You are here

Higher Education's Problems with Illegal Student Downloading Have Just Begun

April 15, 2004

WALTHAM, Mass.- In the first quantitative research on the digital entertainment habits of 285 high school students recently accepted to college, a study by Bentley College revealed that nine out of every ten high school seniors surveyed illegally download and over 95% of all the music they downloaded may have been obtained illegally despite ongoing widely publicized lawsuits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The Bentley Digital Entertainment Study, conducted April 3, 2004 as part of an undergraduate marketing course, indicated both high levels of current illegal downloading as well as increased expectations for downloading when entering freshmen have access to high speed campus networks.

In March, a focus group with several Chief Information Officers from universities that are members of the Boston Consortium provided institutional perspective. The CIOs were invited to participate in the study by Traci Logan, Vice Provost and Vice President of Information Technology at Bentley. As part of a course Logan developed with marketing professor Perry Lowe, this semester she also brought to campus Ruckus Network, the only online entertainment solution for higher education created by students, for students.

According to Logan, "the goal was to create a course which combined the behavioral and technical insight of students with the business challenges facing a local start up engaged in delivering digital entertainment content. Not surprisingly, the co-founders of Ruckus learned as much from our students as they did about new business development, market research, pricing strategy and the fundamentals of competitive advantage in the internet age." The focus group revealed that the financial burden and impact on campus network resources is significant, and many consider digital entertainment content more relevant to student life than the more pressing challenges of CIOs, namely leveraging IT investments for strategic advantage.

Key findings of the student research conducted April 3, 2004 include:

1. 89% of the high school seniors admitted to illegal downloading during the past six months and 39% overall claimed that all of their downloads were illegal.

2. With 18% of the students responsible for 65% of total downloads by this group, it is estimated that over 95% of all downloading by high school seniors could be illegal.

3. Although 40% of college-bound high school seniors report they are currently reducing their downloading and only 27% are increasing downloading, the opposite is expected to occur when these same users arrive on college campuses next fall. Only 9% expect to reduce downloading, while a significant 68% of college bound seniors expect to increase their downloading.

4. Despite high profile cases of legal action against college students, concern over illegal downloading is ranked the lowest of all downloading concerns. Download speed, music selection, viruses, poor quality, and spam were all more worrisome than downloading illegally to survey respondents.

5. Perhaps the low probability that only one in 17,500 illegally downloading college students will get caught is the reason for the high level of illegal activity.

6. Although music is currently the most important and most frequently downloaded entertainment content, it will be movies that will cause the major increase in future downloading activities. Movie downloading may increase as much as 262% in the next year.

The Good News

"There is, however, some good news from this research," commented Perry Lowe, whose senior level class, Marketing 411, is studying, "College Student Digital Entertainment Options for the Future: Are Subscription-Based Services and Free Downloading Mutually Exclusive?" "Ninety percent of the 285 high school seniors participating in this research expressed a high degree of interest in a legal digital entertainment service, delivered over college networks, which included music, movies, TV shows, local entertainment information, and the opportunity to communicate with other college students who share the same entertainment interests. In addition, college-bound students are willing to pay $5. for this amenity and 87% would subsequently expect to reduce their downloading."

The Bentley College research was conducted at the school's Open House for Admitted Students on Saturday, April 3, 2004, where members of the Class of 2008 and their families were surveyed about their current and future digital entertainment attitudes and usage in Bentley's Center for Marketing Technology. Bentley students have been working during the semester with Ruckus Network, a venture-funded startup company interested in creating a nationwide entertainment service for college campuses.

Although the Bentley Digital Entertainment Study was composed almost exclusively of East Coast college seniors who are interested in business careers, the large number of respondents and the anonymous nature of the survey are believed to make these results valuable to all institutions in higher education.

Graduate Research

Parallel research conducted by Marketing Professor Pierre Berthon on graduate students triangulate and extend the findings of Professor Lowe. As part of the ethics component to his "Strategic Marketing" course in the McCallum Graduate School of Business at Bentley, students rated 14 scenarios describing the downloading and copying of digital copyrighted music.

"The results were revealing," said Berthon. "All 14 downloading and copying scenarios were rated more acceptable than legal. Moreover, the gap between acceptability and legality were statistically significant for all scenarios. Simply put, people see downloading and copying as acceptable even when they know that it's illegal."

Curious to explain the gap, he did further statistical analysis which revealed that the largest single predictor of the disparity between acceptability and legality was a person's attitude toward the record industry. "The more negative an individual's perception of the music industry, the larger the gap between what a person finds acceptable behavior and what they know is illegal," Berthon said.

The recent proposal by the record industry to increase the cost from 99 cents per song to around $2.49 per song (Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2004) of legally downloaded music, "may only serve to increase consumers' negative perceptions of the industry and thus further exacerbate the gap between what consumers consider acceptable and what they know is legal," said Berthon.

Ruckus Network- the only online entertainment solution created by students, for students - provides the academic community with a fast and reliable tool for downloading digital media without the threat of lawsuits. The Ruckus Network solution reduces the costly demands on network bandwidth and helps schools address P2P in a positive manner. Being a student focused company, Ruckus Network provides content that students want including music, movies, and TV and also allows student artists and college organizations to share and showcase their work across the campus and beyond. Visit Ruckus Network on the world wide web at


MEDIA CONTACTS for the Bentley Digital Entertainment Study:

Perry Lowe, Marketing Professor and lead researcher, Bentley College,
phone: 781-891-3139 or e-mail:

Traci Logan, Vice Provost and VP for Information Technology, Bentley College,
phone: 781-891-3472 or e-mail:

For Ruckus Network:
Kristen Wiltse, press contact, phone: 978-578-4047 or e-mail:

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

Type: Latest Headlines