March 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

The best things in life are free--at least, music fans think they are

A Harris Interactive survey of 2,306 adult Americans reported that 75% agree with the statement: ìdownloading music for personal use is an innocent act and should not be prohibited.

Internet Retailer

It’s been a long, slow slog as legitimate music sites have tried to build a case for why consumers should pay for online music. And while Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod.com and Roxio Inc.’s Napster.com have hosted a significant number of enthusiastic music buyers, anybody who thinks the battle to get consumers to pay got a rude wake-up call last month. A Harris Interactive survey of 2,306 adult Americans reported that 75% agree with the statement: “downloading music for personal use is an innocent act and should not be prohibited.”

The percentage of adults who believe that music downloading does not break the law coincides almost exactly with the percentage of teens who believe that.

The survey asked respondents whether they agreed with the statement: “Downloading and then selling the music is piracy and should be prohibited, but downloading for personal use is an innocent act and should not be prohibited.”

Respondents justify the downloading of music by citing the high prices of CDs. 70% agree with the statement: “If the price of CDs was a lot lower, there would be a lot less downloading of music off the Internet.”

Harris also notes that the music industry may have to undertake an educational campaign to get consumers to understand the ramifications of their actions. In spite of their belief that downloading music is an innocent act, 64% agree that “musicians and recording companies should get the full financial benefit of their work.”

“There is a lack of education on this issue,” says Brad Dewey, president of Napster. “It reminds of the days when people got cable for free. The cable industry undertook an education campaign to tell people that it was illegal and they started prosecuting people. There are similar activities getting started here.”

Napster has recently entered into licensing agreements with Penn State and the University of Rochester to offer Napster to all students at those schools. Dewey says that part of Napster’s strategy in those arrangements is to educate students that they need to pay for music from the Internet. “By providing a legal alternative to free downloading, we’re educating students,” he says.

Part of Napster’s education strategy will be to have artists endorse Napster as a way for consumers to understand that the artists suffer when music fans download their music for free.

Harris reports that beliefs about downloading music are held equally no matter the respondent’s political orientation: “Agreement with the three statements is at virtually identical levels among Republicans and Democrats, and liberals and conservatives,” Harris reports.

54% of respondents agree that downloading music for free from the Internet is no different from buying a used CD or borrowing a recording from a friend.

“All of this suggests that the music industry is fighting an uphill battle in winning the hearts and minds of Americans to support prohibitions against downloading. Their opportunity is to make the as-yet-unmade link in the public’s consciousness between downloading and its financial impact on musicians and recording companies,” the Harris report says.

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