Student Perceptions of Copyrighted Material on the Internet
By Trisha Brewer
Technological advances occur faster than society can comprehend the full impact they will have;
governments struggle with the legal implications of attempting to apply laws to situations that did not previously exist, while parents struggle to understand the meaning these advances may have as they teach their children right from wrong. Copyright law is one such area of concern, since these advances provide consumers the opportunity to copy and distribute pirated versions of copyrighted material, which may be indistinguishable from the original. As technologies evolve, it becomes more difficult to determine the circumstances under which copyrighted material may be utilized before copyrights are violated. What do students understand about the use of copyrighted material from the Internet? Do they believe content for sale on the Internet should be treated the same as its equivalent version found at the local store? Do they feel it is wrong to obtain and use pirated material?
To determine student perceptions of copyrights on the Internet, I developed a 43 question survey on Survey Monkey for distribution among a group of students enrolled in a technology program at a Michigan University. The University’s College of Technology Human Subjects Review Committee approved the questions and a pilot study was conducted among a group of students who were not members of the study population. Feedback from the pilot study was used to further refine the survey, which was made available to the study group in
October 2010. The survey began with a general definition of copyright law as defined by the United States Copyright Office website: www.copyright.gov
, and contained a variety of questions regarding students’ past use of several types of Internet content.
Of the total study population of 243 students, 61 (25%) completed a survey. The majority of these students were male seniors as indicated in Table 1:
• Fifty respondents (82%) indicated that at least one class during their college career had included a discussion about copyrights.
• Thirty respondents (50%) reported that they are more concerned with the cost of an item available for purchase on the Internet than they are about how that item is obtained.
• Thirty-nine respondents (64%) understand copyright violations to be difficult to track on the Internet.
One area of the survey gave students the opportunity to voice opinions of copyright law as it relates to the Internet and to discuss how those opinions affect Internet behavior:
Distribution by Class Rank: Freshman
Sophomore Junior Senior
1 (2%) 10 (16%) 16 (26%) 33 (54%) 1 (2%)
Fall 2011 |
Distribution by Gender: Female Male
5 (8%) 56 (92%)
student Beliefs about Copyrights on the internet
Students were asked to comment on whether or not they disregard copyrights and, if they do, to select from among several possible explanations, as shown in Table 2. Respondents were permitted to mark as many choices as needed. Fifty- three students responded to this question.
Sixteen (30.2%) of the respondents supplied additional comments in support of the reasons for their current Internet behavior:
• Seven respondents cited lack of funds as a reason for obtaining pirated material.
• Two respondents specifically cited RIAA and MPAA for taking unfair advantage of artists and consumers.
• Other comments included statements about copyrights being “bogus” and that current copyright law is “archaic” and not in touch with today’s technology.
• On a positive note, two respondents commented that education about copyrights and clarification of copyright infringement has changed the way they behave on the Internet.
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