Student Perceptions of Copyright – by “Kate H”

n order to most effectively direct instructional information towards the student body, I surveyed and interviewed a variety of students on their attitudes about copyright and the ethics of illegally copying copyrighted materials.

The effort was a two-part one.

First, I sent a survey to a diverse selection of the student body. I aimed to reach both genders, people of each grade level, and students with a range of knowledge about technology and intellectual property issues. I received 69 responses. Below is a summary of the more interesting results.

Survey Results

Plagiarism vs. Illegal Downloading

Plagiarism vs. Downloading

Whereas 88 percent of the students that responded claimed to very familiar or moderately familiar with Yale’s policies on plagiarism, only 19 percent reported that they were very familiar with Yale’s policies on downloading copyrighted content without permission, and 42 percent responded that they were not at all familiar with the policies. These results indicate that Yale should provide incoming freshmen with training on these issues during freshman orientation, and needs to make resources available to all grades.

Switch to Google

Gmail Switch

I asked questions about Yale’s switch to use Google for email services. 90 percent of responders had heard about the plan, and only 3% of responders were against it.

Behavior On Campus vs. Off of Campus Networks

On Campus vs. Off Campus

Of the responders, 48 percent said they felt safer downloading copyrighted content without permission off of Yale’s networks. The reasons given for and against downloading at Yale were varied.
Students who felt more comfortable at Yale gave responses like,
-“Yale at the very least can filter the RIAA’s cease and desist demands should they arise, instead of them coming directly for you as they would if you were on your own home network.”
-“Because I know my activity is not being monitored.”
-“Because I have never heard of Yale enforcing illegal downloading policies.”

Students who were more wary on campus networks responded,
-“Because I got reprimanded by Yale for using Limewire, and don’t imagine this would happen elsewhere.”
-“I know for a fact that RIAA and MPAA monitors watch Yale’s network VERY closely. If the file in question is for content they are paying attention to, then five minutes of seeding is enough to attract the **AA’s attention.”

Variety of Copyrighted Material

I was interested in exploring whether student opinions were dependent on the type of content being downloaded without permission.

Indie vs. Madonna

35 percent of students surveyed thought it was more unethical to download music from an indie band without permission. Their reasons were as follows…
-“Indie artists need the money! Sean Paul’s loaded.”
-“The percentage of profit lost to the big name/big label act is in the drop-in-the-bucket range, whereas the indie band doesn’t have the enormous crowd backing for their income. Moreover, the big label act only gets a few cents on the dollar per song after the label is paid, while the indie act is more likely to be releasing their album themselves, and therefore stands to receive more profit directly, which they can convert to further music-making.”
-“I feel less bad about stealing the music of people who have tons and tons of money anyway.”

Many students thought it made no difference.
-“Intellectual property is the same thing whether we’re dealing with Madonna or Bearbot.”
-“I download all my music, I don’t think it’s wrong, and I think that the record companies need to accept the way things are now and stop slapping lawsuits on everyone.”
-“All these bands should be making money from their super-lucrative concert tours.”
-“Either way you are taking money from an artist.”

Movie vs. Music

I then asked whether downloading a movie without permission was more or less unethical than downloading music without permission.

The people who found downloading movies more unethical gave these reasons:
-“Movies cost more so you are taking something more valuable.”
-“Movies involve the contributions of hundreds and hundreds of people who are already underpaid. As far as I know, recording an album requires significantly fewer people.”
-“My dad is a movie theatre manager. In light of this, I grew up hearing about how when people download movies, it takes away from the commissions of the theatres. I don’t know that there’s really a comparable issue in music because people still go to concerts, buy merchandise from the stores, and things of that nature.”
-“Movies are long.”

Half of responders said it made no difference, and gave these reasons:
-“You’re taking money away from both companies.”
-“They’re both under copyright.”

Interviews and Short Films

Second, I conducted and filmed a series of twelve individual interviews with a similarly diverse group of students. I aimed to cover freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior opinions with a range of opinions and academic background. I asked questions to gauge the extent of their knowledge about broader intellectual property concepts, then posed ethical scenarios, such as “To what extent do you think ripping a library disc is unethical?” and “Do you think downloading a copyrighted movie without permission is more or less ethical than downloading a copyrighted song without permission?” These surveys and interviews not only provided information about the ideas of the general Yale population, but served as convenient ways to initiate conversations about the issues and stimulate dialogue. After each interview, I informed my interview subject about Yale’s policies, and about our group’s website.

I edited these interviews together with the intent of posing a complicated question, providing a range of student opinions, and directing the viewer to the group’s website. I aimed to keep these movies short and tightly-edited in order to keep the viewer’s attention online. Since the object of our project is to inform the Yale community, I distributed the films to many different groups on Yale’s campus.

1. How unethical is it to download copyrighted content without permission?

2. Do you feel safer downloading copyrighted content without permission on Yale’s networks or off of campus networks?

3. Is it more unethical to download copyrighted content without permission from an established artist or an up-and-coming one?

4. How ethical is it to borrow a cd or a dvd from the library and rip it to your computer?

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One thought on “Student Perceptions of Copyright – by “Kate H”

  1. This was quite an informative project, since I’ve always been curious to see what others think about these types of issues. I also liked the video clips part of it. It seems like most people have similar feelings about all this stuff, and there is at times a disconnect between the law and the reality of what people choose to do or feel is ethical.


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