Downloading, Ethical Yet Illegal?

It may be illegal, but most college students have no qualms about downloading entertainment from the Internet. They feel no moral obligation to pay for music, videos or anything else they find online, according to a study from the University of Arkansas.

Of a group of 82 students, 70 percent admitted downloading some type of copyrighted material. Music was most popular: 81 percent had copied at least one song. Movies and video trailed further behind: 29 percent of downloaders had clips on the computers that were originally from the Web.

Almost 60 percent of downloaders thought what they had done was ethically acceptable. Nearly half justified their actions by arguing that companies overcharge, or that artists make enough money in the first place. Another 23 percent felt that downloading was akin to borrowing music from a friend.

There still may be hope for the entertainment industry. About 70 percent of the downloaders are willing to ante up for music, if the process is friendly enough. "They were very demanding as to what they expected from a website," says head researcher Norma Mendoza. Students expect a website to have a wide selection and fair pricing, to begin with. Mendoza notes that most companies have failed to provide the selection and convenience offered by file sharing programs like KaZaA, Limewire and Acquisition.

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"Ultimately," says Mendoza, "people do want to do the right thing if it is at the right price," The findings were presented at the 2003 Marketing and Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

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