Researchers there found that the lower the students’ income, including their parents’ income, the more likely they were to search for free, illegal options.
To address the issue of cost, the study’s authors suggested that universities consider making licensing agreements with services that sell entertainment content so that students could get a discount.
Cornell University is one institution that has experimented with this. From 2004 to 2006, an anonymous donor paid for two years’ worth of Napster service for Cornell students, but students ultimately declined to have their student activity fees raised to continue the service because the music couldn’t be played on all devices, according to the Duke study.
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?
Some bands such as Radiohead are already doing that — in essence, using their songs to build a following and entice people to pay to see them in concert and, once there, to buy their merchandise.
The song becomes the ad, MacDonald says. Or a movie on the small screen becomes the driving force for a line of merchandise or drives the wish to see it again on a big screen in 3-D or at a special theater event. A free clip from a TV show seen online draws viewers to the show.
“It’s like a bar. They give you the peanuts so you buy the beer,” MacDonald says.
He notes that music companies already take a cut of money made from concerts, merchandise and endorsements. So he thinks that should, at the very least, offset the cost of the recorded music to consumers, who’ve been increasingly willing to pay big prices to see artists live.
“Music companies would be better served by increasing their focus on how to make artists’ music, and especially their concerts, even better,” MacDonald says.
Nice thought, but 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.
As it stands, he says 90 percent of the earnings that a musician currently makes under a recording contract is tied directly to royalties from sales, including lawful downloads. For actors, he says, it’s about 50 percent.
“There’s a lot at stake — much more than most people realize,” Carpenter says.
And he adds, “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.