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Artists, Musicians and the Internet

October 18, 200518 October 2005

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The Pew Internet and American Life Project surveyed artists, musicians and members of the public to gather information on their perceptions of internet usage in regards to artistic activity and intellectual property. Researchers conducted three separate surveys: a random and nationally representative telephone survey of 809 Americans who self-identified as artists (with breakouts of paid and unpaid artists); a non-random online survey of 2,755 musicians (including performers, songwriters and composers); and a random and nationally representative telephone survey of 2,013 Americans who did not self-identify as artists.

Paid artists responding to the telephone survey indicated that they use the Internet primarily for day-to-day communications such as ordering supplies or coordinating bookings. The survey also found that the vast majority of paid artists get ideas or inspiration from “media that they borrow at a library or buy at a store, like books, recorded music, pictures or images” (88%) and “going to performances, shows, museums or galleries” (84%). In contrast, only a slight majority of the paid artists get ideas or inspiration from “searching on the internet” (54%).

In the online musician survey, over one third of musicians (37%) said that free downloading or digital music files has made no difference to their careers, while 35% indicated that downloading has helped their careers. Only 5% of musicians responding to the online survey believe that downloading has exclusively hurt their careers. A similarly small percentage (8%) indicated that downloading has both helped and hurt their careers. (The remaining 15% did not know.)

A majority of musicians (56%) indicated that their most common use of the internet was for communication with family and friends. Many musicians said that the internet has had a big effect on their efficiency in booking engagements (42%). In general, the musicians responding to the online survey were more active in using technology than other artists, a fact that is not surprising given that the musician survey was internet based.

Much dispute in US copyright law revolves around the ‘fair use’ clause. Traditionally, this clause has allowed free copying of work for those who sought information for academic or reporting purposes. Each of the three surveys outlined 8 to 10 activities and each group (artists, musicians and the general public) was asked to choose if each activity should be legal, illegal or if they ‘didn’t know’.

A large majority of all three groups felt that the following three activities should be legal: recording a movie or TV show on a VHS tape to watch at home at a later time; making a photocopy from a book or an article for personal use; and ripping a digital copy of music on your own computer from a purchased CD. In addition, the vast majority of artists and musicians felt that posting an excerpt of a story or article online for critique or comment should be legal. (The general public was not asked this question.)

A large majority of all three groups indicated that making copies of music, movies or TV programs to sell to others should be illegal.

There was no consensus among artists, musicians and the public on whether burning a copy of a music or movie CD for a friend should be legal. The representative survey of artists produced no clear consensus over the legality of sending a digital copy of music over the internet to someone you know or making a copy of a computer program for personal use. (The general public was not asked these two questions.)

Regarding file-sharing, 52% of artists indicated that sharing a music or movie file from one’s computer over a file-sharing network should be illegal. Another 37% indicated that sharing files should be legal, and 12% did not know or refused to answer. These percentages are very similar to the responses to a question concerning downloading other people’s music or movie files from file-sharing networks.

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