Copy Culture

Nearly half the population in the US and Germany (46% US; 45% DE) has copied, shared, or “downloaded for free” music, movies, and TV shows. We call this “copy culture.”

Much of this activity is casual and small scale. In both countries only 14% of adults have acquired most or all of a digital music or video collection this way. Only 2%–3% got most or all of a large collection this way (>1000 songs or >100 movies / TV shows).

Copy culture tracks strongly with youth. Among adults under 30 in both countries, around 70% copy, share, or download media for free (70% US; 71% DE). In the US 27% in this age group acquired most or all of their digital music/video collections this way, and 10% acquired most or all of a large collection this way. In Germany the corresponding numbers are 33% and 7%.

In both countries offline “private copying”—copying for personal use or sharing with family and friends—is comparable in scale to online file sharing. In the US, private copying and online file sharing contribute roughly equal shares to the average digital music collection: 22%–23% among those under 30. In Germany, online file sharing contributes more to average collection size (34%, versus 18% for private copying among those under 30) but less when controlling for collection size (17% for downloading; 25% for private copying). Put differently, most Germans copy more than they download.

Copying and online file sharing are mostly complementary to legal acquisition, not strong substitutes for it. There is no signficant difference in buying habits between those who copy or file share and those who do not.

P2P file sharers, in particular, are heavy legal media consumers. They buy as many legal DVDs, CDs, and subscription media services as their non-file-sharing, Internet-using counterparts. In the US, they buy roughly 30% more digital music. They also display marginally higher willingness to pay.

In Germany much of this copying is legal under the “private copy” provisions of copyright law, which carve out a space for noncommercial personal uses, including passing copies to family and friends. This exemption does not extend to downloading or to copies made from “evidently unlawful public sources.”

In the US little to none of this private copying is presumed legal, and much of it is now subject—in law if rarely in practice—to high criminal penalties.


German digital media markets are significantly smaller than their US counterparts, with lower device ownership in most categories and slower rollout of legal on-demand and streaming services.

Digital music consumption is a good example. Although CD collections in the two countries are of comparable size, average and especially median digital music file collections are significantly larger in the US. Among those under 30, median collection size is 1000 in the US and 300 in Germany.

Adoption of streaming services is also much more prevalent in the US. Thirteen percent of Americans listen to most or all of their music via streaming services; 2% of Germans do. Seven percent of Americans have paid subscriptions to streaming music services, compared to 1% of Germans. Spotify—king of the streaming services in neighboring Sweden—launched in Germany only in March 2012.

These differences are even more pronounced with respect to streaming video services. Fifteen percent of American households subscribe to paid Internet video services—predominantly Netflix. In Germany the number is under 2%.

These differences matter because cheap, convenient streaming services are often described as a means of (re)commercializing the large informal digital music and video sector. Our data suggest that streaming services do displace some informal copying and downloading. In the US 48% of those who do both say that they copy and download less music because of the growth of those services. For TV/movies the “Netflix effect” is 40%. In Germany our limited data for music streaming puts this number at 52%.

What’s Reasonable?

In both the US and Germany, attitudes toward copying and file sharing track a loose distinction between public and private copying.

Sharing music and movie files with family is viewed by large majorities as “reasonable” behavior, with average support running 70%–80% in both countries.

Facilitating online file sharing, in contrast, is viewed by large majorities as unreasonable. Only 15% of US and 11% of German music file owners view uploading to sharing services as reasonable.

“Sharing with friends” is the pivotal issue in both countries. Among those under 30, large majorities view the practice as reasonable (Music: 76% US; 73% DE. Movies/TV: 75% US; 79% DE). Among older groups, support drops sharply. Among 50- to 64-year-olds in the US—the policy-making generation—only 48% of those with music files view sharing with friends as reasonable. Among those with movie/TV files, only 34% do. In Germany, among 50- to 69-year-olds, 37% and 45%, respectively, view these practices as reasonable.


In the US only a narrow majority (52%) offers clear support for penalties for unauthorized downloading. An additional 7% would consider the circumstances.

In Germany support for penalties is 59%. An additional 9% would consider the circumstances.

In the US this support is significantly lower among the young. Among American 18- to 29- year-olds, only 37% support penalties for unauthorized downloading. 53% oppose. In Germany 56% of 18-29 year olds support penalties.

In both countries this support is limited to warnings and fines. Support for stronger measures drops sharply. Limits on the speed or functionality of Internet service attract 28% support in the US and 29% in Germany. Disconnection from the Internet attracts only 16% support in the US and 22% in Germany.

Among the 16% of Americans who support disconnection, most (58%) indicated that they would drop their support if it meant disconnecting households rather than individuals (which it currently does).

Who should adjudicate charges of infringement? Sixty-seven percent of Germans and 54% of Americans said the courts—not private companies.


Should ISPs, search engines, and other web services be responsible for blocking infringement by users on their networks? This was the issue at the heart of the SOPA debate and similar measures proposed in other countries.

Our results show an ordering of values online, in which copyright enforcement is viewed favorably by majorities in both countries until it conflicts with other values such as freedom of expression and privacy. We asked a range of questions that explore these conflicts.

In the US 61% of Internet users support a soft requirement that web services like Facebook and Dropbox “try to screen user activity and remove pirated files.” Support falls slightly for stronger requirements that ISPs and search engines block access to pirated music and videos (58% for ISPs; 53% for search engines).

Support drops to 40% if the government is involved and to 33% if the word “censorship” is used.

In our view, the SOPA debate comes down to two key questions:
Would you support blocking if some legal content were also blocked?
This is a conflict between copyright enforcement and freedom of expression. Fifty-seven percent said no.
Should your Internet use be monitored in order to prevent infringement?
This is a conflict between copyright enforcement and privacy. Sixty-nine percent said no.

Support for blocking is weaker among the young—and sharply so for blocking by search engines and ISPs: 43% and 39% of Americans under 30 support such measures, respectively.

German public opinion is significantly more favorable to blocking in almost all of its variations. Blocking requirements for ISPs and search engines received 73% and 69% support, respectively. Government blocking received 58% support. Even “government censorship” recorded 52% support, likely reflecting greater German comfort with bans on perceived harmful speech.

Would you support blocking if some legal content were also blocked?
A bare majority of Germans, 51%, said yes.
Should your Internet use be monitored in order to prevent infringement?
Here, enforcement runs up against the brick wall of German privacy concerns. Seventy-one percent said no.

Privacy is the paramount value in German enforcement debates, overriding otherwise strong support for blocking and filtering measures.

The premium on privacy is clearly visible in German Internet behavior: 39% of German Internet users make special efforts to encrypt their Internet traffic. In the US only 18% do. Eleven percent of Germans use tools to hide their IP addresses online (typically, VPNs). In the US only 4% do.

The use of anonymizing services is higher among the young and especially within the file-sharing community. Thirty-six percent of German P2P users use tools to hide their IP addresses. In the US 16% do. Given these numbers, such services are almost certain to become a target of the next round of enforcement battles.

Legalizing File Sharing

Proposals to legalize file sharing have been put forward by a number of stakeholders in the copyright debates, including by several European political parties.

Sixty-one percent of Germans would pay a small broadband fee to compensate creators in return for legalized file sharing.

Forty-eight percent of Americans would do so—a surprisingly high number given the relative invisibility of such proposals in US debates.

The median willingness to pay was $18.79 per month in the US and €16.43 in Germany.

Next: Methodology