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Teen Attitudes on Illegal Downloading: A Microsoft study

Today Microsoft released a survey of 501 teens, grade 7 through 10.

The study concluded:

teens are less likely to illegally download content from the Internet when they know the laws for downloading and sharing content online.

About half of those teens, however, said they were not familiar with these laws, and only 11 percent of them clearly understood the current rules for downloading images, literature, music, movies and software. Teens who were familiar with downloading rules credited their parents, TV or stories in magazines and newspapers, and Web sites — more so than their schools — as resources for information about illegal downloading.

In response, Microsoft launched Intellectual Property Rights Education, a pilot curriculum for secondary educators to help students better understand "how intellectual property rights affect their lives and sparking discussion to clarify the gray areas in protected and shared content."

The curricular content includes the beta site MYBYTES, a website that encourages young people to develop, share, and assign usage rights to their own intellectual property.  The site includes a Music Mixer, on-the-street video interviews, the viewpoints of artists, stories about how intellectual property affects everyday life, and online polls. 

The PDF version of the study should provide interesting fodder for class discussion. Especially interesting, though not surprising, are students’ reasons why they are likely to continue illegal downloading despite their new knowledge:

  • Most people see their friends doing it and figure "why not" (66%)
  • Most people your age can’t afford to pay for it (65%)
  • Most kids your age do not know it is illegal to download this content without first paying for it or obtaining the owner’s permission (65%)
  • This type of information should be free to download (56%)
  • The entertainment companies make too much money already (47%)
  • Rock stars don’t need the money (40%)

Commercial music and movies will continue as major arenas of IP contention.  The technology to copy for personal use is available and easy and tempting.  We can help by ensuring our students are at least aware of the clearer rules relating to illegal downloading, by modeling legal behavior ourselves, and by educating ourselves, as best we can, relating to grayer areas of fair use.

Students and teachers must also be aware that some artists are choosing to share and adopt alternative licensing. For more resources, as well as alternative sources of content for student production, check out our Copyright Friendly wiki and the wonderful materials available at Creative Commons:

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Joyce,
    It seems ever since the Napster fiasco music downloading has become a big deal. I found the reasons why students download very humorous. When I was younger, I fell into the “Most people your age can’t afford to pay for it” category. I later realized that I wasn’t truly supporting the artist. It’s unfair to the music market when people download illegally. I just wonder if there is truly a way to stop this from happening.
    I checked out the MyByte site suggested by Microsoft in their teacher focused program. I agree that this seems like a good way for students to create their own music instead of downloading someone else’s. Having the site include viewpoints from the artists can let students understand that yes, musical artists are people too who just happen to create music for a living.
    It would be a wonderful world if we could control file sharing. But until then, the gray areas will still exist.
    -Heather H

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