May 21, 2004, 12:00 AM

Technology, not ethics, worry teens about illegal downloading, study says

When illegally downloading, 60% of young people worry about accidentally downloading a computer virus while 50% worry about getting in trouble with the law, says a new survey from Harris Interactive.

Young people are more worried about technological problems while downloading digital media than they are about the ethics of stealing, says a new survey from Harris Interactive conducted for the Business Software Alliance. When illegally downloading, 60% of young people worry about accidentally downloading a computer virus while 50% worry about whether they can get in trouble with the law.

The survey showed that most young people understand that digital media files are copyrighted: 91% of young people are aware that books are copyrighted; 88%, movies; 88%, music; 86%, software; 83%, games and 64%, web sites. 53% have downloaded music, 32%, games; 22%, commercial software; and 17%, movies.

"What`s most alarming is that eight out of 10 kids and teens understand the definition of copyright and nearly all of them, especially teens, are aware that software, music and movies are protected by copyright. The fact that kids know stealing software is wrong, and yet they behave like it`s okay, clearly illustrates a challenging ethical dilemma," said Diane Smiroldo, vice president of public affairs for Business Software Alliance, a software industry trade group.

The nationwide opinion poll asked more than 1,100 8- to 18-year-olds about their attitudes toward copyright law and Internet behavior, including uploading and downloading copyrighted files through online peer-to-peer sites.

The reasons they cited for illegally downloading material:
* I do not have money to pay for software (51%)
* I wouldn`t use the software if I had to pay for it (35%)
* lots of people do it (33%)
* it doesn`t hurt anybody when I do this (26%)
* no one has ever told me not to (19%)
* I won`t get in trouble for doing it (15%)
* my parents have said it is okay (8%)

"What`s of most concern is that kids take big risks to steal software and they perceive it as a victimless crime. One in four says `it doesn`t hurt anybody when I do this` and that underscores a cyber ethics education deficiency at home and in the schools," Smiroldo said.


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