Threat Of Jail Time Increases Respect For Copyright, Microsoft Says

Microsoft has launched a campaign to teach teens about intellectual property rights and the risks they face when breaking the law.
Teens appear to be willing to curtail illegal downloading when told they face fines or jail time.

This finding, among many in a survey published by Microsoft on Wednesday, is the basis for the software company's new campaign to teach teens respect for intellectual property rights.

"Widespread access to the Internet has amplified the issue of intellectual property rights among children and teens," said Sherri Erickson, global manager of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, in a statement. "This survey provides more insight into the disparity between IP awareness and young people today and highlights the opportunity for schools to help prepare their students to be good online citizens."

Microsoft's survey found that about half of the teenagers surveyed (49%) said they are not familiar with the rules and guidelines for downloading content from the Internet. Only 11% understood the rules well, and of those, 82% said downloading content illegally merits punishment. Among those unfamiliar with the law, only 57% supported punishment for intellectual property violations.

It's not clear whether Microsoft's statement to teen respondents -- "When you do not follow these rules you are open to significant fines and possibly jail time" -- is entirely accurate, particularly when teens under the age of 18 are involved. Emily Berger, an intellectual property fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is skeptical. "I think it's being used as a scare tactic," she said. "It's a real stretch of the law to say it's theoretically possible."

Nevertheless, Microsoft wants to correct teens' woeful ignorance. To do so, it has turned to Topics Education, a developer of custom curricula, to create a curriculum called "Intellectual Property Rights Education" for middle school and high school teachers. The Microsoft-sponsored curriculum consists of Web-based resources and case-study driven lesson plans that aim to engage students about intellectual property issues.

To support its teachings, Microsoft has launched MyBytes, a Web site where students can create custom ringtones, share content -- "their own content," as Microsoft makes clear -- and learn more about intellectual property rights.

As to whether Microsoft can teach teens to respect intellectual property, the jury is out. But the company has tried to do so before and has little to show for it. In 2004, Microsoft was among the companies backing "Play It Safe in Cyber Space," a national campaign backed by the Business Software Alliance and funded by the Department of Justice, to dissuade kids from downloading content from peer-to-peer networks. Needless to say, the campaign's cartoon ferret mascot hasn't exactly put an end to online copyright violations.

Indeed, while such educational efforts win funding from intellectual property stakeholders, they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the public. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) maintains a Web site called to encourage legal downloading. And since 2003, it also has been known to sue people it believes to have downloaded music illegally.

Access Copyright, a Canadian copyright enforcement group, in 2006 launched a "Captain Copyright" Web site and backed a lesson plan to teach students respect for copyright law. The project was greeted with widespread ridicule online and accusations that the site itself was violating copyright law.

In August 2006, the site was shuttered and this explanation was subsequently posted: "Despite the significant progress we made on addressing the concerns raised about the original Captain Copyright initiative, as well as the positive feedback and requests for literally hundreds of lesson kits from teachers and librarians, we have come to the conclusion that the current climate around copyright issues will not allow a project like this one to be successful."

The Microsoft survey also found that many teens believe online music is overpriced. It found that 41% of teens believe the cost to download a song should be between $0.50 and $1. Twenty-six percent of respondents said digital songs should cost less than $0.50 and 21% said online music should be free.

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