2012 survey: Majority says online content pirates should be prosecuted

Thursday, July 19, 2012

WASHINGTON — Most Americans believe the government should prosecute those who pirate music and movies online, according to a new survey by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.

In the survey, released July 17, 59% of those surveyed said the government should prosecute content pirates, with 33% opposed. Nine percent said they didn’t know.

“At this country’s birth, the nation’s Founders guaranteed free speech and art through the First Amendment and ensured compensation for authors and creators through a copyright clause in the U.S. Constitution and federal law. These were complementary principles, which together helped ensure that a then-young nation would be a capital of creativity, ” said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center. “As illegal downloading has flourished, the right to create remains unabated, but the right to be paid for your work has been seriously damaged.”

The public is more ambivalent about the use of copyrighted material on social media.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed said people should be able to post copyrighted material online without paying rights fees “as long as no money is being made.” Forty-two percent said posters should not have that right.

“Spend just a few minutes on social media and you’ll find plenty of examples of people using copyrighted material they don’t have the rights to. Technically, many of these are copyright violations,” Paulson told an audience July 17 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where the survey was released.

“But they’re also a form of expression by those who have posted them, particularly when the poster has used copyrighted material as a mash-up, creating new art by adapting the old.

“Using content for personal and hobby use is consistent with the legal doctrine of fair use, allowing us to use copyrighted material in limited, generally nonprofit ways that don’t significantly affect the market for the original content,” Paulson said.

Those surveyed this year saw a clear distinction between using copyrighted material for personal purposes and using it for profit: 64% said that for-profit sites should not have the right to post copyrighted material without paying fees.

The 2012 national survey of 1006 adults was conducted in June by telephone by the PERT Group, and directed by Dr. Kenneth Dautrich. The sampling error is +/-3.2%. The PERT Group is headquartered in Bloomfield, Conn., with offices in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and personnel in Stamford, Conn., Caldwell, N.J., and Philadelphia.


The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government. The center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.

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News media contacts:

  • Ken Paulson is available to discuss the survey findings and other issues. He can be reached at 615-727-1600 or kpaulson@fac.org.
  • For information on how the survey was conducted: Ken Dautrich, PERT Group, 860-604-4305.


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