IP Czar: 80% of Americans Know Piracy Is Illegal, But Do It Anyway

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Forget about SOPA for a moment: what about going straight to the people downloading files illegally, buying counterfeit DVDs, or otherwise infringing intellectual property?

Well, that’s exactly the strategy behind a recently-announced government campaign designed to reverse attitudes towards piracy.  The hearts-and-minds initiative was announced at the White House on Wednesday by US Attorney General Eric Holder, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (or ‘Czar’) Victoria Espinel, and other enforcement officials.

The RIAA failed miserably in this category, though it looks like Hollywood is starting a brand new war – with carrots in the arsenal.  And according to Espinel, most consumers know this stuff is illegal, but simply don’t care.  That’s certainly been the learning in music, where most fans seem to place illegal downloading somewhere between a parking violation and noise complaint.  And when it comes to the purchases of counterfeit music and film, Espinel pointed to a sea of apathy.  “Eighty percent of Americans believe it’s illegal to knowingly purchase counterfeit or pirated goods, but do it any way,” the IP ‘czar’ relayed. “And nearly 60 percent believe they won’t get caught.”  Espinel didn’t estimate online-specific piracy stats, though the IFPI routinely notes that 95 percent of downloads are free.

This is a broad-based, multimedia campaign that traverses television, print, and radio, and covers everything from MP3 swaps to knock-off DVDs.  And it carries a central message: piracy and counterfeiting are not victimless crimes.   In fact, that’s one of the issues that has plagued major labels from the beginning: file-swapping mostly happens in private, completely divorced from the actual creators or content owners.  Which is the thinking behind this spot, co-produced by MTV Networks.

And, this one, which gives the Hollywood treatment to film piracy and DVD knock-offs.

But changing more than a decade of thinking could be extremely difficult.  “Reducing demand for counterfeit and pirated products is what this campaign is all about – educate the public that IP theft is just that – theft, like robbery or shoplifting,” said Anne Hawkins, president of the National Crime Prevention Council.

Impossible?