was because the activity is illegal.

"Sometimes it bothers me, but more the moral part of it, not really the legal part," one participant told researchers.

The danger of downloading a virus was the reason 34% of people did not download and concern that the producers of music would not be paid was the reason in 27% of cases.

The main reason that most people did engage in illegal file-sharing was economic, with 40% of downloaders doing so to save money. Significant proportions of young people did so for other reasons, though. While 23% said that they downloaded to gain access to music that was otherwise not available, 22% said they did so to try before they bought music.

The research did provide the music industry with potential pointers to the way ahead. Young people were very keen on services that allowed them to keep music, rather than more ephemeral streaming services.

"85% of illegal downloaders say they would be interested in paying for an unlimited, all-you-can-eat download service," said the UK Music report. "Despite already having access to a variety of streaming services, 89% of all respondents stated that they still wanted to 'own' music."

"Clearly, it is too early to assess the true impact of emerging and perpetually-evolving music streaming services," said Feargal Sharkey, the former Undertones singer who heads UK Music. "However, with respondents having grown up with the free-to-access model of MySpace and YouTube (and, before that, radio) there remain considerable challenges in expecting young people to pay for them."

"Our relationship with music fans will determine these commercial matters in the months and years ahead, but the ultimate challenge for music and other IP-based industries, is to reconcile what the customer wants with what is economically and humanly possible," he said.

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