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Students Getting Lowdown on Downloads

A majority of college students polled (61%) for a just-released survey either believe downloading copyrighted files without paying for them is legal (22%) or think it ought to be (39%).

According to the study, commissioned by the Intellectual Property Institute (IPI), 34% of college students download copyrighted songs from peer-to-peer computer networks. That is even though a majority of students know it is illegal (75%) and unethical (60%).

University of Richmond School of Law Professor Jim Gibson, director of the institute, says that the takeaway from the study is that students are increasingly getting the message that the practice is illegal and unethical but many still do it anyway.

He says that heightened awareness may be the result of recent "subpoenas, prosecutions and disciplinary actions." For example, last summer, the Recording Industry Association of America launched a flood of so-called John Doe lawsuits against illegal file traders, a total of  784 "illegal file sharers" using Grokster, Kazaa and Limewire peer-to-peer services.

But there are also education efforts like IPI. In conjunction with network-backed Washington First Amendment think tank The Media Institute, IPI has created a CyberEducation Project to spread the word on intellectual property issues.

It will pair the survey data with more than 4,000 DVDs it is sending to college faculty and staff. The DVDs feature a documentary, What Do You Think?, that includes interview with students about their view on file sharing and reaction from experts.

The poll was a national telephone survey of 500 students 18-24 with a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.