computers_web.jpgCHICAGO — Young people want their music, TV and movies now — even if it means they get these things illegally. A recent Columbia University survey found that 70 percent o-f 18- to 29-year-olds said they had bought, copied or downloaded unauthorized music, TV shows or movies, compared with 46 percent of all adults who had done the same.

With such an entrenched attitude, what can be done about widespread online piracy? Here's a radical notion to consider: What if young people who steal content weren’t viewed as the problem? What if they and advocates for maximum online access could persuade the entertainment industry to loosen its tight grip on its coveted, copyrighted material — quite the opposite of what the industry is trying to do right now?

“The real problem is not pirates downloading illegally, but a failure to innovate on the part of the content providers,” says Steven Budd, a law student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Like it or not, that’s how a lot of people of his generation view the situation. And some experts think they're gaining clout, as they insist on easy access to music and other content.


But here's the surprising part — a lot of young people don’t necessarily expect to get movies, TV shows and music for free. “I do think people would pay for this content if it's reasonably priced and it's available when they want to watch it,” says Srikant Mikkilineni, a law student at Drake University in Des Moines.

Not wanting to mar his law school record, Mikkilineni pays for the songs, movies and TV shows he downloads. But he does so grudgingly. “Right now, they want us to pay multiple times for the same content,” he says, complaining that that's not reasonable.

Many young people point to Apple's iTunes service as a model that could be replicated by other entertainment companies.

“iTunes changed the landscape for music because it made it far too convenient and much easier than downloading music through alternative methods (even illegal ones),” says Matt Gardner, an information technology student at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.


There are those who doubt that students would pay for content they can pirate, especially when the habit has become so ingrained. “Nobody's going to pay you for something they can get for free,'' says Glenn MacDonald, an economics professor at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

So he asks: What if you gave music and movies to consumers for free, or asked them to pay what they thought the content was worth?

Not realistic, says Thomas Carpenter, general counsel for legislative affairs for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a union that represents people working in the entertainment industry.

“There's a lot at stake — much more than most people realize,” Carpenter says. “You have to be paid in order to be good. You have to use the funds from your projects to fund your future creativity.”

Still even some people who’ve spent their careers defending copyrights say it's time to find some middle ground. “It really is a failure to come up with practical, reasonable models for sales and distribution,” says Michael R. Graham, a Chicago attorney who specializes in trademark and copyright law. “There's a real disconnect.”

Like many, he thinks iTunes has set the standard for the future. Another possible approach: licensing agreements — with online services, for instance, paying a fee to content creators so they can provide it to consumers for free or for a monthly subscription fee.


A major lawsuit now before a federal appeals court has put a spotlight on these issues. Viacom Inc. is appealing a lower court ruling that found YouTube, Google Inc.'s popular video sharing service, is protected from copyright infringement claims. Viacom claims that YouTube is making millions when people post copyrighted videos — including some shows Viacom owns. YouTube says it forces people to remove the content when discovered, as the law allows.

Whatever happens, college student Omar Ahmad says the entertainment industry has to realize that people his age aren't likely to change their piracy habits, even with the threat of more serious punishments that Congress is considering.

“They're going to continue doing it — that's the truth,'' says Ahmad, a senior at Seton Hall University who's also manager of the New Jersey school's radio station.

Karaganis at Columbia agrees that young people and the Internet community in general have proven they can influence the entertainment industry, whether it likes it or not.

“Change is inevitable,” he says. “The question is how quickly will it happen — and how much of a fortress will be built around intellectual property in the meantime. Now, I think all bets are off.”

Photo: Stock Photo