Washington, D.C. (Thursday, September 28) – The vast majority of those who use the Internet to download music files to their computers do not believe they are stealing. Most couldn”t care less whether the music they have grabbed is copyright protected, a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found.

Fully 78% of those who download music don”t think it is stealing to save music files to their computer hard drives and 61% of downloaders say they do not care if the music they capture is copyright protected. In the general population, those under age 30, those in households earning more than $75,000, and those with college degrees are the most likely to back the idea that downloading music isn”t a crime.

The results come just before attorneys for Napster and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are scheduled on Monday to argue in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals whether Napster”s popular file-swapping system should be enjoined from operating. The industry association, which represents most major record companies, has argued that Napster”s system violates copyright law by allowing users to share music files with each other without paying for them.

The survey also found that the broader universe of Internet users also supports the idea that downloading music is not an act of theft. Fifty-three percent of all Internet users say downloading is not stealing, while 31% say it is stealing. And the general American public, Internet users and nonusers alike, also agree that downloading music is not stealing, though the margin is just 40%-35%. Many of those who don”t have Internet access said in the survey that they had no views on the issue.

“Those who share music with other Internet users think they are doing the high-tech equivalent of swapping cassette tapes with their friends,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “They don”t agree with record companies and music artists who contend that Napster users are doing the same thing as walking into a record store and swiping a CD.”

These findings are based on the results of a phone survey of 2,109 adult Americans between July 24 and August 20. Some 1,101 of the respondents are Internet users, and 238 of them have downloaded music files. In the overall survey, the margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points. In the portion dealing with music downloaders, the margin of error is plus or minus 7 percentage points.

Here are some of the other highlights of the survey:

  • Buying habits: Most music downloaders aren”t incorrigible scofflaws – many have ended up purchasing at least some of the music they sample online. However, most music purchasers do not frequently buy the songs they have downloaded.
  • Downloading habits: Only a minority of downloaders, just 29%, say they have collected more than 25 songs on their hard drives. And only 10% of downloaders say they have more than 100 tunes on their computers.
  • Music tastes: Most downloaders gather up familiar songs from their favorite artists. Many also seek out new songs from their favorite artists. But the marketing potential of online music is fairly good because a third of online music lovers say they have downloaded new songs from new artists.
  • Napster”s appeal: 54% of music downloaders, about 11 million American adults, have used Napster. By our observation, the number of files in a typical Napster user”s computer has risen from 100 to about 140 since June.
  • The downloader population: Some 22% of Internet users, about 21 million people, have downloaded music. Of that population, 79% of music downloaders say they have gathered music files for free, while 15% say they have paid for online music.”Long before the commercial explosion on the Web, an early mantra of the Internet elite was that information wants to be free,” noted Susannah Fox, Director of Research at the Pew Internet Project and one of the authors of the report. “We are now seeing that belief embraced by many of those who use the Internet to get music. We don”t know yet if this technology is actually influencing people”s values. But we do know that the struggle over who controls the rights to music is the first big moral and legal challenge that the Internet has raised in the 21st century.”

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a research center funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Washington-based project explores the social impact of the Internet, especially its effect on children and families, communities, education, health care, the work place, and civic and political life.

    For a full copy of the report, and for more information about this survey and upcoming activities of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, visit our Web site at https://legacy.pewresearch.org/internet/.