Wednesday February 21, 2007

Curbing Illegal Downloading

UD study finds computer ethics education significantly curbs illegal downloading among college students.

A University of Dayton study found that implementing an education program informing students on University policy and copyright law reduces illegal downloading behaviors, as compared to simply stating a policy. The study of UD students offers encouragement that education can influence core ethical beliefs about copyright infringement on campus.

The study, published in the December issue of the NASPA Journal (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators), investigated the effectiveness of University-sponsored efforts, such as guest speakers, lectures and online courses, to educate students about computing ethics. "The study found a strong correlation between agreement with and compliance with a policy," said Jennifer Siemens, co-author of the study and assistant professor of marketing in UD's School of Business Administration. "As the number of exposures to structured education on downloading copyrighted material increased, so did compliance."

Despite the threat of lawsuits, people continue to download copyrighted material, and college students comprise the majority of offenders. In fact, the music industry is sending thousands more complaints to top universities this school year than it did last year as it targets music illegally downloaded over campus computer networks.

The education component on downloading at UD seems to have worked with junior Megan Lemming. "I personally used to download music and movies, but I no longer download anything because I am afraid that I could be downloading things illegally and not even know it," Lemming said. "I think it's very important students are aware of these consequences because so often students get themselves into difficult situations without even realizing the potential danger of their actions."

Beyond the consequences to "downloaders," the sharing of files can be problematic as many users download large files, which easily can strain University bandwidth capacities.

"When the files being shared are protected by copyright, this predicament is compounded," Siemens said. Results of the study showed:

* Awareness of the policy increased with high repetition of the message (four or more different types of exposure were more effective than just one);

* Students exposed at least once to the educational message showed greater agreement and compliance with the policy than those with no education exposure at all;

* Importantly, students who agreed with the University policy were more likely to report compliance, which suggests that merely enacting a policy against copyright infringement may not be effective unless students are explained the reasoning behind the policy.

Lemming agreed that truly understanding why downloading is unacceptable is key to changing student behavior, as technology is such a major part of college life.

"No longer do students walk through the student neighborhood talking to one another. Rather, these students are always listening to iPods or talking on cell phones," said Lemming. "The entire climate of college has seemed to change with all of these technological advances that we use daily, and so it would make sense that downloading has becoming an integral part of college students' lives. This is how we communicate and share ideas with one another."

Siemens said with the growing number of digital content choices students have to choose from, the file sharing of choice has expanded from music to movies, and even textbooks.

"Forty-six percent of the students surveyed believe that file sharing and downloading are a victimless crime," Siemens said. "Education is the way to go to change this belief. It doesn't have to be formal, but it should be ongoing and consistent."

For more information, contact Jennifer Siemens at 937-229-1086.