Digital downloads study points out larger issues

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

We are not surprised at results of a study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that showed many students didn't think of illegally downloading music in the same way as they might of shoplifting a CD.

The study, conducted among nearly 200 undergraduates, found "that while they were unlikely to shoplift and viewed that behavior as immoral, they were not exactly motivated to follow the laws governing digital music piracy -- a finding that underscores the difficulties of enforcing such laws and to find new ways to discourage the theft of all types of digital content," according to a UNL release.

Nothing changes more quickly than the digital world, and the UNL data, collected half a decade ago, during a crackdown by the musical industry, is probably already out of date to one degree or another.

At the time, as researchers point out, many users still thought of the Internet as a pipeline for free content, the Wild West electronic frontier, with few ways to pay for content even if we wanted to.

That situation has changed, with commerce shifting online and more and more consumers paying for online content or digital downloads.

The shift could be likened to the early days of satellite dishes -- we remember the hue and cry when dish owners discovered previously "free" television signals scrambled for anyone except subscribers. Now satellite TV service is so common that many don't recall the early days.

The same can probably be said for young music fans who don't remember the days before iTunes and other streaming and download businesses.

Still, the study illustrates the need for personal integrity and character for anyone with a degree of computer skill when exposed to the temptation that comes with access to the Internet.

Without high moral standards, it's only a short leap from downloading bootlegged music to hacking into someone's bank account.

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