Half of online teens say they download music.

Teens enjoy a rich array of entertainment choices, spanning the spectrum from analog to digital offerings. As a Kaiser Family Foundation study recently noted, youth ages 8-18 devote most of their media consumption time to television, video, and DVD-watching—more than three hours each day. Still, listening to music, whether it is the radio, CDs, tapes, or MP3s, takes up the second-largest chunk of a teen’s media attention span on the average day.9 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds,” March 2005. It is worth noting here that the Kaiser study also asked a sample of 2,032 students ages 8-18 whether they have ever “downloaded music from the internet.” In all, 64% of all respondents said “yes.” This higher incidence of reported music downloading may be due to the broader range of ages sampled in the Kaiser study, the use of a self-administered paper-based survey, or different survey fielding periods. Full report available at: http://www.kff.org/entmedia/7251.cfm] Music holds a position of priority in teens’ lives, online as well as offline; in our survey, half of online teens (51%) said they download music from the internet.

In our 2000 survey of teens and internet use, roughly the same portion, 53% of online teens, reported music downloading. However, the raw size of the online teen population has grown over time such that there are now about 11 million teens who say they download music, up from 9 million in 2000.

Online teens are far more likely than online adults to say they have downloaded music files. Just 18% of online adults who were surveyed at the end of 2004 reported music downloading.

Older teen boys with broadband are the most likely to say they get music online.

Among teens, boys ages 15-17 and those who have broadband access at home are among the most likely music downloaders. A full 67% of older boys who have access to high-speed connections at home get music online. By comparison, 58% of older girls in the high-speed category say they download music files. While 51% of all online girls ages 15-17 download music, 63% of all online boys of the same age get music files online. Similarly, just 44% of dial-up users report music downloading, while 61% of teens with high-speed connections at home report this.

Overall, teen boys of all ages are more likely than teen girls to report music downloading, a trend that is consistent with our data from 2000. While 57% of all online teen boys say they get music files online, 45% of online teen girls say this. This is also similar to adult behavior. Online adult men are more likely than adult women to report music downloading in our surveys. However, other studies have suggested that girls are more voracious music consumers overall; the Kaiser “Generation M” study found that girls spend more time overall listening to music than boys (whether on radio, CDs, or MP3s).

As is the case with most online activities, there are more self-professed music downloaders among older teens (57%) than among younger teens (44%). Again, this is a trend that is consistent with our earlier data from 2000. There are no significant variations for this activity according to the parents’ income level, and there is little difference among teens whose parents have different educational backgrounds.

As we have previously reported, when respondents are asked if they ever download music files to their computer, some respondents report only current behavior and not past activity. As we did in our recent surveys of adults, we probed further in our survey of teens by asking a follow-up question: “You said you don’t currently download music files. Have you ever downloaded music files in the past?”

Roughly one-third of those teens (31%) who do not currently download music files say that they used to download music in the past. When projected on to the total population of online teens, this suggests that the total universe of teens with music downloading experience—those who are current or former downloaders—is closer to 66%. 

Current downloader crosstabs

Like adults, teen downloaders get their music from multiple sources.

Equal portions of teen and adult music downloaders cite peer-to-peer (P2P) networks as either a current source where they acquire files, or as a place where they have found their music in the past. Among current and former music-downloading teens, 30% say they currently get files from P2P networks, while 28% report doing so in the past. Likewise, 31% of adult music and video downloaders reported P2P as a current source in our February 2005 survey, while 27% of them said it was a formerly-used source. While P2P networks have been blamed for harboring much of the illegal music trading that happens online, some P2P applications have recently introduced features that allow users to legally share and buy music online.

Teen music downloaders are equally likely to cite paid online music services and P2P as current sources; 30% of music downloading teens say they currently download music files from online music services such as iTunes or BuyMusic.com. Yet, just 9% report using paid online music services in the past. That compares to 17% of adult music and video downloaders who reported current use of paid services and 7% who said they had tried them in the past.

As was the case when we reported adult downloaders’ responses in the spring, the number of teens who cited email and instant messages as a way to get music files rivaled the number who cited P2P and paid services. While these platforms are not ideal for sharing files on a massive scale, high-speed connections and larger inboxes have made it feasible to transfer audio files via email and IM. And considering the frequency with which many teens use IM and email, they may simply use these applications as a matter of convenience for sharing songs.

Despite the fact that teens are heavier users of instant messaging applications than adults, teen music downloaders are equally as likely as adults to cite IM as a means of acquiring files. In all, 31% of music downloading teens said they currently get files from email or IM, while 6% said they used to do this. In comparison, 24% of music and video downloading adults reported email and IM as a current source for files and 5% said it was a way they used to get files in the past.

From another perspective, when we asked a pool of IM-using teens if they ever use instant messaging to send music or video files, 31% reported this behavior. That is more than six times the number of adult IM users (5%) who reported this activity in February of 2004.

About one in four (26%) music-downloading teens go straight to the source and get their music files from musicians’ websites, online music magazines, and other music-related websites.10 As we reported in our survey of musicians last year, most online musicians have websites, and many of them use it as a venue to promote their songs. Some choose to make selected audio files available to download for free while others make samples available or streaming audio versions of their music. And increasing numbers of musicians direct fans to buy song files through their website.

Another 8% of music-downloading teens say they used to seek music from musicians’ pages and other music-related sites, but do not do so now. Music-downloading adults report similar behavior; one in five (20%) report getting song files from other music-related websites and 8% said it’s something they have done in the past.

Online newsgroups and other online communities were the least-cited source for music files in our survey. Just 13% of music-downloading teens currently get music from these groups, and 6% said they had done so in the past. Likewise, 11% of downloading adults find music files they want to download in newsgroups and other online communities and 6% say they have in the past.

Most teen downloaders think that getting free music is easy and it’s unrealistic to expect people not to do it.

While it is hard to know how many teenagers are downloading music files and other media files illegally or legally, we did get a good sense of where their attitudes stand with regard to free music downloading and file-sharing online. Simply put, teens who get music files online believe it is unrealistic to expect people to self-regulate and avoid free downloading and file-sharing altogether. About half of them think free downloading and file-sharing copyrighted content without permission is generally wrong, yet roughly the same number say they do not care about the copyright on the music files that they download.

Out of the 622 teens in our survey who say they have tried music downloading, 75% agree with the statement that, “Music downloading and file-sharing is so easy to do, it’s unrealistic to expect people not to do it.” Just 23% disagreed with this statement.

A smaller majority think that there is a balance to be struck between buying your entertainment and getting it for free. When asked if they agree or disagree that, “As long as people are still buying music and movies, it’s okay if they download or share some things for free,” 66% said they agreed with this statement and 33% disagreed.

Presented with a third scenario that more specifically cited the act of downloading and sharing copyrighted material, these teens were split in their views. In all, 52% said they agreed that, “It’s never really okay to download music or share copyrighted files online without paying for them or getting permission,” while 47% disagreed with this statement.

However, when asked specifically about their own behavior, teens have a more laissez-faire attitude. Among teen music downloaders (either current or former), the majority (55%) say they do not care much whether the songs they download are copyrighted. This falls in line with the attitudes of music-downloading adults in our February 2005 survey, 58% of whom said they do not care about the copyright on the files they download.

Teens’ views on free music downloading and file-sharing vary little according to their gender or the type of internet connection they use at home. However, older teens are significantly more likely than younger teens to agree that it is unrealistic to expect people to refrain from getting free music online. Similarly, they are less likely to put their foot down and say that free music downloading and sharing of copyrighted files without permission is never okay.

It is worth restating here that the above questions were only asked of music downloading teens who have some experience with getting music online. This group likely includes a mix of teens who have downloaded illegally, some who have only accessed files legally, and some who have done both. Had we asked this question of those teens who have no familiarity with music downloading, they might have expressed quite different views about the activity. 

Teen attitudes towards free music downloading

In focus groups we conducted with 38 middle school and high school students ages 11-17, participants expressed mixed views about free music downloading.11 Some revealed wariness about the consequences of downloading and sharing copyrighted songs, but others felt confident about continuing under the radar. While one male focus group participant said music downloading is “a little scary now because of how many people have been getting caught,” another said he “does not worry about it” because he uses a program to get songs where “other people cannot see what songs you have.”

Since 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America has filed 14,800 lawsuits against individual internet users suspected of illegally downloading and distributing copyrighted music online. While many of these suspected infringers have settled out of court, recent news reports have noted that increasing numbers of these defendants are starting to challenge the accusations. A Supreme Court decision in the MGM v. Grokster case earlier this year ruled unanimously against Grokster, finding that the company was guilty of inducing copyright infringement among its users. Since that ruling, some P2P companies have sought to collaborate with the record industry to find new legal ways to distribute files through P2P applications for profit. At the same time, there are many alternative P2P applications and other means to acquire copyrighted content online, should one wish to do so.

The impression that “everyone’s doing it” was expressed repeatedly in one focus group, and several participants offered that they simply switch to new file-sharing applications whenever one becomes too popular and copyright holders start “cracking down” on them. When asked to share their views about the music industry’s opposition to unauthorized downloading, several participants felt that they receive mixed messages as consumers when they are sold CD burners, DVD burners, and blank CDs.

Beyond the threat of getting caught, concerns about the risk of unwanted viruses, spyware, and the poor quality of files found on the peer-to-peer networks were also a popular thread in the discussions. Here again, however, the teens who had become frustrated with certain peer-to-peer applications for these reasons said most people just move on to use new software or other methods to acquire songs when they encounter these problems.

Yet, despite the acceptance of free downloading as a norm, few of the participants expressed a complete reluctance to buy music altogether. One participant said she downloads to sample music, and will buy from those artists she really enjoys: “I think that if I find a band that I like, I’ll buy their CD because they have some songs that are not on the internet. And I think the quality on the CDs is still better than the quality after it’s been through a couple of computers.”

Another male participant shared a similar perspective on free downloading: “There’s some CDs that there’s like a couple of songs that you just want but you are not going to pay the $15.00 for a CD when there’s only like two songs, so that’s when downloading comes in handy.”

Teens are twice as likely as adults to report video downloading.

While the rift is not quite as large as it is for digital music consumption, teens currently outpace adults in video downloading by two to one. Nearly one-third (31%) of online teens say they download video files to their computer so they can play them at any time, while just 14% of online adults reported the same in a separate November survey.

Again, older boys, ages 15-17, who have broadband connections at home lead as the power consumers in this category. A full 45% of them report video downloading, compared with just 28% of older girls with high-speed connections.

In general, boys of all ages are more likely than girls to get video files; 38% of online boys and 24% of online girls say they are video downloaders. Likewise, older teens of both genders surpass younger teens in video downloading; 35% of those ages 15-17 get video files online, while just 26% of 12-14 year-olds do this.

Most who download video share files, too.

The majority of teens who download video, 61%, also say that they share files (such as music, video, picture files, or computer games) from their computer with others online. Among music downloading teens, 52% report some type of file-sharing. Overall, 37% of online teens report sharing files with others online, compared with 24% of online adults.

Teens who have a high-speed connection at home share files in greater numbers than teens who use a dial-up connection; 40% of broadband teens share files, while 30% of dial-up teens do so. More boys share files than girls (42% vs. 33%), and older teens have a head start on file-sharing relative to their younger teen counterparts (42% vs. 32%).

Bloggers care more about copyright than non-bloggers do.

Similar to music downloaders, bloggers are somewhat more likely than non-bloggers to say that they care whether or not the music they download is copyrighted. Perhaps in keeping with their status as creators of their own content, more than half (52%) of bloggers say they do care about copyright, while 37% of non-bloggers report concern over the copyright status of the music files they download.

Bloggers generally have similar attitudes as non-bloggers toward free music downloading and file-sharing. Most feel that downloading is so easy to do that it is unreasonable to expect people not to do it. However, like most teen internet users, about half of bloggers think that it is never really okay to download or share files without paying for them or getting permission. Surprisingly, bloggers are slightly less likely to say that downloading is okay as long as people are still buying music and movies; just 59% of bloggers agree with this conditional statement compared with 68% of non-bloggers.

When it comes to downloading music, bloggers are just as likely as non-bloggers to say they currently download music files (57% vs. 50%, a gap which is not statistically significant in this data set), and are somewhat more likely to say they currently downloaded video files (43% vs. 28%). However, when we look at bloggers who have either downloaded music or video, bloggers are more likely to have done at least one of these downloading activities, with 65% of bloggers reporting downloading music or videos and 55% of non-bloggers saying the same. Additionally, 50% of bloggers who say they do not currently download music have downloaded in the past, meaning that approximately 78% of all bloggers are current or former music downloaders. About a quarter of internet users who do not blog say they have downloaded music in the past. As noted previously, about two-thirds of all online teens are current or former music downloaders.

Behaviorally, bloggers are just as likely as non-bloggers to download music from a peer-to-peer networks or online music services. About a third of bloggers (32%) report current peer-to-peer usage, another 30% report past use, and 39% report that they have never used the services. Non-bloggers show similar percentages (30% current, 27% past, 42% never). Similarly, 28% of bloggers have used iTunes or other music services, 13% report past usage, and 60% say they have never purchased music from an online music service. Non-bloggers are similarly split; 31% report downloading from paid services, 8% report past service usage, and 60% say they have never used an online music service.