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Outreach: Talking to the Download Generation

April 2007

* "I wouldn’t steal a car. I wouldn’t steal a DVD. But I might borrow a DVD from a friend. And what’s the Internet these days, but a big group of friends sharing stuff?" – Hussein*, aged 17.

Hussein was among a group of 16 – 17 year olds whose views on piracy provided delegates to the 2007 Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy with food for thought. A WIPO team had taken cameras into the classroom of an international school, shown the students a range of anti-piracy publicity materials, and filmed their reactions. With the subject of awareness-raising high on the Global Congress agenda, the film was intended to illustrate the importance of understanding the attitudes of a target audience when designing outreach campaigns.

Rights and wrongs

A show of hands in the classroom revealed that downloading music illegally was a daily practice among this typical group of bright teenagers. Why, we asked them, did these normally law-abiding citizens have no qualms about breaking the law in this particular area? It was clearly not through lack of awareness of copyright law. The students were well informed. Yet they did not feel that they were doing anything wrong. "Downloading seems kind of unreal compared to other crimes," reflected Elena. "Sure, we know it’s illegal," added Harry, "but it’s not like you’re going to get a knock on the door and find a policeman standing there." They might feel differently, the students agreed, had anyone they knew ever been fined or punished for illegal downloading. But as it was, they saw it as a non-crime with no consequences.

But what about the ethical rights and wrongs? Hussein was quick to voice a sense of popular outrage: "Yeah, well how is it moral to charge 25 dollars for a CD that costs 25 cents to produce?" This unleashed a flood of invective against perceived corporate greed, of which the teenagers viewed themselves – and many artists - as innocent victims. "For them to say they’re losing millions because of downloading is hypocritical," fumed Ayushi. "The record labels are just minting money."

An explanation from the WIPO team as to how record companies use sales profits to subsidize new talent and unprofitable bands, made little impact. One earnest lad in the front row urged his classmates see "the economic point of view. – It’s a business, after all, and businesses have got to make money." But others shot back: "then they should work harder on making us want to pay for it." Ricardo argued that the time had come for new business models: "They’ve got to find ways to make money other than selling CDs, because stopping people from downloading illegally is, well, extremely hard."

What of the artists?

Surely, though, these music-loving kids would see that taking music without paying for it was unfair to their favorite artists? The WIPO team showed the class a short film, in which Malian world music star Amadou describes about how piracy has affected him. This did leave some of the class pensive. "Yes, I can see that it makes a difference for an artist like that, who doesn’t have a lot of money," commented Lucy. Deborah compared a recent interview with mega-star P!nk: "I heard her talking [about piracy], but it didn’t affect me at all, because I know just how rich and famous she is." Ali put his finger on the difficulty in finding the right kind of artist to communicate anti-piracy messages: "Trouble is, I’d never heard of the Malian guy. It needs to be someone really famous to catch our attention in the first place – but then we wouldn’t believe they need the money."

Ayushi flagged up some cultural differences, describing a successful Bollywood campaign in which popular stars appealed to the public not to buy pirated DVDs. "In India we love our cinema and our film stars. That works for us," she mused. Other kids picked up on a news clipping about a Hong Kong campaign in which boy scouts were used to report instances of piracy. While that might work well in some cultures, smiled Lucy apologetically, "it would just make me hate boy scouts."

Hussein, meanwhile, questioned the premise that downloading is bad for artists, citing bands which become well known as a direct result of their music being "shared" on the Internet. And he railed against what he saw as the hypocrisy of bands such as the heavy metal group, Metallica; "I mean, they sued [P2P file-sharing site] Napster, and yet the whole reason they got so famous was because of the illegal tape trade 15 years ago."

Tuning out

The students’ reactions to the anti-piracy materials we showed them suggested that messages designed to alarm were perhaps the least effective. A poster suggesting that pirated DVD sales funded terrorists was met with disbelief. The notion that the FBI would hunt down illegal downloaders was dismissed as laughable. An advertisement with dramatic music and visuals, which equated piracy with car theft, certainly caught their attention, but left none persuaded by its message.

Several of the kids pointed out that young people are so bombarded by messages and warnings that they tend to tune them out. "We’re always being told: ‘don’t smoke, you’ll get caught; ‘don’t do this, you’ll get caught’… the messages just don’t affect us any more." Others found factual press reporting about the consequences of piracy more persuasive than "fancy" publicity campaigns. "Just give us simple facts and figures."


Ultimately, they all agreed, downloading music is just too easy, too accessible, too attractive to resist. A click of a mouse and "it’s all at our disposal. - Thousands of songs that we can do whatever we want with." Said Caitlin: "It’s true there are legal ways too, but the illegal ways are so much simpler." If you really want to stop it, the kids told us, target the technology-providers who make it all so easy and who could, if it was such a bad thing, come up with technological solutions to prevent it. "These campaigns shouldn’t be talking to us," argued Ricardo, "they should talk to the corporations that give us all these opportunities, that lead us to do illegal things."

This snapshot of teenage attitudes to piracy resonated with the experiences of many of the organizations at the Global Congress, which are actively seeking solutions to tackle piracy – be it through awareness-raising, legal enforcement, technology, or new business models. "I stare at this problem seven days a week," said David Benjamin, head of anti-piracy at the Universal Music Group, "and these kids are just the tip of the iceberg." Benoît Battistelli, director general of the National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI), France, urged delegates not to shy away from repressive measures since – "rien ne vaut la peur d’un gendarme" (nothing beats the fear of a policeman). Others, however, argued strongly against moves to criminalize consumers.

And a last word from the kids? - "The sad truth about our generation," Ayushi concludes, "is that if it’s free, we’re gonna go for it."

*The names of the students in this article have been changed.

By Elizabeth March, WIPO Magazine Editor, Communications and Public Outreach Division


The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.