According to a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll that asked teens ages 12 to 17 about their understanding of illegal copying of CDs and DVDs, teens often believe that once one purchased a CD or DVD, one could copy it for free.
"I think you're allowed to make, like, two or three copies of a CD you bought and give them to friends," said 15-year-old Evan Collins. "It's only once you make five copies, or copy a CD of stolen music, that it's illegal."
While Evan's understanding of the law is flawed, he's not alone in his confusion.
Even lawyers say the law is hard to understand. Distributing free copies of a purchased CD or DVD is only a federal copyright crime if the value of the copied discs exceeds $1,000, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Elena Duarte.
But giving away even one copied disc may be a civil violation or break a state law.
"A strict interpretation of the law says that if making a copy robs the marketplace of a sale, it is prohibited," said attorney Mark Radcliffe, a copyright expert at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. "So anyone giving a copy to a friend could technically be sued. But there is some sentiment that as long as people are only giving copies to families and a few friends, it's probably OK. But how many friends should one person have?"
Sixty-nine percent of teens polled said they believed it was legal to copy a CD from a friend who purchased the original. Only 21% said it was legal to copy a CD if a friend got the music free. And 58% thought it was legal to copy a friend's purchased DVD or videotape, but only 19% thought copying was legal if the movie wasn't purchased.
What has been dubbed by the RIAA and MPAA as "schoolyard" piracy is becoming a greater threat than illegal peer-to-peer downloading, according to the RIAA.
"We've made substantial progress educating people that downloading copyrighted music for free is illegal," said RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol. "But we still confront a significant challenge educating kids that copying a CD for a friend is also a crime. This is a major focus for the entire industry."
Anti-downloading campaigns are having an impact, as 80% of teens surveyed in the poll said downloading free music from unauthorized computer networks was a crime. A 2004 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that close to 6 million Americans said they had stopped downloading unauthorized tunes because of lawsuits filed by the RIAA.